On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boy scouts -- Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers -- were found dead. One month later, three teenagers -- Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley -- were arrested for the murders, despite a lack of evidence. They spent 18 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit, before being released in August 2011 after taking the Alford Plea deal offered to them.
Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky chronicled the West Memphis Three's 1993 arrests and their sentencing in the 1996 HBO film, "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" and a 2000 sequel. The third and final installment of the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," premiered on Jan. 12, 2012.
Jason Baldwin, who was just 16 years old when he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison, never gave up hope. He believed that everything would work itself out. Little did he know, however, it would take 18 years to do so.
Baldwin sat down with The Huffington Post's Crystal Bell and went back to 1993, when he was first convicted, and revealed the tremendous impact the documentaries have had on his life in prison.
You have to believe that the system is going to work the way it's supposed to work because if you don't think it will, that means that you can't have hope, and if you can't have hope, then you can't have faith in the system. If the faith in the system and the hope in the system is not there, then why have the system?
I was thinking that things were going to work out right because at the time of the murders, I was with my family. I was cutting my uncle's yard, I was hanging out with my friend after cutting the yard, spending some of the money playing video games at Walmart. There was a guy there watching me play video games. I didn't even know the guy, but he was just waiting his turn. He was willing to testify to that effect. Then, I went to a friend's house and bought a cassette. I talked to my girlfriend on the phone and ate dinner and saw my brothers and my mom's boyfriend. Just normal things that you do, those are the things that I was doing that day. I wasn't out murdering anybody.
When I got arrested, I was telling the police these things, and they just will not listen. It's like I'm speaking a foreign language that they don't understand ... that was infuriating.
And then I get attorneys appointed to me, and it was real hard to talk to them about it too because they're saying, "Well, what about Damien? He's into the Wicca and what's all this Metallica stuff?" And I'm like, "So what?" This is America. We have the freedom of choice. We have the freedom of religion. We have freedom.
That doesn't have anything to do with these boys being murdered because I remember when they were murdered. My youngest brother Terry was just nine years old. My other brother Matthew was 14. I was 16. The next day, when we heard about it, my mom didn't go to work. She stayed at the house to make sure that we weren't going to go anywhere. She was frightened. Somebody was out there killing kids, and my youngest brother is a kid the same age.
We were terrified, so for them to pick us up and arrest us was just crazy. But I had faith that it was going to work out because my family was going to testify for me because if you're here doing these things with your family, you can't be out there doing what they say.
So when the trial comes about, somehow or another, my family isn't even called to testify. I don't even know how that happened or why it didn't happen, so I had no defense.
Joe [Berlinger, one of the "Paradise Lost" filmmakers] was able to see things that I wasn't able to see because I was in the jail. My family took great pains to shield me from what was being said before the trial, to protect me. I didn't know all the madness that they were going through out there.
It was just the scariest thing in the world, to be helpless and powerless to do anything, but I had hope. I knew I was right, and I just knew things would work out.
When I first got to prison, everybody there had been watching the stuff on the news, and they had seen the trial and all the bad stuff that they were saying. They had this wrong idea of who we were. They thought we were child killers. That's the worst of the worst in prison, so they were waiting on me. I'm 16. I turned 17 in prison, and I had every birthday since then -- all the way to my 34th birthday -- in prison. So when I get there, they were waiting on me all of the time.
I got my collarbone broke[n], my skull shattered, and I have all these types of scars in my eyes. I mean, I can't even count the number of fights I was in with people.
But, you know, the documentaries came out, and after I was there for awhile, all of that changed, from punches and kicks and curses to hugs and prayers. When I left prison, the whole prison was literally weeping with joy, from the inmates to the guards to the staff, just everybody.
I took the last of my commissary money, and I told them to cash it in and get ice cream for everyone. I was walking down the hall, hugging people and getting congratulations, and I was like, "Stop at the commissary because there's ice cream waiting for you!"
Mr. Baldwin is currently living in Seattle, where he recently moved into a new apartment. Since being released from prison in 2011, he also recently got his driver's license, a milestone that he had to put on hold for 18 years.
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