West Memphis 3 Freed! Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Joe Berlinger Are There

The West Memphis 3– Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr.– were released from prison yesterday in Arkansas after serving 18 years in prison for the stabbing murders of three elementary-aged boys. Supporters Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, and actor Johnny Depp traveled to Jonesboro, AR along with filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Crude) who has shot two documentaries about the trial and is completing a third for the Toronto Film Fest, and a group of activists who had worked raising funds and awarenes for the convicted trio’s defense. Other supporters include members of the band X, Henry Rollins, Ozzy Osbourne, and writer/director John Roecker who emailed La Figa saying:

I was in tears all day yesterday-It reminded me of the the last election, was so happy that Obama got elected and sad that Prop 8 didn’t go though. A bittersweet victory. But I am just staying focused that those men are out and can live their lives the way it was meant to be. Free.

X’s Exene Cervenka who–with Chuck D, Ice-T, Iggy Pop, Lemmy from Motorhead, Ryan Adams and others–appeared on Rise Above, 24 Songs to Benefit the West Memphis 3, which featured vocalists from all genres covering Black Flag songs and backed by the Rollins Band, tweeted:

Finally some great news wm3 released!!!!So many people worked so hard to help them, thank you all.

while Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins’ Band) emailed the LA Times:

I am happy for the guys but so much has been lost. Three boys were killed. In my opinion, the wrong people were incarcerated and the person or persons who did it are still out there, alive or dead, still not brought to justice.

At the time of WM3′s trial in 1993, the height of the Satanic Panic, the prosecution in the primarily fundamentalist Christian area argued that the trio–who listened to bands like Metallica and wore black–had hogtied, raped, mutilated and killed the children as part of a Satanic ritual. Misskelley–who is mentally disabled–had confessed to police, but the defense contended that he was coerced into making a false confession and, as a minor, had not been properly Mirandized. Misskelly eventually recanted the confession, and other witnesses admitted they lied to police. Damien Echols, who read books on the occult and was medicated for bipolar disorder was named the ringleader by the prosecution and sentenced to death, while the two other defendants received life in prison.

Supporters believe the trio was prosecuted on weak evidence because they looked different–an aspect of the case that resonates with many in the artistic community–and that there was juror misconduct.

On Friday the trio pleaded guilty under the little-used Alford plea, which allows them to also claim they are innocent. An Aford plea, sometimes agreed upon when both the defense and the prosecution have reasons to avoid a jury trial. Since the Arkansas Supreme Court recently determined that DNA evidence found at the scene conclusively excluded the prisoners, the three attorneys for WM3 had asked for a new hearing to consider new evidence, a request that was granted by the court.

DNA evidence testing was not available at the time of their first trials, but since then DNA testing of the evidence revealed that a hair found in the ligature knots belonged to one of the victim’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, while a hair found on a tree stump

was consistent with the DNA of a friend of Hobbs, according to the documents.

Hobbs has denied seeing the three victims–Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and Hobbs’ stepson Michael Moore–on the day of their disappearance. A speech by Dixie Chick Natalie Maines on the steps of the Arkansas State Supreme Courthouse in which she mentioned Hobbs resulted in a civil suit.

According to the LA Times:

Echols’ attorneys said they had found three eyewitnesses who said Hobbs was “the last adult seen with the victims” on the night they disappeared.

Hobbs declares he’s innocent.

John Mark Byers, whose stepson Christopher Byers was murdered and mutilated, told CNN that he believes the WM3 to be innocent:

They’re innocent. They did not kill my son.

But Steven Branch’s father, also named Steven Branch, spoke angrily to CNN affiliate WMC-TV before the hearing.:

I don’t know what kind of deal they worked up. Now you can get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you, and you can walk free for killing somebody.

Johnny Depp told CBS News in a 2010 interview of the WM3:

People need to stand up and say, yeah, it’s time to find the killers. Let’s find justice.

The prosecutor said:

I have no reason to believe there was anyone else involved in the homicide of these three children but the three defendants who plead guilty today.

But he added that the state could file charges against others if new evidence emerges implicating someone else in the case.

Rise Above, directed by Modi and Kevin Kerslake; Kerslake is our guest on tomorrow’s FDL Movie Night.

Bad Day: Kevin Costner’s Secret Movie Hits the Web

UPDATE: Modi Frank and a special guest will be with us on Movie Night, Firedoglake.com’s  live, interactive typed chat Monday Aug 9 5pm-6:30pm PDT/8pm-9:30pm EDT. Please join in.

Before he danced with wolves, Academy Award winning actor/director Kevin Costner made a never-before-seen movie that’s being released today after nearly 25 years in a vault:  Bad Day, directed by the award-winning rock video director Modi Frank and photographed by punk rock queen, singer, poet and visual artist Exene Cervenka, co-founder of the seminal band X. The duo are releasing the cowboy-themed short  as a digital downloaded for a “you decide” amount. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Gulf charities providing aid to both people and the environment. Exene and Modi said:

We are both so proud of Kevin and grateful for all he’s doing to help in the Gulf.

Costner has spent $25 million dollars over the last decade to develop centrifuge clean-up machinery which can mitigate the damage from oil spills. BP bought 32 of the machines marketed by Ocean Therapy Solutions. The centrifuges, which can clean 6 million gallons of oily water a day, separating the oil from water by spinning, will be ready to be deployed by the first week of August, according to John Houghtaling, Costner’s chief partner in the project . The salt water can be returned to the ocean and the oil can be used by industry.

Bad Day–the legendary but unseen until now 20 minute silent film, co-written by Exene and Modi, with a soundtrack by Dave Alvin and DJ Bonebrake–also stars John Doe, Chris (Chris D) Desjardins from the Flesheaters and the Divine Horsemen, and Julie Christensen of Stone Cupid who has also collaborated with Leonard Cohen, artist-photographer Peter Haskell, and Los Angeles poet Doug Knott.

Bad Day is also a collaboration of formats–punk rock and two-reel Western silents, black and white film stock meeting the Internet at a time when digital is the format du jour. The advent of downloading videos provided the perfect format to release Bad Day, allowing this moment of artistic collaboration to reach its target audience. Says Exene:

It was a blast to write, envision and then film.  We have talented friends, all up for a project, and we froze a moment in history. It was one of the best times Modi and I have ever had…We’ve talked about releasing Bad Day over the years, but now with the internet we have control over distribution with digital downloads. We want the world to see it and enjoy.