Paradise Regained

Damien Echols served 18 years in prison for a crime he almost certainly didn't commit. Now free, Echols visits Houston to read from his new memoir

By Michael Hardy May 13, 2013


Image: Peter Ash Lee


Damien Echols: Life After Death
May 13 at 7
Brazos Bookstore
2421 Bissonnet St

Less than two years ago, Damien Echols was sitting on death row awaiting lethal injection for a horrifying crime that he almost certainly did not commit. He had spent the last 18 years in prison, convicted, along with two of his friends, of murdering three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993.  Today, Echols is a free man, and he’ll be at Brazos Bookstore tonight to read from his harrowing new memoir, Life After Death. Together with two friends, Echols was charged with murdering the three boys in a hypothesized satanic ritual. (The boys were considered suspicious, in part, because they liked to dress in black and listen to Metallica; Echols considered himself a Wiccan.) Despite the flimsiness of the state’s case, Echols was sentenced to death and his friends James Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. sentenced to life in prison.

If it weren’t for the three Paradise Lost documentaries produced by HBO between 1996 and 2011, which cast considerable doubt on the convictions, the so-called West Memphis Three would likely still be behind bars, and Echols might be dead. Fortunately, the documentaries won the men supporters around the world, including celebrities like Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who helped raise money for a legal defense fund. Finally, after interminable legal wrangling, the three were released from prison in 2011 after entering a so-called Alford Plea, which in Arkansas allows defendants to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence.

Although Baldwin and Miskelley, Jr. have kept a low profile since being released, Echols appears to be enjoying his celebrity, hobnobbing with rock stars, tweeting regularly, and touring the country to promote his new book. In an ironic twist, Echols now lives with his wife in Salem, Massachusetts, the site of the infamous 17th century witch trials. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, Echols said that “The only two places I’d want to live were Salem and New York City,” he says. “Due to its history, Salem’s like a mecca for people in any form of alternative spirituality.” 

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