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March 21, 2011

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

by Franz Patrick


Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The documentary opened as it showed three eight-year-old boys’ naked and mutilated bodies in the woods of West Memphis, Arkansas. The main suspects were three teenagers (Jessie Misskelly Jr., Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols) who were labeled as devil worshippers by their community because they liked to wear black and listen to death metal music. I found this film scary not because of the suspects actually being into satanism (I believe they were curious about it but weren’t actually engaged in its practice) but because of the community willing to put the teens in jail for life (or even put to death) for the sole reason that they needed someone to blame. Since word-of-mouth and the media labeled the suspects as satanists, the jury became blind to the cold hard facts. For instance, they failed to put into account that Misskelly had an I.Q. of 72 and being cornered by the police’s leading questions would most likely result in a forced confession in hopes that the problem would “go away” as soon as possible. I’m assuming that since the jury did not have sufficient background with people who were mentally challenged, they couldn’t fully understand that the confession should be taken with great consideration. Furthermore, the lack of physical evidence was staggering. Since the victims were buldgeoned beyond recognition, I found it unsettling that blood was not found at the scene of the crime. No murder weapon was found aside from a knife conveniently found by the cops in a lake. A strange man with blood all over him was found by a pub owner at the night of the murder but the police didn’t bother to show up to investigate. I suspected foul play. If I was on that jury, there was no way I could have passed a guilty verdict on my part because so many things from the prosecutor’s side did not fit together. What I believe is that the community needed an easy, immediate answer. In the end, we don’t know for sure who murdered the children. It could have been the three teens. It could have been a family member of one of the kids. It could have been a serial killer who happened to pass by West Memphis that night. We don’t know. But what I know is that evil was committed in the community by means of injustice in the legal system. If the case was tried somewhere else, I strongly believe that the outcome would have been different for Misskelly, Baldwin and Echols. I may have sided with the defense on this case but what I admired most was that the film spent equal time with both sides. I understood the bereaved parents’ anger toward the three demonized teenagers. They claimed they wanted to kill the suspects or hurt them in some way. I didn’t blame them for it because if I were in their situation, I would most likely feel the same. “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, is an excellent documentary about skepticism and how powerful it can become if one is willing to listen and look beyond the obvious answers.

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