Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson, and Eddie Vedder gave millions to help free the West Memphis Three, says 'Paradise Lost' director -- EXCLUSIVE


Image Credit: Kevin Mazur/

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.

Read more:
Peter Jackson still seeking justice for West Memphis Three — EXCLUSIVE
West Memphis Three: ‘Paradise Lost’ director talks about their freedom
West Memphis Three reach plea deal for freedom

Comments (35 total) Add your comment
  • Ames

    I hadn’t heard they’d been released. Really? Very happy for them, but this also means that since they agreed to an Alford plea, the case is still officially closed (correct?) and so no one will be looking for the real murderers. In the zeal to punish someone, anyone for the murders, a child killer is free. Sad story all around.

    • Monty

      Funny you should say that, there was an article posted yesterday (i think it’s still on the front page under News & Blogs) that Peter Jackson says his funding will be used to find the actual killer. They have been independently hiring private investigators and research firms to conduct the investigation as the police are not investigating.

      • Nathan

        If the hicks in Arkansas had done their jobs properly the first time around instead of being so bent on pinning the crime on three kids they didn’t like, none of this would be necessary.

      • SLB

        I thought the evidence pretty much showed the stepfather did it.

      • Annia

        I believe the real killer is one of the boys’ (ex)step-father, names Hobbs. Just too many circumstancial evidences pointing to this guy, but the police & the state are not going to do anything about this man, because if they do, it will be deemed as an admission in and of itself, that they’ve screwed this up, big time. Thanks to the Governor, Mike Beebe, a more sensible judge, and everyone who believe in righting the wronged, that these 3 innocent people are finally freed. This also goes to show that women should NEVER marry the first guy that comes along after that divorce, just to feel whole. When they married perverts or killers, it’s the children that are usually pay the price.

      • Annie

        SLB, it isn’t conclusive. There was one hair “consistent with” Hobbs’ hair and some of his DNA in the knot in the shoelaces tying up one of the other boys — not conclusive but HIGHLY suggestive. There were also two other viable leads never followed up on by the police — the blood & mud covered man in the Bojangles the night of the murders, and the other guys who fled to California.

      • Kevin

        I hate to diasppoint Jonny Depp and Peter Jackson, but the real killers were in prison. Your money helped set the free to kill again. When that happens you should be charged as acomplices. I won’t be suppotring any of your films, and I will be burning my copies of Lord of the Rings.

    • Olive

      I’m a single woman. I uploaded my photos to MySingleParentMatch.c0m. Hoping find my true love online, feel free all women with or without child to contact me for more.

  • John Mark Byers is the murderer

    Effforts should be focused onto investigating him. He clearly did this and justice has not been carried out!

    • FG

      I am so sick of people saying that John Mark Byers is guilty. Please read the case history, note that there are hundreds of pieces of DNA. He has provided his DNA and there is NO MATCH.
      Please get your facts straight before lashing out and accusing people. That’s how Damien, Jessie and Jason got into prison in the first place.

      • LeeLee

        I don’t think it’s Byers that people are saying is guilty of this. They’re saying it’s Terry Hobbs. He was the stepfather of Stevie Branch. And not a good man, to say the least!

      • Annie

        Byers has been (in his own words) “acting like a fool” – he’s a gregarious, outspoken personality to begin with, and he (rightly) feels a grave injustice has been done to his son and his family, since his son’s killer has never been punished. I think some have wrongly equated this eccentric behavior with guilt, and that’s a really good demonstration of why we require actual EVIDENCE to convict in this country – because people act in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons, not just because they’re guilty.

    • Rachell

      Yes, when there is news. My favorite aoctrs tend to keep a low profile, but when there is news, I’m on it like a piranha. As far as supporting them, the (very) low end of the usual stuff. I watch all the movies I can containing them, and take ribbings from my family because all of my favorite aoctrs are old enough to be my father/grandfather. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve been picked at by my brother for watching Johnny Depp movies (over, and over, and over).Edit: Gail M, what does that even mean?References :

  • meznok

    Being “hicks” had nothing to do with it. Sloppy police work is everywhere.

    • RobNJ

      Politics as well. Police were under tremendous pressure to find the killer(s) and focused on the weird kids in town that scared the adults. A similar reaction by adults was the suicides thought to be inspired by Judas Priest subliminal messages. Thank god those guys went to court and fought that lawsuit and ended all the backward masking b.s.

  • tan

    Just goes to show that money can buy your way out of Murder. (Like O.J.) Which brings me to the point, if those Hollywood Hicks had stayed out of it the persons responsible would have been punished. Everyone has been looking at one side only (the story that millions of dollars paid for) because the state couldn’t say anything because of a gag order. If you juvenile backseat wannabe lawyers would take time to look at the case transcripts and evidence I think you will see that 3 guilty people have gotten away with murder. What if one of those victims had been your child? Wouldn’t you want all these pin heads to stay out of it since the evidence overwhelmingly proved them guilty. Look at O.J. can you really talk?

    • Bebe

      OK. So what was the state prevented from saying because of a gag order?

    • Kelly

      Except that two of the three sets of parents of the boys who were murdered said that they don’t believe that the Memphis Three killed the boys, and they actively supported their release. At least one has gone on record saying that they think the Alford plea was BS.

      Parents want the people who murdered their children put away – not anyone convenient because they are different. (And the state has said PLENTY about this case over the year – most of it boils down to “our bad, we were incompetent and lost all the important evidence. Woopsie!”)

    • Annie

      Ohhhh, punkin, really now. Do you honestly think for a SECOND that the prosecution would have agreed to a deal that let a convicted murderer WALK AWAY from death row if they had even the slightest confidence in the guilt and the evidence? Forget the complete lack of ANY evidence of their guilt. Forget the presence of the stepfather’s DNA in the shoelaces used to bind one of the victims (NOT his stepson). Forget the lies the stepfather has been caught in, and forget the blood-and-mud-covered man seen in the nearby Bojangles that night. The prosecutor’s consent to this deal tells you ALL you need to know: they’re innocent, the state knows it, and this deal was the only way they could save face and prevent a lawsuit.

    • Jill

      I am grateful that three high-profile celebrities looked past a half-assed investigation and commited time, money and their reputations for the opportunity to set three innocent men free. In our lifetime there will be many innocent men in prison that cannot be freed for lack of money, support and notoriety. I am overwhelmed with the generosity of those people who made a wrong – right and pray they will eventually prove their innocence in totality. God speed young men.

    • Kevin

      Ron Goldman killed Nicole Simpson.

  • Panda

    It’s great that they are finally out of prison, but having to admit guilt of something they didn’t do is just a slap in the face. I guess they felt that after 18 years of hell it was worth it to finally reach the light at the end of the end of the tunnel.


    • Annie

      They did not have to admit guilt. An Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain his innocence but simply acknowledges that the evidence COULD convict him. This is a common misperception and I really wish the media would do a better job explaining this.

  • Miss Kitty Fantastico

    I’ve heard some people say “Its sad people believe they are innocent, just because Johnny Depp told them to.”

    No…. what I think is sad is that they needed several prominent uber rich celebrities to fund the millions they needed to get released.

    I don’t give a crap what Johnny Depp’s opinion is on something. I’m just really grateful he took on a cause that I believe in as well… and he has the financial means to help in ways that I can’t.

    The really scary thought is to think of how many other innocent people are rotting away in jail because they don’t have a huge dedicated following to keep their case alive and rich celebrities to fund their efforts.

  • Marylyn Kruger

    I read somewhere that the jury foreman told the rest of the jury about the confession of Miscalley and that some of the jury convicted them on this (as it turned out the confession was a lie as the guy had a mentality of a 5 year old and the cops forced the confession. I’m wondering how mad I would be at Miscalley if I served years in jail because of him. I am so glad they are free, and I do think one of the stepfathers of the dead boys did it.

  • Guilty

    Ask them how it feels to get thred child murderers out of prison. Damien will kill again.

  • myra

    they are innocent, always have been! they were wrongfully accused and i am very happy that johnny depp and others helped free those guys. they did not deserve to be in prison just because they scared from people.

    • Anna

      I was wondering if you ever ceneidorsd changing the structure of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 images. Maybe you could space it out better?

    • Annabelle

      Richards and I are the same age. You can’t imagine how talotly smug looking at this picture makes me feel! (For one thing, I know for sure my liver looks better than that.)

  • Cheri

    This story from day one was sensationalized. It was sad that three young men, because of the way they looked — were found guilty (according to all I have been able to read) on circumstantial evidence. Now, regardless of what all have written who assume thir guilt — it doesn’t matter — the evidence FINALLY proved they are innocent. HOW SAD they lost 18 years of their lives! MONEY does not buy you freedom — it wasn’t money that saved them, it was crusadors who believed in them. I know we can’t save all who are wrongfully accused as commented by another — but thankfully these three are now free to live a life they have been robbed of. BUT, can they?? Like OJ, found NOT GUILTY — all those who believe he was — GUILTY — continue to shun him. I hope these boys (now men) can have some sort of life — and put this behind them somehow. All of you who believe they are GUILTY — get over it, the evidence has proven it wasn’t them. I HOPE someday, they can find the real killer(s).

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  • Lauren

    Just want to correct this article. Memphis is in Tennessee not Arkansas!

  • Lauren

    Never mind it’s west Memphis

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