Surprise, surprise, it seems that between filming 12 hours of hobbits walking around, Peter Jackson found time to actually do something interesting. Jackson and his producing/life partner, Fran Walsh, are financing a number of free screenings of West of Memphis, their documentary about the West Memphis Three, in and around the district where the prosecutor who worked out the plea deal is running for congress. That’s as close as it gets to gangsta for a dude from New Zealand.
The New Zealand-based filmmaker and his producing partner wife, Fran Walsh, are bankrolling a campaign to turn up the heat on Scott Ellington, who is running as a Democrat to represent the state’s first congressional district in the House of Representatives. Ellington also is the prosecuting attorney in charge of the notorious West Memphis Three triple child-murder case of 1993. In 2011, he allowed an unusual deal in which the trio of men sent to prison under suspicious pretenses was released after 17 years as long as they agreed to so-called Alford pleas, wherein defendants assert their innocence but admit evidence exists that theoretically could find them guilty.
Well, saying he was “the prosecuting attorney” of the case isn’t entirely accurate. Ellington wasn’t a prosecutor there until 2007, when he became the Deputy DA until he was elected DA in 2010. So he didn’t actually try the original case, he just presided over the Alford Plea deal, which, although kind of screwed up, did get the guys out of jail.
[Jackson and Walsh] along with Hollywood backers including Johnny Depp and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, hope to fully exonerate Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin. And they want to pressure Ellington — who admits in the movie that he sought such a plea in part so that the men could not file a multimillion-dollar civil suit against the state for unjust incarceration — to rethink his position.
Ellington, up against a well-funded Republican in a solidly conservative district, is a long shot to win anyway, according to Arkansas State Poll director Janine Parry. [THR]
Under the circumstances, it seems a little weird that they picked this guy. Meanwhile, the judge who presided over the original case, David Burnett, who said publicly after the plea deal that he still thinks the three are murderers (aren’t judges supposed to be impartial?), is running unopposed as an incumbent state senator. I guess you can’t influence an election with no opponent.
Here’s an excerpt from Ellington’s official statement on why he offered the Alford Plea:
Echols and Baldwin stand convicted of three counts of Murder in the First Degree. Misskelley stands convicted of one count of First Degree Murder, and two counts of Murder in the Second Degree, thereby affirming the verdicts the two juries handed down seventeen years ago.
A 2010 Arkansas Supreme Court ruling brought to light the very real scenario that each of the defendants could likely receive a new trial. I believe that allegations of misconduct on behalf of a juror in the Echols-Baldwin trial would likely result in a new trial being ordered either by the circuit court or federal court. I further believe it would be practically impossible to put on a proper case against the defendants in this particular case after eighteen years of extended litigation. Even if the State were to prevail in a new trial, sentences could be different and the appeals process would begin all over again.
Since the original convictions, two of the victims’ families have joined forces with the defense, publically [sic] proclaiming the innocence of the defendants. The mother of a witness who testified about Echols’s confession has publicly questioned her daughter’s truthfulness, and the State Crime Lab employee who collected fiber evidence at the Echols and Baldwin homes after their arrests has died.
In light of these circumstances I decided to entertain plea offers that were being proposed by the defense. I NEVER considered ANY arrangement that would negate the verdicts of those two juries. Guilt or Innocence was NEVER ON THE TABLE.
Today’s proceeding allows the defendants the freedom of speech to SAY they are innocent, but the FACT is, they just plead GUILTY. I strongly believe that the interests of justice have been served today.
On behalf of the State I have preserved the verdicts of those juries and averted more prolonged and costly trials and appeals in this case.
The legal tangle that has become known as the West Memphis Three case is finished. [ArkansasTimes]
TRANSLATION: “Even though I just said these guys are guilty, I’m worried that a real trial might result in their being proved innocent, so I railroaded them into a crappy deal to save face.”
Forget what I said earlier, this guy is definitely an oily sh*tweasel. Even if the screenings don’t affect the election, at least more people will know what a sh*tweasel he is, which seems like a worthy cause. Also, this is neither here nor there, but “West of Memphis” is the laziest title ever.