The parents of one of three West Memphis, Ark., boys found dead 18 years ago are asking that a documentary about the killings be excluded from Academy Award consideration. Todd and Dana Moore made the request in a letter sent Nov. 22 to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ documentary division. In it, the Moores argue that Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory glorifies Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, who were released from prison in August after their sentences were set aside and they pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
“Because of public pressure that exploded due to gross misrepresentations of fact in the two previous documentaries, Michael’s killers were unjustly able to enter into a plea agreement, were released from prison and now pose additional threats to society,” the letter reads.
“We implore the Academy not to reward our child’s killers and the directors who have profited from one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated under the guise of a documentary film.”
The couple’s 8-year-old son, Michael, along with Steve Branch and Christopher Byers were found naked and bludgeoned in a ditch on May 6, 1993.
Director Joe Berlinger defended the film but also acknowledged that he understood the parents’ grief. “We feel tremendous sorrow for them,” Berlinger told the Jonesboro Sun for a story in Wednesday’s editions. “We understand why a film that comes to a different conclusion than they do would make them feel this way. We stand by our films. We fervently believe the West Memphis Three are innocent.”
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley, dubbed the West Memphis Three, entered their pleas under a legal provision that allowed them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them. Echols was sentenced to death for the killings.
An email sent to the academy after hours seeking comment wasn’t immediately answered Wednesday. An attempt to leave an after-hours phone message was unsuccessful.
The Moores appeared briefly in the first documentary about the deaths, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which aired on HBO in 1996. But they claimed Berlinger and Sinofsky “misled” and “manipulated” them. “We appeared solely in the first film because the directors lied and told us their purpose was to protect children,” the letter says.
When Berlinger and fellow director Bruce Sinofsky began the first film, they thought the three men were guilty of committing the killings, Berlinger said. Every effort was made to show that Todd and Dana believed the men were guilty, he added.