Life After Death: Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Damien Echols has lived through a nightmare. At the age of 18, he was wrongfully convicted, along with two others, of murdering three young boys,. His co-defendants were Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. Together, they came to be known as The West Memphis Three.

Echols spent the next 18 years on death row, and was finally released, along with Baldwin and Misskelley, on a plea bargain last August. Echols writes about this experience, as well as his childhood, in a new memoir, “Life After Death.”  

It might seem counter-intuitive to some that Echols would want to write about his trauma at all. But he says, for him, the nightmare isn't over. "Just because I'm out, I'm still not free. You know, technically, my criminal record shows that I've been convicted of three counts of murder." 

"The only way that I will ever be rid of it, and have any sort of sense of closure, is if the case is reopened, if we are completely exonerated, and the people responsible are in prison. So for me, talking about this is what I have to do right now." For Echols, this is the way back home. 

While Echols was on trial, a large part of the prosecution's case was based on his "gothic" clothing, his (naturally) black hair, and what these physical attributes supposedly indicated about his worshiping Satan. But when asked if he would go back and do things differently, or dress differently during the trial, Echols says no. "If you give up who you are, if you give up who you love, if you knuckle under, just because things are getting a little hard, then you're already living a death sentence anyway. It's just a really slow one."

Perhaps the most remarkable detail of Echols' incredible story is his marriage to Lorri Davis, who he met while on death row, and who he has been married to for 17 years. "It was she and my spiritual practice that kept me sane in there," Echols says. He also says that being apart for so many years, rather than weakening their bond, in fact strengthened it. 

"We had to strain, and reach, and force ourselves to forge different connections in other ways, to get to know each other in other ways. Especially through something like writing letters, you know, you write your every thought, your every emotion. You go into realms of your psyche that you wouldn't just on a normal daily basis talking to someone about. So it forges really deep bonds and connections."

Echols writes in his memoir that prison robs you of your humanity. But he's working everyday to get it back. 

Guests:

Damien Echols

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer and Maggie Penman

Comments [8]

Gayla Naldrett

I saw one of the negative comments that ironicly have Terry Hobbs blog sight link. I do not beleive they were guilty. The only I have ever seen negative looks like some wanted to add their on twist to the story. Anyone who really beleives they did it, including the stupid moron judge should their selves this question. Does a tiger ever really change their stripes? If Ted Bundy had been released,instead of being executed would he have come out a reformed man just he spent a lot of time in prison. As high profile as these guys have been that if they had done anything wrong in the last 3 yrs. since their release. Instead all have been doing is trying to leed quit lives and start learning how to survive out here. For some people it seems that no matter what they are never going to cut them a break. The person that I still think did points fingers at them also, and for good reason because while someone was charged with the crime the police would look at some one other than who they already charged. I don't want to mention any names because he likes to try and sue people(lol).

Jan. 26 2014 06:08 AM
west memphis three facts from Buffalo, NY

-- Echols plead guilty to three counts of murder last year, instead of waiting for a trial to exonerate himself. His trial was not about his "clothes" but about the evidence and the repeated confessions (five by Misskelley - one of the three) and braggings to others by Echols about that he committed the crime.

Many people believe Echols was guilty as charged. The West Memphis Three were found guilty by a unanimous jury the first time and plead guilty last year instead of waiting for a trial. Misskelley (one of the 3) confessed FIVE times, three times to the detectives, once to the police and once to his own lawyer. All of the West Memphis three had failed alibis.

Sep. 20 2012 12:13 AM
west memphis three facts from Buffalo, NY

Echols plead guilty to three counts of murder last year, instead of waiting for a trial to exonerate himself. His trial was not about his "clothes" but about the evidence and the repeated confessions (five by Misskelley - one of the three) and braggings to others by Echols about that he committed the crime.

Many people believe Echols was guilty as charged. The West Memphis Three were found guilty by a unanimous jury the first time and plead guilty last year instead of waiting for a trial. Misskelley (one of the 3) confessed FIVE times, three times to the detectives, once to the police and once to his own lawyer. All of the West Memphis three had failed alibis.

Echols had a history of threats of violence, violence, psychiatric treatment and psychotic behavior. His reported actions included brutally killing a dog, starting fires at his school, threatening to kill his teachers and parents and stating he liked to drink blood. See court documents exhibit 500 for evidence of this. Echols' stated under cross-examination that he was interested in the occult. Echols' journal contained morbid images and references to dead children.

Police took a necklace from Echols when he was arrested. An outside crime lab later found blood from two distinct DNA sources on the necklace. One source was consistent with Echols himself. The second source was consistent with both victim Steven Branch and co-defendant Jason Baldwin (one of the 3). A car load of people saw Echols in muddy clothes near the crime scene. Echols went around bragging he committed the crimes to at least three different people after the crimes were committed.

Read alternative sources about the case. The movies only present one side of the story.

http://wm3truth.com

http://callahan.8k.com

http://www.terryhobbs.com/2012/06/todd-moore-sets-record-straight.html

Sep. 20 2012 12:11 AM
Jo from North Carolina

I have followed this story for a long time. My birthday wish list had this book at the top. The old saying, "what does not kill you makes one stronger" certainly seems to apply in this case. I hope once things settle down with Mr. Echols and Ms. Davis, they can have a fulfilling life.

Sep. 19 2012 10:46 PM
Denise from Brooklyn

I've followed this story since the first documentary, and it is tragic what can happen to people who do not fit a mold. Damien, remained really strong, and became somewhat of a spiritual leader, just by telling his story from the depths of his soul. His ability to tell his story thoughtfully and intelligently, is precisely the reason he it seemed he was targeted in the first place, being surrounded by very limited people in the community that can't comprehend anything beyond t.v. or what is fed to them in church. It's makes me angry, obviously, when I see a comrade--in the worldly sense--have so much taken away. And still, Damien continues to give so much.

Sep. 19 2012 04:04 PM
jon from nyc

i thought your questions were obnoxiously blunt for this poor man.

Sep. 19 2012 04:01 PM
monique from florida

This is a sad story. It makes you wonder about our judicial system. I am so glad God is who he is!!!!!! And thank God for his loving wife!!!

Sep. 19 2012 10:45 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

What a painful story. I hope he can find some freedom

Sep. 19 2012 10:00 AM

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