As someone who followed Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost series I’ve long been fascinated (and frustrated) by the case of The West Memphis Three. There has only ever been one other documentary that got me fuming as much as that first Paradise Lost film did, a particularly gut-wrenching film called Dear Zachary.
If you haven’t seen the Berlinger/Sinofsky documentaries or know much of anything about the case, the rundown is that in the early ‘90s three young boys were murdered in a small Arkansas town. Three local teens were arrested and tried for the crimes and based on questionable evidence convicted. Their case has seemed hopeless despite new evidence coming to light until very recently.
After 18 years in prison, the three men convicted for this crime, Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols, were set free, Damien from death row. The State of Arkansas wouldn’t acknowledge their innocence, but the men get a chance at life and in Damien’s case he narrowly avoided being put to death for the crimes he was convicted of.
This topic is rife with controversy and red hot opinion. As it should be. It’s my opinion that these three men are innocent and I’m not alone.
Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens revealed they had contributed to the defense of these boys upon their release and I’ve come to discover that they’ve had a big hand in funding the search for and uncovering new DNA evidence.
While keeping a rather low profile about their exact involvement they just announced that they have completed work on a documentary called West of Memphis. Produced by Jackson and Walsh and directed by Deliver Us From Evil’s Amy Berg, the exact content of the doc is still a mystery.
I was able to sit down with Jackson, Walsh and Boyens to talk in great detail about their involvement in the case and how that inspired the coming documentary. They also shed a little light on what their documentary covers.
It’s a passionate discussion from them, filled with excitement over the release of these three men, frustration at the circumstances of that release and at the Arkansas Justice system as a whole.
Peter Jackson with Damien Echols
Quint: Do you guys just want to start off with your interest in the case? What compelled you to take a really active role in it.
Peter Jackson: We got interested in it the way that just about everybody who has become aware of the case, outside of Arkansas, through the PARADISE LOST documentary that came out about a year after the case. I believe it was about 1994 or 1995, but we didn’t actually see it until probably eight years ago when as documentary watchers we just happened to get the DVD randomly. We had never heard of the case before, watched it and became incredibly intrigued by the events as they unfolded in the documentary and of course afterwards you think “Well hang on, that was back in 1994, what on earth has happened since then?” You Google it on the internet thinking “There’s going to be some end to the story” and we were horrified to find that these guys were still in jail.
We actually couldn’t believe it even just based on what we saw in the Documentary, which was only covering the events around the trial. We couldn’t believe that in the intervening years there hadn’t been successful appeals, there hadn’t been a way that these guys should have been freed.
So we were initially shocked at the fact that they were still inside and this would have been, eight years, it would have been about 2005. Was it?
Fran Walsh: It was, yeah.
Peter Jackson: It was 2005, and basically we very quickly got in touch with people involved in the case, not the movie, but the actual case itself, to offer our help and support and that way we got to know Damien Echols’ wife, Lorri. I can’t remember how we initially got in touch with her.
Fran Walsh: I wrote to her.
Peter Jackson: You wrote to her?
Fran Walsh: Yeah, and we began a sort of email friendship actually about gardens and things mostly. (laughs)
Peter Jackson: Because she is a landscape gardener, yeah.
Fran Walsh: We both have a love of gardening, so…
Peter Jackson: But we were offering our help and support and anything we could do. It was interesting, because we have never done anything like this in our lives before really and the first thing we did was to basically learn through the defense really what had happened in the intervening years and the fact that the original lawyers had long since left the case and new lawyers had come in and in some cases new lawyers had come and gone and they were on their way to the third or fourth generation of lawyers, because these guys had no real money and were just at the mercy of the state.
So we sort of got our heads around the situation back in 2005 and we thought that the best way we could offer to help, because at that point PARADISE LOST had already got a lot of support for the case; it had generated interest from a lot of people all around the world and there was a certain amount of defense funding that was coming in the form of donations and obviously people like Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Johnny Depp, Henry Rollins… A lot of people had sort of seen the documentary, the same as us, and gotten involved in it. We wanted to help in some tangible way, rather than just putting money into a defense fund as it were or lawyer’s fees, we thought “Well how can we actually help in a way that might be significant?” So we decided to offer our help with the defense by funding DNA testing. Some had happened, but the limited funding had meant that they couldn’t do all of the DNA testing that they wanted, so we started paying lab bills.
Fran Walsh: No, no DNA testing had happened. They had an order for DNA testing, but no DNA testing had happened.
Peter Jackson: So we offered to start picking up the lab bills of various American labs to do DNA testing. There was no real expertise in the pathology area. Alot of the state’s case that this was a satanic murder was really based on the injuries and the wounds that were apparently inflicted on the victims at the time of the killing. And so we thought, “Well, this should be looked at by expert pathologists,” because there was no expert pathologist including the guy that the prosecution put up who was certainly no expert.
Fran Walsh: He was not board certified. He was an assistant pathologist at the time.
Peter Jackson: Yes, Frank Peretti. So we felt that there hadn’t been the degree of expertise put into this, even though the state had looked at these injuries and said “Satanic Cult related killings,” we thought “Well, there wasn’t really an expert, a genuine expert who had vast experience and knew what they were talking about who actually made those claims.” So we started to literally, through the defense, we didn’t do this independently, but through the lawyers we started to fund people like Vincent Di Maio, Dr. [Michael] Baden…
Fran Walsh: Dr. [Richard] Souviron, Dr. [Werner] Spitz…
Peter Jackson: We literally tried to look at America’s best forensic pathologists and get them to look at the case. It was interesting, because they all came up with exactly the same conclusion independently of each other that these were nothing to do with satanic (ritual), that they were postmortem injuries that were due to the fact that the victims had been under water for several hours and there were turtles and various other wildlife in that area that would have actually caused these wounds and the pathologists that we saw, all of these guys said, “We see these a hundred times. This is nothing new to us.”
Quint: And that was essentially the prosecutions entire case against these kids. The knife in the pond, the satanic ritual and Damien [Echols] reads Stephen King and listens to heavy metal music.
Peter Jackson: And wears black T-shirts.
Peter Jackson: I know, it’s sort of primitive. What astounded us is that not only do you kind of suddenly think you are in the middle ages when you are reading some of that state’s case against the guys, you do think that at some point in this calmer heads would have prevailed
So we did the lab testing, then of course with the DNA results it was interesting, because partly we were looking at these DNA results and trying to analyze what they meant, at the same time we were trying to also work with the lawyers, the legal team, especially Damien’s legal team were the ones that we were attached to, because each of the boys had sort of a separate legal team and through Lorri Davis, Damien’s wife, we were sort of more connected to the Damien Echols team than the other two. But we started to work with the lawyers about what the DNA results actually meant, because the first thing that they meant, which was significant, is the state’s case that these three boys spent what must have been a reasonable length of time in theory torturing and harming these kids on the river bank, we found that there was not a singe trace of their DNA anywhere. There was lots of DNA, but not a single trace of any one of the three guys and that was the first time that that really had been confirmed. They kept analyzing hairs, they kept the fibers, everything that existed still… And fortunately there was a lot of DNA that had been actually kept over the years and was in the care of the state, which they allowed us to test very reluctantly. We just kept coming up with negative results all of the time, not one shred of the so called “convicted perpetrator’s” DNA was there, so that tells you something.
But of course we started to find DNA of other interesting individuals, some of which were unknown and some of which we eventually got identities for and that obviously led to a whole different aspect, because unfortunately one of the things that we discovered too as we were working on this is that the only way that you can really make a difference when you are trying to get convictions overturned or you are trying to change what seems to be a miscarriage of justice is it’s not enough to prove the innocence of these guys, because in a way you have to have very strong evidence to get guys out of jail… there was a lot of proof of their innocence, there were witnesses that said that they were at a wrestling match with one of the guys…
Fran Walsh: Eleven people with Jessie [Misskelley] in another town at a wrestling match that testified on his behalf.
Peter Jackson: At the time that the murders happened, but the state had no interest in that sort of testimony, so in a way trying to prove the innocence wasn’t actually going to get you where you needed to go, it was going to get you some of the way, but it was ignored back in 1994 and the state sort of continued to ignore it. So it forces you to have to try to point the finger at somebody else, which is not really where our interest was, our interest was simply trying to get these guys out of jail and let them get back to their lives again. So many years they’d been robbed by the state of Arkansas.
We worked with private investigators. We hired John Douglas who developed the behavioral science unit at the FBI. He’s retired and so we engaged him as our consultant and he went down to Arkansas. He interviewed people. We really got John heavily involved in the case, which was very interesting. He literally started to develop a profile of who might have committed this crime and so we ended up inadvertently, not even intending to, having to be sort of part of an investigative side of this rather than trying to prove the innocence, we were also actually having to look at who could have done it.
So the net result of all of this was our help and support and the debt of many other people, because obviously many other people around the world were also pouring in their support, we were hoping that it would result in some kind of a reassessment of the case. You know we didn’t ever expect that suddenly we would wake up and the guys would be set free. We though that the very best thing we were hoping for was a new trial.
Quint: Yeah, a fair trial.
Peter Jackson: A fair trial, and that was really what we were aiming for, but it became clear to us at the end of 2008 that Damien’s case, because again the three cases were on separate courses, that Damien’s case with all of the DNA evidence that we had gathered up to that point, we’ve actually gotten a lot more since 2008, but there was still some compelling DNA evidence at the end of 2008 that went before Judge David Burnett, who had tried the original case and had sat in on every appeal since and was in total control of the case essentially. He had his finger on it and at this point you could argue he could have had a vested interest in not wanting to be seen to be wrong, which is a whole other side of this case as well. But anyway the DNA evidence went in front of Judge David Burnett who really was not particularly interested in it and didn’t think it was worth consideration.
Fran Walsh: He was obliged to look at it under the DNA statute that Arkansas had introduced, I think it was in 2008, and so he had to look at this motion for a new trial based on the DNA, but he said he found it “uncompelling” and on that basis denied the motion.
Peter Jackson: So at this point Damien was now in a bad place. I mean he literally had exhausted all of his state appeals and really there was only one last stop for him, which was the Supreme Court essentially and then it was going to be not a very good outcome…
Quint: Because he was on death row, right?
Peter Jackson: He was on death row since 1994 and had been on there for a long, long time and his time was literally running out and so we thought “What the hell can we do? We have tried to help with DNA. We have tried to help with private investigation. We have tried to help with expert scientific forensic pathology. We have tried to help in whatever way we could. What else can we do?” You are literally feeling helpless, desperate, and so we thought “Well, we are filmmakers, let’s turn to the thing that we actually know how to do. Why don’t we put everything that we have learned” and we had learned a lot obviously working closely with the defense, a lot of things that have never actually been released, never been released ever, and we thought “Well let’s just start putting all of this into a documentary.”
We were just hoping that the last gasp effort would be one in which you would have to embarrass somebody, because we thought “There’s no way that they are going to let these guys out if it’s just left to a rational decision.” There is no rational decisions that seem to be made within the Arkansas system as related to the West Memphis case. So we thought “Okay, well if it’s not going to be rational, fair minded, thinking, what will get these guys out?” We thought “Well humiliation, embarrassment… There’s going to be a judge. There’s going to be a DA. There’s going to be an attorney general. There’s going to be somebody who’s going to want to run for Senate or want to run for Governor or something who is going to want to shut this down, so if we can make enough noise about it,” and it’s not just noise, it’s actually presenting the facts. That’s what you are doing, you are presenting the facts to the world about this appalling travesty.
Quint: You wanted to clear the fog.
Peter Jackson: If it’s not facts that are going to get the guys out, it’s going to be embarrassment. “Somebody is going to want to shut this down. Somebody is going to have a personal career interest in closing this down.” So we thought that’s how our movie could help. That’s exactly how we felt. Certainly the content is there and so we started to think about the movie at the point that Burnett said “no” at the end of 2008 and we thought “Okay, time to now turn our attention to doing a film of this” and we have been working on it ever since.
The first thing we did, because neither Fran or I could obviously direct the film as such, because it would have to involve a lot of time in Arkansas and we were busy on our other projects, but we had seen a documentary that a filmmaker called Amy Berg had directed, DELIVER US FROM EVIL, which we thought was incredibly powerful…
Fran Walsh: For shining a light on the Catholic Church.
Peter Jackson: (Laughs) Yeah, which we thought “The Catholic Church, Arkansas… They are two worthy targets for some rational consideration.” So we asked Amy if she would be interested and obviously before she could give an answer she had to learn a lot about the case and we got her all of the material we could so she could study it and eventually she came back to us and said, “Wow, this is amazing” and she would love to be involved.
Really Amy has been devoting her time to this fully for the last two or three years and she’s spent a huge amount of time down in Arkansas, all around the country actually tracking people down. She’s interviewed people that have never spoken about the case before and interviewed most of the major participants and also we have as part of it got access to a lot of the files, a lot of the forensic reports, a lot of the expert witnesses that Fran and I engaged. So really the film is weird, because it’s a strangely auto-biographical movie in the sense that we end up sort of being part of our own film, which we don’t particularly want to be, but…
Fran Walsh: Well, we are not in it.
Peter Jackson: No. Which is not the point of making it of course, but you can’t actually tell the story really without discussing how we uncovered some of the things we did.
Quint: Well and that’s another reason why you couldn’t have directed it.
Peter Jackson: I can’t interview myself, it’s impossible. Amy’s done a very good job grilling me. (Laughs) And we really have left her alone to put the film together, it’s not something we have been intimately involved in. Amy’s done all of the hard grafting. What’s happening at the moment, which we can discuss in a minute, it’s got an ending now, which it never had before, although in a way it’s an ending which I think still has to be looked at with a very critical eye, because in my mind the state is behaving now as they have behaved since 1994, which is to not actually address the facts of the case, but to simply run for cover.
Quint: It feels like they are doing the bare minimum in letting them free. It’s almost like you don’t want to slam them for taking at least a step in the right direction, but…
Peter Jackson: (laughs) Well the step in the right direction is they are no longer keeping three innocent men in jail, including one on death row, and they are allowing them to resume some form of life after nearly 18 years. Now that’s a step in the right direction. What they are not doing, in my opinion, which is fairly outrageous is they are not saying, “Does this mean that there might be a triple child killer on the loose?” There are three families of these boys, these victims, that lost young children and certainly two of the parents of two of the boys don’t believe that the three convicted are the real killers or killer.
There is a sense even amongst now the families of the victims that possibly the truth has not been discovered and yet the state now is apparently walking away from it, because the fact that they have released Damien [Echols], and Jason [Baldwin], and Jessie [Misskelley] under the conditions and terms they have means that they have no interest in looking at this case ever again, no interest and so therefore they have no interest in justice. That I think makes the film very interesting.
Quint: It’s somewhat bittersweet, because you have to feel good for these guys getting out, but at the same time you have to consider the families of the victims. They are still not going to have any justice for their dead children.
Fran Walsh: And the state is still saying, “We made no mistakes” when clearly mistakes were made.
Quint: The whole deal reeks of the State of Arkansas trying to save face.
Peter Jackson: But how does the justice system work when saving face becomes the principle of justice, you know?
Fran Walsh: The guiding principle.
Peter Jackson: It’s the difference between the American justice system and certainly the justice system in our country and the United Kingdom, which our justice system is based on… In America so many of the people involved in the justice system are elected officials and I always find that really strange and all the way through examining this particular case, which is my first experience of the American justice system, I’ve been amazed at how you expect a real genuine cold clinical fairness, when surely these judges and these district attorneys and these various other people, the pathologists…
Fran Walsh: Sheriffs… Coroners…
Peter Jackson: The coroners… They all have to have one eye on the popular opinion of the community and some times the opinion of the community, with all of the emotions involved, particularly in the deaths of three young boys, can be warped. So therefore justice becomes warped and the frightening thing is that these same public officials dig a hole so deep that they can’t back out of it. They haven’t actually got the guts or the moral fiber to back out of it.
Quint: Without killing their careers, yeah.
Peter Jackson: That’s a pretty flawed justice system in my opinion. In New Zealand or the United Kingdom, these people in our justice system aren’t elected; they are appointed by the government. The judges essentially work for the crown, don’t they? They work for the Queen essentially, sort of independent of the government, so governments can come and go and our judges are there to represent the Queen of England. (Laughs) So they are totally impartial and fair and they don’t have a sense… They don’t have to worry about getting votes from the population.
Philippa Boyens: But it’s not just the population. I think the population in Arkansas has been denied a lot of the facts, because what happens is there is a system of mutual benefit and protection. It is open to that happening under the system of elected officials, because you become party to each other’s interests and that’s been proven time and time again in multiple instances throughout that system.
Peter Jackson: What is interesting and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recent weeks as we have sort of been putting the finished touches on this film is that… Normally a judgment is made and it stays within a relatively small community, a local community, unless it’s a nation-wide kind of crime, but… And also the community relies on its officials to do the right thing. I know I do. I know when I see somebody convicted of murder I don’t really give it much thought, I’m assuming they made the right decision, but it’s interesting in this case, because you have a justice system in Arkansas that’s determined it made the right decision, whether it’s right or wrong its determined it did, and what’s happened is you now have an international community, which is now fed through the internet and social media and websites. It originated with, obviously with PARADISE LOST with Mara Leveritt’s book THE DEVIL’S KNOT and various newspaper articles, but it got picked up by the internet and so in a way it’s like the population, whether it’s the population of Arkansas, America, or the world, it’s the population turning to the officials and saying “Well, hang on, we are in justice as much as you do and we actually all collectively have examined this case and we think there’s enough of a doubt to at least retry these boys.”
So it’s interesting how you know it’s one example and there have been others, but not that many, where a population, a large group of people has actually turned around to the justice system and said…
Fran Walsh: “Not good enough.”
Peter Jackson: “Not good enough. Represent us better and if you don’t we are going to make a noise about this and we are going to kick and scream and yell as long as we need to.” I find that a very comforting thing.
Quint: It feels like an extra check and balance in the system.
Philippa Boyens: Yes, exactly.
Peter Jackson: I mean if something like that happened to me, God forbid, if I ended up being accused of something I didn’t do I would be hoping like hell there were people out there who were prepared to do that for me.
Fran Walsh: But the truth is, for most people in that position where they are incarcerated, there isn’t that hope. There is no voice and they are lost in the system and they are casualties of it and some are killed by it.
Peter Jackson: Yeah, I mean you’ve got to give huge credit to Joe and PARADISE LOST. I mean I do actually honestly believe that if PARADISE LOST didn’t exist that Damien would be dead now. I mean it’s a simple fact. That film has galvanized and activated so many people onto this case, but of course it’s just a movie about a case. There are so many other cases that haven’t got films made about them, so you have to wonder.
Look I’m not a social crusader, I never considered myself one. I just like cool movies, but this case has certainly been something that we have done totally independent of filmmaking for many years now.
Philippa Boyens: But you don’t like seeing people railroaded, you’ve got a very strong sense of justice and it’s so funny, because I always say that these guys had such a strong will against them to keep them there, to see them executed. They needed an equally strong will to help and that’s what I saw with these two, because it got pretty grim. It got pretty grim.
Peter Jackson: Yeah, I can’t tell you how many hours Fran has spent studying files, getting thousands of pages of documents and just spending literally weeks pouring through them. I mean huge.
Fran Walsh: Well, it’s a big case.
Philippa Boyens: Tough to follow, too. People do tend to think they know the ins and outs, but there seems to have been so much else that…
Peter Jackson: And Philippa and Seth made the trip down to see Damien and visit him.
Philippa Boyen: Yeah, in 2006, it was a really hot summer, really hot and talk about naïve, I had been to Louisiana, but I had never really been to the south and got off the plane in Memphis and drove to Arkansas and I had no idea. A girl from New Zealand? I had landed on another planet, but it was amazing and the people were extraordinary. It was wonderful, but going to the Varner Unit to actually go to death row, which doesn’t even exist in New Zealand, was extraordinary. And then when we met Damien, the coolest thing about it was… because there is trepidation, because I didn’t question that he was innocent, but that you would like him or that he would be the person you thought he was and he was that and beyond and one of the funniest guys you’ve ever met. He was absolutely funny and had an incredible spirit.
Peter Jackson: One of the things that we have done for Damien over the years is we have subscribed to magazines and had them just sent directly to his cell in death row in the Varner Unit in Arkansas and he’s become a film buff without ever being able to see the films, because he’s subscribed to Empire Magazine, so he’s getting Empire every month about film and without being able to go out and see the movies! He’s reading all about them, so he’s got a bit of catching up to do. Damien said the only film that they regularly screened for death row convicts in Arkansas is THE GREEN MILE!
Peter Jackson: It’s true! He says they showed it to them over and over again.
Quint: Oh God. That’s literally worst movie you can show to some on death row! That’s so fucked up.
Peter Jackson: Tell me about it.
Quint: So, obviously I don’t know what Amy Berg is doing with it, but you’ve seen it come together. What’s the focus or tone of the doc?
Peter Jackson: Basically we are trying to examine what the state did in prosecuting the original case. We are trying to examine why they did it. We have been trying to look at the personal reasons why individuals involved in the prosecution of the case might have behaved the way they did. We are examining the various dodgy bits of evidence that were presented.
Quint: Is it primarily focused on the prosecution?
Peter Jackson: Well it’s focused on the 1994 case, the evidence, the events that led up to the case. It’s really a fairly clinical, analytical examination of the thing and then it goes obviously into the subsequent years, a little bit into the various denials of the motions and appeals, but that’s not so much of the film, because they just got turned down by Judge Burnett every single time anyway, so it was pretty predictable. (laughs) And then it goes into the social activism against the case that started with PARADISE LOST and then grew in the 2000’s with a lot of other people becoming involved and then ultimately our involvement and more then in terms of the pathology and the DNA evidence.
Fran Walsh: It’s tough when you present DNA evidence and they say, “No, that’s not important. That’s not compelling. Denied.” You think, “What is compelling?”
Peter Jackson: I know, because it’s weird because the whole theory of it is that these boys, the three perpetrators, the convicted guys were supposed to be in this vicinity, in the murder scene committing this murder, which involves all of this satanic rituals and stuff which would have gone on for quite some time and then they presumably left and they should have, in theory, left a lot of DNA there you would imagine. And every single bit of DNA was not connected to these guys. Now what does that mean? The state turns around and says “But this isn’t evidence of their innocence” and you say “No, it’s not, but it’s evidence that there is no evidence that they were there,” and it’s this weird kind of thing and the judge was just simply saying “You haven’t presented evidence of their innocence, so therefore I have no interest.” “Okay, well we have no DNA of those guys and we have DNA of other people who may or may not lead to the killer…”
Fran Walsh: Tied into ligatures…
Peter Jackson: “Obviously, if these guys are innocent, there isn’t going to be any of their DNA there and you are saying it’s not evidence…” It’s an incredibly frustrating thing.
Quint: So I guess because it wasn’t the trial where it was on the prosecution’s side to prove guilt instead of the defendant’s side to prove innocence, that made it easier for this Judge to shoot it down.
Peter Jackson: No, but the standard of justice was that if this evidence had been presented at the trial, would it have made the jury come to a different decision? That was what Judge Burnett denied. He essentially said, “Well no, in my opinion they would have achieved the same verdict.”
Philippa Boyens: It’s funny, Fran’s brain works in an amazing way, I remember that it’s like you had this little progression, you very analytically followed things and one of them was the lack of blood on the river banks. And I remember that you were looking at Peretti saying that they…
Peter Jackson: He was the state medical examiner.
Philippa Boyens: That something must have happened. It was quite a convoluted explanation and you just go “Well that doesn’t make any sense” and that’s when you started pulling at the thread of having other forensic pathologists and now it’s all coming to light.
Peter Jackson: I mean the thing that sums up the fairness of this case in my mind was that at Jessie Misskelley’s trail, and he in theory confessed, which is obviously if you study the…
Fan Walsh: He did confess, multiple times, but he changed his story every time.
Peter Jackson: He changed his story every time and confessed to other crimes as well, and so at his trial the defense got an expert on false confessions who had a PhD from, was it Berkeley?
Fran Walsh: Richard Ofshe is his name and he’s from Berkeley.
Peter Jackson: Yeah, and so he has a PhD from Berkeley. The prosecution offered up a guy called Dale Griffis, who also had a PHD in satanic killings, ritualistic killings, and…
Quint: Well, to be fair, that was my original major…
Peter Jackson: (laughs) And the judge decided that the jury, that the false confession guy with a PhD from Berkeley wasn’t worth the jury’s time to hear and denied…
Fran Walsh: He limited his evidence.
Peter Jackson: Yes, he limited his evidence in terms of what the jury heard, yet he allowed Dr. Griffis, or Dale Griffis, who’s PhD turned out to be a mail-order one, nothing to do with Berkeley or any other college, it was just simply one that he could buy off PHD.com or whatever, wherever you get these mail-order things, and he gave the satanic expert, Dale Griffis free reign to say whatever he wanted in front of the jury and that kind of sums up the primitive thinking that was at play in that trial.
Fran Walsh: Griffis was presented as the state’s expert witness.
Peter Jackson: He literally gave evidence saying about the significance of the full moon and the significance of the number “666” and you think “God, are we actually in a movie here? Is this the real world?”
Quint: I remember when I watched the documentary I actually started getting freaked out. The prosecutor’s closing argument was: “We found Stephen King books at his house. He wears black. He listens to heavy metal.” I’m just like “Shit, he just described me!”
Philippa Boyens: “Where were you on May 5th…?”
Fran Walsh: Well, the cool thing about Damien is he stills enjoys the odd dip into Stephen King.
Peter Jackson: I know, we keep sending him the new Stephen King books as they have come out. And he still enjoys them too, so it hasn’t put him off Stephen King’s novels.
Quint: Thankfully Stephen King’s been writing very long books! So, are you having to be careful about pointing the finger at anybody else specifically?
Peter Jackson: Well, obviously we don’t know who killed these kids and unless the state really looks into it probably no one will ever really know, but it’s a very relevant part of the story: who the police chose to point the finger at in 1994 and who they chose to ignore. There’s certainly some potential suspects who they didn’t even interview back then; they didn’t even question them and you’ve got to ask, “Why did that happen?”
So there are various questions that we ask and some of them have answers and some of them don’t. You know we didn’t really want to focus on personalities or people too much, but we did track down a lot of people who were involved in the 1994 events, whether they were on either side… the prosecution, the defense, whether they were witnesses, the families of the victims. We spoke to a lot people who have had 18 years to rethink things, even witnesses that were essentially witnesses for the prosecution are now thinking “Well, hang on I might not have actually thought those things back then. I might have made a mistake” and we’ve got that on film. In some respects I think a lot of the people we had spoken to really makes you think “Why isn’t the state talking to these people?” It feels like we were doing the job that the justice system should have done.
In a way the movie presents what the case today would be against these guys as opposed to what the state managed to sort of excavate out of nowhere back in 1994 and it’s an interesting comparison.
Quint: What’s the plan with the doc?
Peter Jackson: We have financed it ourselves. We haven’t got a distributor, haven’t got a studio, haven’t got anyone involved. Fran and I have just paid for it all ourselves.
It’s still a very relevant thing, because it is not a closed case. I mean that’s the thing that everyone has to realize, just because these three guys are out of jail, the case isn’t closed, there is a killer or killers walking around out there and there are three little boys who were murdered who deserve some form of justice and their families deserve some form of justice.
Fran Walsh: And frankly the three who have been released deserve justice as well, because they have not received justice. Far from it.
Peter Jackson: They deserve some explanation for what happened to the last seventeen or eighteen years of their lives. This is a story of a lot of victims and it’s unresolved. In all ways it’s unresolved and it shouldn’t be; it doesn’t have to be and why is it? You know, the film asks a lot of “Whys?” and hopefully people will be interested enough to seek some answers.
Hopefully later this week I’ll have some of my talk with Lorri Davis, Damien Echols (both pictured above with Jackson) and director Amy Berg ready for you guys. It’s fascinating stuff and really makes me excited to see exactly what the documentary looks like.