The trio, known as the “West Memphis Three,” were released after entering an Alford plea, a legal maneuver that allows a person to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty.
The story, while fascinating, is not without controversy. Websites have been set up both in support and accusation of the West Memphis Three.
Todd Moore, the father of Michael Moore, one of the murder victims, urged people to boycott the film in a March 8 letter to the editor printed in The Salem News.
“The Salem Film Fest and CinemaSalem should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a convicted child murderer,” Moore wrote. “In the eyes of the law, he is a child killer. It is shameful for anyone to support this monster.”
The documentary paints Echols as wrongly accused and points the crime toward the stepfather of one of the murdered boys.
The film transports the viewer to the story’s setting in Arkansas, with shots of rundown neighborhoods, trailer parks and the murky creek where the three bodies were found.
At times, the accents of those being interviewed were thick enough that the filmmakers added subtitles.
“What a film can do is have you listen and understand. You see the people and get to know them,” Van Ness said. “That’s the power of documentaries. ... It’s better than fiction. You couldn’t make this up.”
On Friday night, Echols and Davis were asked if Salem’s 1692 witchcraft hysteria, and current-day acceptance of the Wiccan community, prompted their move to the city. Prosecutors alleged in Echols’ 1994 trial that the murders were part of a cult ritual.
Their move was “due in large part” to that history, Echols said, “but it’s more than that.”
“(Salem) doesn’t just accept (different religions/points of view), it embraces them,” Echols said. “That’s one of the things we love about this place.”