Feb 28, 2010

Johnny Depp Boosts Media Interest in the WM3

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

If you missed last night's 48 Hours Mystery episode on Johnny Depp and his public support for the West Memphis Mystery, video of the entire show is posted below. It covers most of the important elements of the case and has some really moving interviews. The show focuses almost exclusively on supporters of the WM3, not on the Arkansas court system that convicted them and continues to stand by the verdict. Probably because no one from the prosecution would talk to 48 Hours. The most telling statement in the entire show: "Prosecutors turned down our requests for interviews."

As I've noted previously, the prosecution and Judge Burnett have really dug in their heels. Media, celebrity, and public attention, have only hardened their resolve against the "second guessing" of outsiders. Arkansas courts have repeatedly rejected things like expert testimony on DNA and forensics that cut the legs out from under the case that convicted Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. After all, they convicted them without any credible physical evidence. Why should physical evidence matter now?

There has also been a flurry of media attention preceding the airing of the show, from within CBS, but also print outlets. Depp has been subjected to some of the same celebrity bashing snark that Natalie Maines enjoyed when she made her public plea from the usual suspects. The New York Post reports that "Johhny Depp promotes kid's movie by discussing satanic murders."

Johnny Depp may have fallen through a rabbit hole. To promote his movie version of "Alice in Wonderland," he's advocating the release of three men convicted of murdering three boys in a suspected satanic ritual.

But their own Linda Stasi has a different take.

Think back 17 long years. Do you remember how every talk show was obsessed with the same hot topic -- teenage Satanism? Heavy metal, it was suggested, led to Satanism which naturally led to ritualistic murder.

Even though the FBI never had evidence of even one so-called Satanic murder, the national TV talk show atmosphere became very 17th-century Salem witch trials.

. . .

That "proof" came in 1993 with the brutal murders of three little boys at a creek in Arkansas and the hasty conviction of three teenage boys for the killings.

Why? Because one of the boys wore black, had crazy "metal" hair and looked like what the juvenile officer in their town thought a teen Satanist would look like.

There's also an excellent write-up in Salon defending Depp's interest in the case.

Forget the fact that the satanic sacrifice angle has been dubious from the get-go. Forget the lack of DNA evidence to tie the suspects to the crime. Forget, also, that Depp is not doing "48 Hours" to shill his movie. Yep, Johnny Depp wants to unleash devil-worshiping murderers on the children of America! PS, go see "Alice in Wonderland"!

Or maybe the famously press-shy Depp has other motives, like believing in the story. He's certainly in good company. Other celebrities who've advocated for the West Memphis Three include Eddie Vedder (who co-wrote the song "Army Reserve" with Echols), Metallica,  the Dixie ChicksHenry Rollins and Margaret Cho. Even "South Park" co-creator Trey Parker, who has made of career of skewering self-righteous stars and their doofy do-gooder public displays, has championed them. The mother of  victim Stevie Branch, Pamela Hobbs, has also asserted she believes in the innocence of Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley.

Given all that evidence, perhaps Depp, the serious and committed actor, environmental activist and parent, is likely not also a fan of child-murdering Satanists. Perhaps one of the biggest movie stars in the world actually gives a damn about righting what is a bungled murder investigation at best and, at worst, a horrific miscarriage of justice in the American trial system. Perhaps he's so passionate about the issue that he's willing to go on a lurid television show to speak out about it. Maybe the guy whose movies so often charm and delight children actually cares about kids -- and not just the wide-eyed popcorn eaters who sit in movie theaters, but three little boys who died on a May evening in the Arkansas woods, and a trio of former misfit teens who've spent the past 16 years in prison for their deaths.

CBS affiliate WREG had a good sit down interview with John Mark Byers, the father of the slain Christopher Byers. Byers, who emerged from the Paradise Lost documentaries as one of the most colorful characters, expressing on film his homicidal rage at the WM3, has made news for his complete reversal and advocacy for a new trial.

There's not a lot of new material in any of these reports for people who've been following the case for years, but it should provide food for thought for those who are unfamiliar with this continuing travesty.

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