To the editor:
CinemaSalem screens the film “West of Memphis” tonight as a part of its annual documentary film series. Mr. Todd Moore, the father of Michael Moore, one of three 8-year-olds that Salem resident Damien Echols has pleaded guilty to murdering, posted a comment on the festival’s blog site protesting their presentation of the film. It reads in part, “How shameful for anyone to support this monster (Mr. Echols) that brutally murdered my son and his friends. It is a shame upon anyone who supports this monster or anything connected with him.”
The screening, of course, will go forward. “West of Memphis” was financed by the director of “Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson, and Echols has several other famous supporters. We live in a society that worships celebrity and notoriety. God forbid that the anguished plea of a father whose son was stripped naked of his Cub Scout uniform, beaten, hogtied and tossed into a muddy creek to drown should lead to soul-searching on anyone’s part. This is Salem, Massachusetts, not Hollywood, after all. It’s not every day we get to attend a screening followed by a Q&A with a man who has pleaded guilty to multiple child murder and who went out with Johnny Depp to get matching tattoos.
So what if FedEx withdrew its financial support of a conference recently when it learned that Echols, a convicted child killer, had been invited as guest speaker? This is New England, not the Deep South. We are more progressive and open-minded than those backwoods types down there. In fact, unlike those provincial rubes that run FedEx, rather than cancel a sold-out screening just because the father of a murdered child has objected, we have added a second screening and second appearance by the very man who pleaded guilty to his murder. The show, as they say, must go on.
I hope I haven’t spoiled the fun of you lucky filmgoers out there who have tickets in hand to tonight’s and Tuesday night’s screenings when I tell you that the film you are about to see is a lie and a fraud. It matters little that “West of Memphis” was roundly ignored by the documentary filmmakers of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences despite its impressive pedigree, or that it has failed miserably at the box office since its release. What matters is that while it calls itself a “documentary,” it is, in reality, a piece of pure propaganda designed to convince an uninformed public that a man who has been convicted of and pleaded guilty to triple child murder is in fact the true victim of the story. Echols’ film would have you believe he was falsely convicted by ignorant brutes and religious zealots who couldn’t abide him because they viewed him as “different.” It is likewise a film that spends nearly half of its interminable length trying desperately and vainly to convince its audience that the parent of one of the three murdered children is in fact the real killer, despite Mr. Echols’ conviction and subsequent guilty plea.
For make no mistake about it: Mr. Echols has not been “exonerated” as has so frequently been falsely reported in the press. He was released after he engineered and signed an “Alford plea” by which he pleaded guilty to first-degree multiple child murder and further agreed that he would likely have been found guilty again if retried. If he violates the terms of his 10-year suspended imposition of sentence, he will be returned to prison for an additional 21 years. This is hardly a man who is viewed by our courts as innocent, even though his basic constitutional rights allow him to continue to proclaim his innocence.
Seek the truth before you watch the film tonight. There are numerous websites devoted to the real facts of this case; www.westmemphisthreetruth.com is a good place to start. You owe it to the dad of little Michael Moore, as well as to yourself and to your own vulnerable children.