Catten's Reviews > Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three

Devil's Knot by Mara Leveritt
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Dec 04, 08


Back in the day, I was a fan of Henry Rollins' band, Black Flag. So when I ran across an album dedicated to helping raise legal funding for the defense of some kids I never heard of before, I was intrigued.

I went online to see what the West Memphis Three was, and discovered a well done Web site and an intriguing story. Then I found Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt.

In May 1993, three 8-year-old boys, Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch, were reported missing from West Memphis, an Arkansas town (current population, 28,000) less than 10 miles east of Memphis, TN. After a frantic search, the three were discovered a day later near their homes, in a drainage ditch in a wooded area known as Robin Hood Hills. All three had been bound; one had bled to death, the other two drowned.

In the investigation that followed, the crime scene was compromised and the evidence collection botched. According to Leveritt, the police had no leads, a cold trail, and plenty of parents anxious for justice. Focus soon fell on a teenager named Damien Echols, who rubbed people in the conservative town the wrong way-after all, he wore black and read Stephen King.

Soon, two of his friends, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were also identified as suspects in the killings. Hints of satanic cult involvement, including human sacrifices, soon became "fact" and riding a wave of public approval for catching the killers, the police arrested and charged the three teens with murder, based completely on circumstantial evidence. In fact, their best piece of evidence against the three was a series of confessions coerced from a mentally challenged Jesse Misskelley, each of which differed significantly from the one before, but nicely supported the official story of what happened to the three younger boys.

Two jury trials later, the West Memphis Three were convicted of murder. Misskelley received life plus 40, Baldwin received life without parole, and Echols received the death penalty.

Leveritt makes a good case for an alternate suspect, the father of one of the murdered boys, and takes the reader into the courtroom where a circus of incompetence, bumbling cops, a bulldog of a judge, and bizarre reasoning reign supreme. The prosecution even tried to convince Jessie to testify against Damien and Jason by offering to let his girlfriend visit him in jail.

HBO featured a couple of documentaries on the case called Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations. The first one is hard to find; the other one is still widely available.

Leveritt does not remain objective for long, but she did the research, so maybe she's right. The book is a good read and will leave you wondering how a witch hunt and such an obvious miscarriage of justice could happen in our time.

By the way, the CD is called Rise Above, and it's great -- if you're a Black Flag fan.
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