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'West of Memphis' Director Amy Berg Talks New Evidence in Arkansas Case UPDATE: New Trailer

by Anne Thompson
November 13, 2012 6:27 AM
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Amy Berg
Amy Berg

"It's a living, breathing thing," says director Amy Berg of Sundance doc "West of Memphis," backed by producer-financeers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. The film, which Sony Pictures Classics opens in NY and LA on December 25, revisits the 18-year imprisonment of the innocent “West Memphis 3”: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. The documentary presents new witnesses and forensic evidence that exonerates the three men and points to others as responsible for the murder of Stevie Branch, Chris Byers and Michael Moore. It reveals a gross miscarriage of justice by the Arkansas justice system.

Over the past few months a number of free screenings of "West of Memphis" in Arkansas and Tennessee have helped to focus attention on the film and the ongoing investigation. There is a confidential tip line and a $200,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the murders: 501.556.1775. The filmmakers are still trying to get the film in front of former Arkansas governor and president Bill Clinton, says Amy Berg, who sat down with me after a Sneak Previews screening (Q & A is below).

An Arkansas judge recently ruled on reopening the case of the released West Memphis Three. New evidence has been unearthed by investigators hired by Jackson and Walsh during the filming of "West of Memphis." Crittenden County Circuit Court Judge Victor L. Hill ruled that state prosecutor Scott Ellington’s ongoing investigation should continue.

According to the decision by Judge Hill, "The prosecutor has the right and obligation to ascertain whether a miscarriage of justice might have occurred…That is his prerogative and he might even be said to derelict in that duty if he failed to conduct such an investigation."

West Memphis Three
West Memphis Three

The hearing was in response to a suit seeking access to police evidence in the West Memphis Three murder case filed by Pam Hicks and John Mark Byers (two of the parents of the three West Memphis children murdered in 1993). Hicks stated that she wants closure: “I am asking for everything!  Everything I can get, use and know so that an investigation allows for the right person to pay for this crime.”

Anne Thompson: When were you enlisted for the film?

Amy Berg: Three and a half years ago.

AT: And when did Peter Jackson get actively involved in trying to free the West Memphis Three, who were in prison from 1993 until they were freed in 2011?

AB: He got involved about 8 years ago. He was privately involved until they were released from prison. He just did not think that having his name affiliated with this would help the case, because it's Arkansas and it's seen as a Hollywood influence rather than common sense.

AT: So he spent money to make this happen. What did he and Fran do to advance the case?

AB: Well they spent millions of dollars. His first expense was hiring all of the forensics experts.  And once there was this opinion that this was post-mortem activity it just went from there. But they spent so much money investigating the case.

AT: And he literally saved this trio's lives.  Would they have been freed otherwise?

AB: There's no way.  I think it's all in the film, but there's just no way anything would have happened if he wasn't involved.  

AT: When you took this on there was already a movement that had grown over the years, Johnny Depp and a whole lot of people just fighting for this cause.

AB: There was this great movement behind the scenes, but when I came onto this project, nobody was public about it because it was so negative to have a celebrity behind you in Arkansas. They just discredited everything, so about a year and a half after I started this project there was the event, which we documented in the film and you could feel public opinion had shifted at that point.  From then on, until they got out, it was obvious they would get out, but it was just the State continuing to delay and it's still going on today.  There was an (October 24) hearing in Arkansas. The prosecutor watched the film and has now interviewed witnesses that are in the film, that was actually edited in a week before Sundance. And they're now investigating Terry Hobbs in Arkansas, but this is just happening… It's like a living breathing thing.  


  • Kate | March 22, 2013 5:38 AMReply

    Paula aka Michael Blatty: You seriously need to get your head examined! And so does anyone else who thinks that the West Memphis three are guilty. It's pretty crystal clear that they are innocent. Why would the state of Arkansas let them out if they truly believe that they are guilty? Why because Johhny Depp and Eddie Vedder said so? Get real! They knew if they took it to trial they would most likely lose the case and end up getting sued for millions.

  • Paula | March 9, 2013 4:59 PMReply

    It makes me sick that they got out. Echols is a disgusting psychopath, people don't just change like that. He is the same . Making money off his disgusting name, the blind followers, you'de think he was a friggin rock star. Celebrity friends. Narcissist! His book is so robotic, poor me,me,me. Everything is everybody else's fault. I think when they killed those poor boys it was symbolic. They were killing themselves-poor,abused. He is so controlled. His mental health records before the killings say he was enraged. He is so full of shit! He still practices magick(that is how he spells it). Moved to Salem cause that is the only place he feels comfortable? He is disgusting. He doesn't take those stupid glasses off because he doesn't want people to see the guilt in them. His eyes are dead, he is as dead as those poor boys.

  • Baalbarath | March 6, 2013 7:32 PMReply

    Now, you might expect the director of this film to know the details. She claims to have
    spent six months researching the case to form her own opinion before she agreed to take on
    the film. Six months is not enough time to grasp this monstrosity and she proves this on a simple question about polygraph testing. Jesse was given one polygraph test by the WMPD. Echols was tested and failed. Baldwin has never been tested, but I challenge Amy to film Baldwin taking a polygraph and making the video public. She's not sure if the Misskelley results were presented at trial? Maybe she skipped over the trial documents in her research. There was plenty of incentive for her to conclude that the three were innocent. If she determined they were guilty she wouldn't get the job.
    Her answer to the alibi question is just awful. Did she ever look for Don Namm or Ken Watkins? Jason, who is very dense regarding his own case, still thinks Don Namm and Ken Watkins somehow supported his attempted alibi.
    Governor of AR is not a Republican. Good guess, though.

  • Donna Marie | March 6, 2013 1:03 AMReply

    Amy Berg check this out ............

  • Michael Blatty | November 19, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    Here is a small dose of truth serum for those who really care about the truth.

  • Michael Blatty | November 19, 2012 1:23 PM

    The site I was attempting to copy below can be found under:
    Damien Echols; Hex, Lies and Videotape. It is eye-opening.

  • Michael Blatty | November 19, 2012 1:01 PMReply

    This interview is chock full of lies and half-truths. These men are guilty. They were convicted by two juries and there is absolutely no solid evidence that points in the direction of anyone
    but these three. For 14 years they accused one of the fathers of the victims and when that never
    panned out they changed course and are now blaming another father. Mr. Echols is a pathological liar, a sociopath, and a con-man par excellence. I live and Salem and am disgusted
    by the fact that this child-torturer and murderer now lives in my community. You can be certain that our police department is keeping a close eye on him as well they should. Go to our
    local website for more commentary on this despicable fraud.

  • susan baldwin | November 15, 2012 2:40 PMReply

    "The documentary presents new witnesses and forensic evidence that exonerates the three men and points to others as responsible for the murder of Stevie Branch, Chris Byers and Michael Moore. It reveals a gross miscarriage of justice by the Arkansas justice system." ----------
    Ms. Thompson, this statement is a blatant lie (at the most) or a reflection of your complete lack of understanding of the case (at the least). Neither those who have been found guilty of murder and have pled guilty of murder (albeit under Alford), nor their supporters, have the ability to determine that a guilty party has been "exonerated." They HAVE NOT been exonerated. They WILL NEVER be exonerated because they committed these cruel murders in 1993 and twenty years later they have no proof of their innocence nor proof of guilt by another.

  • Michael Blatty | November 19, 2012 1:09 PM

    You are 100% correct, Susan. As you know, in signing their Alford pleas these three convicted child-killers admitted their guilt, agreed that were there to be a retrial the
    prosection must likely had enough evidence to convict them again, and agreed that
    they could not ever sue the state for 18 years of what they laughably claim is "false
    imprisonment." Mr. Echols tries to give the impression that the court in some way
    decided that they had convicted the wrong men buy as you know that is far from the
    case. In fact, it is just the opposite. And a side note: Mr. Echols' lying book was on the
    NYT bestseller list for a total of 2 weeks just after its release and has since then sank like
    a stone, despite Mr. Echols' appearances and book-signings and hype. It has not appeared
    on the NYT list since those initial 2 weeks since then, not even on their lowest slot which
    is #35. Looks to me like most people don't want to pay money to support a lying, whining,
    talentless child-murderer.

  • David | November 18, 2012 2:12 PM

    And Susan Baldwin knows this for sure because she saw it with her own eyes!

    Seriously, it amazes me how people some people get so attached to wrong verdict that they cannot ever admit they were wrong. The new evidence and witnesses are irrefutable and do indeed prove their innocence. Watch this or Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. Then you'll see that Susan Baldwin is the one guilty of blatant lying or complete lack of understanding.

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