19.10.10

Paradise Lost II: Revelations

Directed by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
Release Date: 2000 (TV)

Featuring: Damien Echols
Jason Baldwin
Jesse Misskelly
Kathy Bakken
Steven Branch
John Mark Byers
Melissa Byers
 
*** (3 out of 5 stars)

The post-title says it all: Revelations.  This film picks up several years after the original trial, and now Damien (along with the other two boys) is a little older, and has spent a long few years in jail.  If it all isn't sad enough, we find out that Damien Echols has been raped repeatedly inside jail and nobody would help him out of the situation he was in.  Due to the fact of the closed mindedness of a small town and the lapse of judgement on the part of law enforcement and the judicial system, a young man has been robbed of his innocence and manhood; of course, there are groups of people (especially in West Memphis) that would argue he deserves every bit of it, that nothing he gets is good enough to fit the crime he has supposedly committed.  We get more and more disgusting commentary from Mark Byers, stepfather of one victim Christopher Byers, and others who were involved in the original case.  A lot more mumbo jumbo, for lack of a better word, gets spilled from the lips of the closed minded folks who live in this small West Memphis town.  Each time I watch either the first or second installments in this series, I keep thinking that I'm lucky to not have been 16 in a town like this because even today if the police raided my room and looked at my literature or media, they'd find enough to lock me up for eternity on their watch; apparently reading and listening to certain types of music or watching certain movies is no longer something that is attached to freedom.  We are revealed with more and more disturbing evidence that points us in the direction of the rightful owner of these charges.  Many more questions get raised the second time around, and at this point the filmmakers had gathered up quite a following.  After seeing this film, I took more time to look into www.wm3.org and try to find more ways I could help out.  The injustice that we see in both Paradise Lost films is absolutely appalling, and would make anyone with either bit of a warm heart cringe.

There was no doubt in my mind even after watching the first film that Mark Byers was responsible for the deaths of the three children, or at least had something to do with it all.  After this second installment, there is even less than no doubt about that fact.   We see more and more evidence pile up against Byers.  The scariest of all is the fact that his wife's death is, to this day, due to unconfirmed causes.  There is evidence that leans towards the fact that Mark Byers probably hurt her, and possibly caused the death; but we will never know.  By the end of the film, we find out that the supposed holy man was arrested for selling drugs.  We hear mounting evidence about how Byers had given a kid a knife and urged him to use it on another kid after he and his wife had left town and moved on somewhere else.  When they had left town, they also robbed as much as they could from 'friends'.  What makes everybody so easy to accept that these young kids were responsible for the murders and that a man like Byers isn't capable of anything like that?  The man lies through his teeth, contradicts himself and his stories, yet people still lap up all the milk that police and the judges give them.  Ignored is the fact that Byers had a knife with blood on it that matched his blood type as well as his stepson Christopher's type, and the fact that he blatantly lied about knowledge of blood on the knife and then twisting, turning his statement until it was barely even recognizable by the end.  Worse is the fact that everybody still can't see past the lies and recognize that Jesse Misskelly is not mentally fit enough to testify for or against anybody, and that he was coerced into giving a false statement.  We ignore all these things, and look past the fact that Byers is putting on the grandest show of all- he parades in front of the camera, having a makeshift funeral for the West Memphis 3 in the woods (where he calls the three dead children his "babies", which to me is indicative that he thought he had some relationship with the other two little kids), arguing with reporters and activists.  The best way to hide is in plain sight, and that is what Mark Byers has been doing ever since the discovery of the bodies in Robin Hood Hills.  He plays the church man, he plays the grieving father and husband, he plays the good ol' Southern boy.. while everybody watches.   Not to mention that he did have an argument with his stepson on the day of the murders, and spanked him; this is something that always factors into motivation for murder, if anybody had altercations with a victim.  
Later in the film, we discover that there were bite marks on the face of one of the victims.  The three alleged murderers are cleared, but Byers could not be properly tested due to the fact that he has had false teeth since four years after his son's murder.  Copies of dental records were used, but came up inconclusive.  Byers then takes a polygraph and feels he has been exonerated, although he was on a variety of medications that could have affected proper testing (Xanax and Haldol are two of the substances).  Every time he feels he has beaten the rap, it's like he is taunting the cameras, dancing for the onlookers.  Byers is so in our face and so outspoken, it feels to me that he is the true murderer, or at last had some involvement.  Anybody else would probably shy away and not want any attention; the average every day person does not want to be involved in a media circus surrounding murders, but Byers seems totally at ease with being there, almost as if he does feel that being the center of attention helps him hide in plain view.

A lot of this film is a rehash of the first, but I still enjoyed it.  Enjoyment may not be the right term- I found this enlightening, just as I did the first.  We get a lot more information, as I talked about previously, but in the end we stay at the same standstill as before.  Damien Echols will now be a product of the system: forced to fight against being raped by other inmates, no doubt he will become a hardened shell of a man.  Eventually, he could end up having to use force to defend himself and then probably add more charges to the already bogus one he is serving a sentence for now.  The fact that they've locked away an innocent person who now has to fight to survive will only work against Echols; he'll eventually be conformed to life in the system, and no matter if he makes it out alive or not he will always have the strain of prison life sitting on his shoulders, reminding him of what was once taken from him.  Neither three of the West Memphis trio will ever live a normal life again, all thanks to a conglomerate of individuals that were essentially working against them.  We see more and more of what prejudice and closed minds can do to those who don't fit their view of 'normal'.

I gave this film 3 stars, not because it wasn't good but because as I mentioned previously there is a lot that just rehashes the original trial.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, however, and I recommend this to anybody who has seen the first.  These films are important to the future of our justice system- a very relative how-not-to story.

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