Satanic Panic and the West Memphis Three


This Saturday the CBS show 48 Hours Mystery will discuss the tragic case of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley Jr., otherwise known as the West Memphis Three. In 1993 the three men—then teenagers—were convicted of the "Satanic" murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. It was a sham from start to finish, with the authorities relying on false testimony, moral panic about heavy metal music, and an "occult expert" with a mail-order Ph.D., who testified, "I have personally observed people wearing black fingernails, having their hair painted black, wearing black T-shirts, black dungarees." As a result of this railroading, Baldwin and Misskelley are now serving life and Echols is on death row.

Thanks in large part to the chilling documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Woods, the case has received a good deal of attention and become a popular cause for rock musicians and celebrities ranging from Metallica, Henry Rollins, and Hank Williams III to Winona Ryder and South Park creator Trey Parker. And as the New York Post reports in its typical manner, Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp has joined the ranks as well:

Johnny Depp may have fallen through a rabbit hole. To promote his movie version of "Alice in Wonderland," he's advocating the release of three men convicted of murdering three boys in a suspected satanic ritual.

Depp will appear on CBS's "48 Hours Mystery" on Sunday to call for reopening the case of the West Memphis Three—convicted as teenagers of beating three 8-year-olds to death in 1994—because he believes they never got a fair trial….

The "48 Hours" investigation will highlight supposedly crucial new DNA and forensic evidence which could potentially clear the trio, as well as alleged juror misconduct that contributed to the convictions.

For more on why Depp is right to support the West Memphis Three, see my 2003 article "Hell Hounds: How a musical moral panic destroyed three young men."

Check out a preview of the 48 Hours episode here.