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GregMO ROberts

Review: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

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Back in 1996, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky set out to make a documentary for HBO on the West Memphis 3 – three teenage kids that were accessed of murdering three 8-year-old boys and sentenced to life imprisonment with one of the teenagers been given the death penalty.

The documentary focused on the questionable evidence and lack of thorough police investigative work that lead to their incarceration and hit such chords with the American public that soon celebrities such as Johnny Depp were championing the cause in an attempt to get the three boys a new trial.

Four years later, Berlinger and Sinofsky followed-up their story with Paradise Lost: Revelations which was a more biased account of the teenager’s innocence and used new information and footage to help promote their cause.

Fifteen years later, Berlinger and Sinofsky finish the trilogy with Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory that takes one final look at the teenagers that have grown into 30-year-old adults in prison for a crime that lacked the forensic evidence to convict if put on trial today.

Paradise Lost 3 opens in 1994 and we get the hard-to-watch actual crime scene footage of the three naked 8-year-old boys who were left hogtied with shoelaces in a small wooded area known as Robin Hood Hills.

With pressure from the media and the increasing tension amongst residents of the town, authorities soon charged teenagers Jason Baldwin, Jessie Miskelly and Damien Echols with murder and sentenced two of them (Baldwin, Miskelly) to life in prison without parole and Echols with the death penalty. The case was built upon their association with each other and loose allegations that the three were part of a satanic cult thanks to their preferred dark clothing and various graffiti and doodles of skeletons that were part of the group dynamic.

Although not as engrossing as 1996’s Paradise Lost, Purgatory again presents its case of innocence by interviewing or taping experts in their fields discuss the case and with a 2007 re-examining of the evidence by authoritative members of their fields (DNA, forensics etc). Scattered interviews from 1994 through 2010 help assert that justice may not have been done and that stubborn individuals who had involvement in the case provided the judicial roadblocks to impede any progress.

Paradise Lost 3 spends a bit more time in an assumption of another potential murderer of the three boys and they are fueled by celebrities Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and even a member of the Dixie Chicks in their attempts to have new evidence presented and justice served.

Paradise Lost 3 wrapped filming in August 2011 – three days later, the Memphis 3 were released from prison on a lesser charge that does not clear their innocence. Berlinger and Sinofsky informed the sold out crowd at the Toronto International Film Festival that we will be the first and the last to see this theatrical version as a new ending has since transpired (which drew a loud applause from the agreeing audience).

One of the real tragedies of the now trilogy of Paradise Lost films is watching three teenage boys age while in prison. They have missed out on an entire life’s worth of experiences (one did get married while incarcerated to a female fan) and we can only hope that a follow-up film 10 years from now shows us how the three were able to assimilate back into society and become everything that they should and could have been had they not been wrongly accused.

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