It’s been nearly 19 years since the bodies of three 8-year-old boys were discovered naked and bound in the woods near their homes in West Memphis, Ark. A month after the killings, three teenage boys were charged with the murders (amid rumors of rape, mutilation, Satan worship and — horrors — an interest in heavy-metal music). Within a year, the young men had been convicted. One of them was sentenced to death.
But I’ll bet you already know this. The circumstances and bizarre carriage of justice that swirled around the “West Memphis Three” prisoners became the stuff of outsider outrage when Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s first documentary about the murders, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” aired on HBO in 1996.
A sequel, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” followed in 2000; together, both films made an increasingly compelling case that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley had been wrongly tried on shoddy evidence. Moreover, the films told a deeply disturbing and apparently unforgettable story about human nature, grief and mob vengeance — effectively turning the West Memphis events into a modern-day analogue to the Salem witch trials. The “Paradise Lost” films became, for lack of a better description, a cult hit.