Peter Jackson working with West Memphis Three member Damien Echols
Jackson said at a news conference Friday (Oct. 28) in New Zealand that he's working with Damien Echols, one of the "West Memphis Three" who were freed from prison earlier this year after serving 17-plus years in prison for killing three children in Arkansas. Echols and co-defendants Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin have long maintained they're innocent.
Jackson, like a number of other celebrities, has been sympathetic to the three men. He invited Echols to New Zealand, where he's currently filming "The Hobbit," so they could work on clearing Echols' name.
"There are all sorts of emotive headlines about Damien Echols, killer, coming to New Zealand," Jackson said at the news conference, according to the AP. "But the reality is that Damien Echols is an innocent man who has spent 18 years incarcerated in a tiny cell."
Echols' trip to New Zealand will allow Jackson and his wife and producing partner, Fran Walsh, to do "investigative work ... forensic work ... with the purpose of getting a complete pardon."
Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were convicted in 1994 of killing three young boys in West Memphis, Ark., and dumping their bodies in a ditch. Echols was sentenced to death, and the others received life sentences. Their case has been the subject of two HBO documentaries, "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations," and has drawn heavy attention because of the flimsy physical evidence linking them to the crime.
In August, all three entered Alford pleas, which allows them to maintain their innocence even as they plead guilty to the crimes and acknowledge prosecutors might have had enough evidence to convict them. The deal freed them from prison, and they can continue pursuing evidence to clear their names.