Johnny Depp has developed a strong friendship with Damien Echols ever since the West Memphis Three member was released from prison. The actor supported Echols' case for freedom for years and was among the celebrities celebrating when his pal emerged victorious, after 18 years behind bars, in 2011 - and Depp was one of the first people the convicted killer visited upon his release.
The movie star cooked up a comfort food feast for Echols, revealing, "I thought if I had just got out of the pokey (prison) after 18 years, I'd want some f**king Tater Tots (fried potato bites), man. I'd want some tacos. Give me some deeply trashy food."
The odd couple has become firm friends and have several matching tattoos.
Echols tells Rolling Stone magazine, "Whenever we're together, it's not like you're with a movie star. It's like you're home. He smells like home to me."
Dixie Chicks star Natalie Maines included a cover of Dan Wilson's Free Life on her new solo album as a tribute to former incarcerated West Memphis Three member Damien Echols and his wife Lorri. The singer was one of the leading celebrity campaigners fighting for the release of the three Arkansas men imprisoned for the murders of three boy scouts in 1993.
Echols, who was sentenced to death in 1994, and friends Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were released in 2011 after serving 18 years behind bars for a crime most people - including Maines and Pearl Jam star Eddie Vedder - believe they did not commit.
The singer admits Wilson's anthem has meant a lot to her ever since the day her friend Echols won his freedom.
She tells The Hollywood Reporter, "That song is about the West Memphis Three. The words, to me, speak to their first year of freedom. I sang that song at a rally for them in Arkansas when they were still in prison, and Damien Echols' wife Lorri said she listened to the board tape of that song every day until his release. So I put that song on there for her and for them, and to speak to that time of my life.
"The day they got released was the greatest day of my life. I hate to say even more than the birth of my children. Don't tell them that! But it's something else to witness people get their lives back after 18 years of false imprisonment."
The West Memphis Three didn't win their freedom outright with pardons - Echols, Miskelley, Jr. and Baldwin had to enter Alford pleas, which allowed them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them, before they were released. They were freed with 10-year suspended sentences.
In 1994, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. On August 19, 2011, the then-dubbed the "West Memphis Three" were released from prison.
Even before the trio were incarcerated for what appeared to be the extent of their lives, many investigators and activists believed the evidence that led to the sentence was unfounded. The beliefs never wavered over the course of Echols, Misskelley Jr., and Baldwin's time in prison, with filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky dedicating themselves to unraveling the truth behind the murders and freeing the West Memphis Three through their medium of choice.
Berlinger and Sinofsky's films — 1996's Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills, 2000's Paradise Lost 2: Revelations and 2011's Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory — dug deep into the West Mephis Three case, uncovering new evidence that eventually led to the freedom of the three wrongly convicted men. In the new Paradise Lost Trilogy box set, those remarkable documentary efforts are collected with new, never-before-seen footage and interviews, along with a booklet featuring photographs of the production over the past 17 years.
In this exclusive clip from the box set, Jason Baldwin recounts the violent experience he encountered after arriving to prison. Hearing his words, there is no wonder Berlinger and Sinofsky worked steadily to do whatever they could to get the West Memphis Three out of their unimaginable predicament:
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Teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were found guilty of the crime and convicted, but a star-studded campaign and an investigation funded by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh led to the trio's release.
Now, Berg's new film West of Memphis, covering the fight to overturn the three friends' convictions, has sparked a new investigation into the murders.
At a hearing on Wednesday (24Oct12) into the findings of the film and testimony obtained by Berg, state of Arkansas officials revealed there is an ongoing investigation with respect to new affidavits that have been submitted to the court.
The affidavits, featured in the investigative documentary, contain new evidence from three eyewitnesses about the final hours of the three dead boys' lives.
Reports suggest Circuit Court Judge Victor Hill will make an official ruling about reopening the case next week (beg29Oct12) and then decide if the state prosecutor Scott Ellington will have to turn over documents related to the case, including the affidavits that were part of the criminal investigation in the film.
Berg says, "?The fact that after watching West of Memphis, the state of Arkansas is considering opening an investigation into what we uncovered in the film is a huge step in the right direction. West of Memphis is a living, breathing film and will continue to evolve, like the story, until there is total justice in this case. This story is far from over.?
Since September (12) there have been a number of free screenings of West of Memphis in Arkansas and the film will screen in Little Rock on 30 October. It will open in cinemas in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day (25Dec12).
Emergency service officials raced to save the unnamed man's life on Friday morning (21Sep12) but he was pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital.
TMZ.com reports the deceased was a diver who was prepping a water scene in a tank on the set.
A statement from Disney - the studio behind the film - reads: "We regretfully confirm that a Lone Ranger crew member has passed away after being taken to a local hospital.
"Our hearts and thoughts are with his family, friends, and colleagues at this time, and our full support is behind the investigation into the circumstances of this terrible event."
It is not believed Depp was on set when the tragedy occurred - the actor is in New York preparing for an appearance at a launch to promote his friend and West Memphis Three member Damien Echols' new book Life After Death.
Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were released from prison last year (11) after serving 18 years on Death Row for their alleged part in the murder of three Arkansas boy scouts.
The Pirates of the Caribbean star has been a tireless advocate for the group, urging U.S. authorities to search for the real killers so the trio's names could be cleared, and earlier this year (12) Depp purchased the rights to Echols' unpublished memoirs to produce a documentary about his life, West of Memphis.
The pair has grown close over the last several months, and the actor reveals they solidified their friendship by getting inked together.
Showing off his new tattoo, Depp tells the Associated Press, "This one Damien designed. It's one of my all-time favourites, and it means quite a lot to me."
Echols insists the ink he shares with Depp has a very special meaning: "He's been with us every single step of the way. Since we've gotten out, he's become like a brother to me. And that's one of the things we always do just as part of that bond is whenever you get tattoos like that, it's something you carry with you through the rest of your life and it's really meaningful."
Depp isn't the only celebrity who fought for the West Memphis Three's freedom - rocker Eddie Vedder and Dixie Chicks star Natalie Maines have been close to the case for years and moviemaker Peter Jackson, who produced Depp's West of Memphis, has been quietly funding a private investigation into the murders.
Depp and his producing partner Christi Dembrowski have optioned the film rights to Echols' unpublished memoirs, according to Deadline.com.
Their film will chronicle Echols' life and his time behind bars for a crime he insists he didn't commit. He was 18 at the time of his arrest.
Following the West Memphis Three's release from prison, Depp urged U.S. authorities to continue searching for the real killers of the Arkansas boy scouts - so Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.'s names could be cleared.
The three men were set free in August (11) after reluctantly admitting guilt. They later revealed they had only done this as part of an agreement that would lead to their release.
During an interview with Larry King on CNN Presents, Depp said, "Admitting guilt (while) maintaining innocence, it's a really floppy piece of ground to stand on. I knew immediately when I first started to familiarise myself with the case, I knew instantly that they were innocent, that they were wrongfully accused. The more research I did, the more people I spoke to, it was absolutely apparent...
"It was ugly and a raw deal from the get-go back in '93... When you're thinking of these three kids, one, Damien Echols, on Death Row for 18 years, spent 10 years in isolation, for a crime that he did not commit.
"What I'm hoping is that the investigation will continue outside of the courthouse right now and that we will be able to prove the real killers."
Depp isn't the only celebrity fighting for justice for the West Memphis Three - rocker Eddie Vedder and Dixie Chicks star Natalie Maines have been close to the case for years and moviemaker Peter Jackson has been quietly funding a private investigation into the murders.
Director Joe Berlinger's Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, about the notorious 'West Memphis Three' case, has been nominated in the Documentary Feature category at the upcoming 2012 ceremony.
The film tells the story of three men - Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley - who were convicted of murdering three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas in 1993 but were freed last year (11) over significant doubts about their guilt.
The case has become a cause celebre in the U.S., with many campaigners convinced the accused were victims of a miscarriage of justice.
But the parents of one of the murdered boys - Michael Moore - and the father and stepfather of a second, Stevie Branch, have penned a letter to officials at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to express their "sadness and outrage" at the decision to nominate the documentary for an Oscar.
The letter adds, "This film should be exposed as a fraud, not rewarded with an Academy Award nomination."
Branch's mother and the parents of the third murdered boy - Christopher Byers - believe the West Memphis Three are innocent of the slayings.
The filmmaker and his partner Fran Walsh have been quietly funding the West Memphis Three investigation for years after they joined celebrities like Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines among those keen to prove the men had been wrongfully convicted.
The West Memphis Three - Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Damien Echols - were jailed as teenagers for the murder of three young boys in 1993 and last year (11), they were set free after striking a plea deal with prosecutors.
They promptly staged a press conference and insisted they had spent 18 years behind bars for a crime they did not commit, but agreed to a plea deal to escape prison.
Jackson has been involved in making a documentary about the high-profile case, and reveals he stuck by the three accused because his own treatment at the hand of bullies pushed him to help those who are treated badly by society.
He says, "I was bullied and regarded as little bit of an oddball myself. And I see that happening to somebody else, so I just want to help them."
The murder led to the arrest and conviction of three West Memphis teens, who were released from prison earlier this year (Aug11) after maintaining they did not carry out the slayings of eight-year-old Michael Moore and two of his friends.
Director Joe Berlinger's film Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which recounts the gruesome murders and the incarceration and release of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley - who became known as the West Memphis Three - picked up the Best Documentary prize at the National Board of Review Awards on Thursday (01Dec11).
But Todd and Dana Moore have requested Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officials exclude the film from Oscars contention, claiming the documentary glorifies the men they are still convinced killed their son.
In a letter sent to the Academy, the Moores write, "Michael's killers were unjustly able to enter into a plea agreement, were released from prison and now pose additional threats to society.
"We implore the Academy not to reward our child's killers and the directors who have profited from one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated under the guise of a documentary film."
Berlinger has responded to the letter in the Jonesboro Sun newspaper, stating, "We feel tremendous sorrow for them (parents) and we understand why a film that comes to a different conclusion than they do would make them feel this way... We fervently believe the West Memphis Three are innocent."
The Moores briefly appeared in Berlinger's first film about the killings, 1996's Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, but maintain they were "misled" and "manipulated".