Joe Berlinger, the director of the award-winning 1996 documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills along with Bruce Sinofsky, tells EW that Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson, and Eddie Vedder have not only spent the past several years advocating for the release of the West Memphis Three, but they have also privately donated part of their personal fortunes to help make it happen. “You had the best minds in the business working on this case thanks to Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson, and Eddie Vedder’s financial support,” says Berlinger, who puts the trio’s donations in the neighborhood of “many millions of dollars.”
Depp, Jackson, and Vedder, are just three of the many high-profile celebrities who advocated over the years for the release of Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Damien Echols, who were convicted of three counts of capital murder in 1994 for the brutal killings of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark. The three prisoners, who became known as the West Memphis Three and whose arrests and trials were the subject of Paradise Lost, were released from prison on Friday. Echols, who was the alleged ringleader, had been on death row. The three agreed to what is called an Alford plea, which allows them to walk free if they admit their guilt before a judge. It also allows them to maintain their innocence outside of the court. In this case, it also means that they cannot sue the state.
Berlinger and Sinofsky’s latest film about the West Memphis Three, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, will make its premiere at the Toronto film festival next month. It may also receive an Oscar-qualifying run in theaters before its scheduled debut on HBO in January.