Published January 24, 2012
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The parents of two of three Arkansas boys who were murdered in 1993 said they're disappointed that a documentary about the killings and the three men convicted, known as the West Memphis Three, was nominated Tuesday for an Academy Award.
Todd and Diana Moore had asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to exclude "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" from consideration, saying it glorifies Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. The three spent 18 years in prison, maintaining their innocence and attracting attention from celebrities, before a deal with prosecutors set them free last year.
The film, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, is the third in a series of HBO documentaries about the killings of Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers. The bodies of the 8-year-old Cub Scouts were found naked and tied up with shoe strings in West Memphis, a town along the Mississippi River.
The Moores, along with Stevie Branch's father and stepfather, sent a three-page letter to the Academy and reporters Tuesday expressing their "sadness, disappointment, and outrage" about the Oscar nod.
"This film should be exposed as a fraud, not rewarded with an Academy Award nomination," they wrote.
Berlinger, who was at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, said in an email that he was sympathetic to the victims' families.
"We believe that the pursuit of the truth has been the best way to honor the memories of the victims of this unimaginable crime and our hearts go out to those who are criticizing us," he said.
The Academy didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" was among five documentary features nominated for an Oscar.
The series' first film aired in 1996 and immediately raised doubts about the case. Over the years, celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines joined the effort to free Echols, who was sentenced to death, and Baldwin and Misskelley, who received life prison sentences.
The three, who were teenagers at the time of the murders, were freed in August after pleading guilty to lesser charges in exchange for sentences of time served. An unusual legal maneuver allowed them to maintain their claims of innocence.
Since then, new films have been chronicling the case and the men's lives. "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" debuted last year, and another film, "West of Memphis," premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this month.
Pam Hobbs, Stevie Branch's mother, believes the three men didn't murder her son and said she asked the state to reopen the case after seeing new evidence in "West of Memphis."
Prosecutor Scott Ellington, who handled the case in August, said Tuesday that he'd received a packet of materials from the defense team but had not had a chance to look at it. He has previously said that he believes the killers were convicted but promised to look at new evidence.
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were convicted after Misskelley unexpectedly confessed and implicated the other two, describing sodomy and other violence. Misskelley, then 17, later recanted, and defense lawyers said he got several parts of the story wrong. An autopsy found there was no definite evidence of sexual assault, and Misskelley said the older boys abducted the Cub Scouts in the morning when they had actually been in school all day.
Sinofsky and Berlinger said they thought they were making a film about guilty teenagers when they first went to West Memphis, but that spending eight months covering the case and watching the trials "convinced us that the West Memphis Three did not receive a fair trial," Berlinger said in his email Tuesday.
The Moores painted a different picture of the West Memphis Three and their supporters.
"They now claim to be 'searching for the real killers' of our sons, but it seems unlikely they will be able to do so while directing movies, traveling the globe, and partying with rock stars.
"Our sons, meanwhile, remain dead in their graves."
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