In 1994, three teenagers were convicted of brutally murdering a trio of 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Fraught with innuendoes of devil worship, allegations of coerced confessions and emotionally charged statements, the case was one of the most sensational in state history, and was brought to national attention in the acclaimed America Undercover documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” which debuted on HBO in 1996.
Six years after the verdicts, PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS revisits West Memphis to update the stories surrounding the case and explore many unanswered questions, including: Is it possible that the wrong people are in jail?
This harrowing documentary sequel was produced and directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the team responsible for the original “Paradise Lost” (Emmy® and Peabody Awards, named Best Documentary by the National Board of Review).
PARADISE LOST 2 returns to the site of the “Robin Hood Hills” murders to probe issues raised by the first film, and by the groundswell of public interest that it inspired. Featured are in-person interviews with the convicted men: Jason Baldwin, now 22, sentenced to life without parole; Jessie Misskelley, now 23, sentenced to life plus 40 years; and Damien Echols, now 24, awaiting execution on death row. Today, Echols has exhausted his state appeals options, and his last hope lies in a pending federal habeas corpus proceeding. If a federal judge declines to hear his case, his execution by lethal injection could take place as early as this year. Also included in the film are interviews with the original judge, police investigators, one of the victims’ parents, and the support group “Free the West Memphis Three.”
PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS raises a number of provocative questions. One of the keys to the prosecution’s case was a confession by Misskelley, which some think was coerced. Misskelley has an IQ of 72 and was questioned by the police for 12 hours without a lawyer or family member present. Only the final 45 minutes of the interrogation were recorded. “Finally, I just...said something where they would just leave me alone,” said Misskelley in a 1998 interview for PARADISE LOST 2. Chief investigator Gary Gitchell maintains, as he did during the trial, that Misskelley was in no way coerced and that the confession is valid.
The prosecution claims that the crimes took place in the ravine where the bodies were discovered, yet no blood, fingerprints or any other evidence were found there. The prosecution’s theory, as presented to the jury, was that all this evidence was washed away by water in the ravine.
Criminal profiler Brent Turvey contends that autopsy photographs show what he believes to be bite marks on the victims’ bodies, but the marks are not recorded in the original autopsy reports. A bite mark is similar to a fingerprint in terms of identification. An odontologist hired by the defense states that the alleged bites do not match any of the defendants’ dental impressions. The prosecution and its experts, however, claim that the marks are not bites, but rather impressions made by a belt buckle.
Some believe the real killer is John Mark Byers, stepfather of one of the murdered boys. Since the killings, Byers has been convicted of stealing property from a neighbor’s house, writing bad checks and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Additional tragedy touched Byers when his wife Melissa died in her sleep at home in 1996. The cause and manner of death are still listed as “undetermined.”
PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS also raises compelling questions about the role of the media. Local and national news coverage of the case is examined in the documentary, with news footage
incorporated into the film. Because of the original “Paradise Lost” and the attention it brought to the case, cameras were barred from subsequent appeals hearings.
In 1997, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” received an Emmy® in the category of Outstanding Achievement in Informational Programming. Berlinger and Sinofsky’s other credits include the acclaimed documentary feature film “Brother’s Keeper.”
PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS is produced and directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Music by Metallica. For HBO: executive producer, Sheila Nevins, supervising producer, Nancy Abraham.