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Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 84th Annual Academy Awards…          I had to steel myself for this one because I knew what the subject matter was. Not because I had seen the previous two Paradise Lost documentaries from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky—I had not(at least not in full–I’d happened by bits and pieces over the years when channel-surfing). But I’d read about this case before and the details are harrowing. And the images are sickening. I don’t know after viewing “Paradise Lost 3” if Damien Echols, Charles Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley are guilty or innocent. But I do know that Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines think they were not guilty of the crime. That celebrity endorsement alone seemingly has convinced a number of people. Not me. What I got from this was that shoddy police work and amateurish investigating MAY have led to these three being wrongfully imprisoned. But I’m simply not arrogant enough to claim that I am certain. Especially when witnessing how easily suspicion had shifted to first one, and then a second, father(actually step-father the most recent time)of one of the three murdered children. Solving a crime of this magnitude is not going to be accomplished by any one person watching a string of documentaries. Especially when the filmmakers are convinced of the innocence of the accused, and therefore irretrievably biased. The sense of that bias is overwhelming here. It may be almost easy for some to forget after the first 15 minutes or so about the very real dead 8-year-olds found in a creek. But I could not erase the sight.          My brain told me they were mannequins at first. Or just plastic dummies being used at the crime scene to aid the investigation. Our minds protect us that way, I guess. But after about 15 seconds I realized what I was witnessing were the actual butchered children filmed in those Arkansas woods. It’s horrible to comprehend, but also simplifies the understanding of how a lynch mob mentality can grow against ANYONE considered a suspect in a massacre of this nature. It also immediately begs the question-is the showing of these bodies necessary, or just flat-out exploitation? As before—I just don’t know. But when these images were left behind and shifted to “sexiest man alive” Depp and Pearl Jam frontman Vedder—I DID get a bit angry. I started thinking about cases of wrongfully accused people(including scores of minorities who could be in jail on trumped-up charges)who DON’T have the star of “Pirates of the Caribbean” speaking out for them. And that’s when I began my own internet googling. It seems that there are STILL a fair amount of individuals who think this trio is guilty, including parents of two of the murdered boys. This flawed documentary created many more questions than provided answers for me. In fact, I find it difficult to fathom how anyone could be CONVINCED of their innocence, instead of just stating that they are leery of their original conviction. This is thorny stuff, and I don’t feel the directors completely did their jobs here.          Cause celebre is a dangerous thing, and could be clouding judgement in this case as much as the original faulty investigation did. I fear these 3 deceased boys will never have their killer(s) paying for the crime rotting in a prison as it should be. It’s all become too murky now—which I theorize should have been the focus of this piece in the first place. But the lure of sympathy for these now mid 30’s aged accused, and their eventual release after 18 years on a technicality just this past August, must have been too great of a pull. I truly hope these guys are not guilty. But even if they are, I bet the search for the identity of the “actual” perpetrator(s), will be far less intense than it was to get the Memphis Three out of jail. And I can’t forget the three dead children…even if the celebrity machine decides to leave that issue behind. Grade:   B-

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