Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
The West Memphis Three are now free.
It's been a year since DNA evidence led to the release of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who had each served 18 years for the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys. Echols talks to E! News about the book he wrote about his time on Death Row and the support he got from the likes of Johnny Depp and other celebrities.
Now 37, Echols—who was a teenager when he was convicted and sentenced to death for his alleged role in the killings—said that he wrote most of Life After Death while on death row and finished up the remainder once he was out of jail.
In the book, he details being beaten by guards so badly, he had nerve, teeth and kidney damage, and at his lowest point, his health deteriorated to the point where his eye sight rapidly declined and he lost 60 pounds.
But things began to look up after Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, a 1996 documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, drew attention to the case and A-list actors such as Depp, comedian Margaret Cho, and musicians like Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines spoke out in the belief the threesome were wrongly convicted.
"Johnny, Henry Rollins, Margaret Cho, so many people formed a chain and if one single link in that chain was gone, they would have killed me," Echols tells E! News. "You know just for example, the DNA testing that eventually lead to us getting out, we couldn't even afford to get that done. Henry Rollins went on a tour just to raise the money to do the first round of DNA testing...If the media doesn't care, if the world doesn't care, if people don't look at it, they'll still kill you and sweep it under the rug no matter how much evidence there is."
Echols added that Vedder visited him frequently while Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson funded part of his legal defense, including additional forensic testing, while pulling double duty shooting The Hobbit.
Following his release from an Arkansas penitentiary after being sentenced to time served as part of a plea deal, Echols says he and his wife (whom he married during his stint behind bars) left Arkansas with not a penny to his name and went straight to Vedder's house, and then Depp's.
"If it wasn't for Peter Jackson, and if it wasn't for Eddie Veder, I really honestly have no idea what we would have done," noted Echols. "Johnny has been with us every single step of the way since I got out. We did the book signing the other night in New York, and he was there for that, you know? Obviously, this isn't helping his career in any way. This is something he is doing entirely to help me. We've grown to love him dearly. He's become like a brother to me."
Echols tells E! News that he and Depp are talking about making a movie based on his book, or possibly a TV miniseries.