On the evening of May 5 1993 three eight-year-old boys (Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore) were reported missing in West Memphis, Arkansas. The next afternoon the boys were found murdered, stripped naked, and hog-tied with their own shoelaces. The police and community believe that the children were murdered by a satanic cult based on the violent and sexual nature of the crime. Three teenagers (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr.) were subsequently arrested and charged with the murders on dubious evidence and four hours of interrogation and became known as the West Memphis Three. Though they all claimed their innocence, Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life and Echols to death.
In 2002, Mara Leveritt wrote the true crime book, Devil’s Knot: The True Story of The West Memphis Three. Through extensive interviews with the principals involved, thorough review of the police files and trial transcripts and exhaustive research, Leveritt drew the conclusion that the West Memphis Three case was “botched improperly based on a single confession from a retarded youth and the defendants’ alleged ties to satanic rituals”.
Despite new evidence found in the early 2000s, their appeals were rejected by a judge and state prosecutors. It wasn’t until August 2011, eighteen years after they were incarcerated, that the three were granted a new trial based on the new evidence. They entered an “Alford plea” and were allowed to walk free on August 19, 2011.
The West Memphis Three’s story is now being given the Hollywood treatment in a new film by Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Where The Truth Lies) based on Leveritt’s book. Starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, the film’s first trailer has been released.
Witherspoon plays Steve Branch’s mother, Pamela Hobbs with Firth as Ron Lax, a private investigator who attempts to convince Hobbs that it may be someone closer to home that could be the actual murderer rather than the three teens.
The film also features Amy Ryan, Mireille Enos, Stephen Moyer, Alessandro Nivola and Dane DeHaan.
Devil’s Knot opens in the US on May 9.