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The Hollywood Reporter announced on Sunday that the upcoming documentary "West of Memphis" will debut in the UK on Dec. 21 and in U.S. theaters on Dec. 25. Directed by Amy Berg and produced by Peter Jackson, the documentary examines the legal injustices faced by three teenagers, known as the West Memphis Three, who spent 18 years in prison after being convicted of a crime that little evidence showed they committed.
In 1994, Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were charged with the murder of three eight-year-old boys -- Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore -- in West Memphis, Ark. During the trial, the prosecution alleged that the children were murdered as part of a satanic ritual. Following their conviction, Echols and Misskelley Jr. were sentenced to death, while Baldwin was sentenced to life in prison. In 2011, after multiple trials and appeals, they were released as part of the Alford plea deal -- in which a defendant pleads guilty but continues to assert their innocence. As Reuters reported, the deal was reached following the emergence of new evidence that failed to link the men to the crime. By the time of their release, the men had served 18 years and 78 days in Arkansas Department of Corrections.
Over the years, the case has captured the attention of a number of high-profile figures. Johnny Depp, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder and Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines are just some of the celebrities who have spoken out against the men’s conviction.
“I was instantly struck by how heinous a crime [it was], but also the wave of injustice that followed it,” Depp told MTV in September. “As a person, I couldn't stand by and allow that to happen."
Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, have also campaigned for their innocence. According to NPR, the two continue to contribute funds to the investigation.
The case inspired three highly acclaimed HBO documentaries "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills," Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" and "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory." The trilogy, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, argued that the men were wrongly convicted.
It was announced in May that Reese Whitherspoon and Colin Firth are set to star in "Devil's Knot," a feature film inspired by the case. The film, based on the 2002 book by journalist Mara Leveritt, is being produced by Baldwin and Misskelley Jr.
"West of Memphis" debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and screened at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where it earned rave reviews.
"Somewhere between 'Paradise Lost 3' and 'West Memphis' is a perfect conclusion to the 'Paradise Lost' series," Phil Brown of Collider said. "The former continues the intriguing reevaluation of previous films/evidence that made those docs so fascinating."
According to the Huffington Post, the film has led investigators to take a second look at the case. The site is reporting that Pam Hicks and John Mark, two of the parents of one of the victims, filed a lawsuit seeking access to evidence in the still unsolved case. During the hearing, it was revealed that the case is now being reexamined.
"We were investigating up until the last minute before we screened it the first time," Berg told the outlet. "The state has since interviewed these witnesses and are going to decide whether or not it's considered an open case. The state prosecutor has watched the film a number of times, and we've had several conversations since then.
"The fact that, after watching 'West of Memphis,' the state of Arkansas is considering opening an investigation into what we uncovered in the film is a huge step in the right direction.”