Entertainment Weekly has learned that director Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh will continue to fund the West Memphis Three investigation, even now that the men have been released from prison — free, but technically still considered guilty in the eyes of the law. “The ongoing work will focus on proving the convicted men’s innocence, as it always has,” says Jackson’s manager, Ken Kamins. He adds that the investigation will include “evidence testing and further investigation which will hopefully lead to the unmasking of the actual killer.”
The Lord of the Rings director has spent the past several years quietly funding private investigations and forensic experts to help clear the West Memphis Three. Jackson has been a longtime advocate of Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Damien Echols — the trio of men many believe were wrongly convicted in 1994 of murdering three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., and whose nightmare odyssey in the legal system became the subject of the award-winning 1996 HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines, and Henry Rollins were among the others who rallied to support the West Memphis Three.
“When Peter and Fran got involved, they had to decide how to best serve the case,” Kamins says. “Damien, Jason, and Jessie had great public advocates in Eddie, Johnny, Natalie, Henry, Paradise Lost, and everyone else who was raising money and bringing public attention to the case. Peter and Fran, therefore, decided to put their attention into funding and spearheading DNA work, hiring forensic and other experts, plus extensive private investigations into all aspects of the case.”
Kamins continued: “Because Peter and Fran’s role required a very close relationship with the defense lawyers, in particular Damien’s team, they have always respected and understood that their role had to be of a confidential nature. They have worked very closely with a number of Damien’s attorneys and over the years they have become close friends with Damien and [his wife] Lorri. They have always believed that if they could get Damien free, Jason and Jessie would benefit too.”
Even though the West Memphis Three are now free, Kamins says that Jackson and Walsh’s crusade is far from over. “This work is ongoing,” says Kamins. “Peter and Fran are heavily involved in ongoing investigations, and the release of the guys is far from the end of the story.”