Johnny Depp: Free The West Memphis Three

Actor Tells "48 Hours" He's Convinced of Innocence of Trio Many Say Were Wrongly Convicted of 1993 Murders

Produced by Gail Zimmerman and Lisa Freed
(This story originally aired on Feb. 27, 2010)

Damien Echols, 35, has spent his entire adult life on Arkansas' death row. Every day, he faces the possibility of execution. But there is a bright spot in his life.

"She's like a living, breathing miracle in human form," Damien says of Lorri Davis, his wife of 10 years.

Lorri met Damien after she became aware of his controversial case. She wrote to him, traveled from New York to see him and offered her help. "It was the right thing to do," she says, "because he is innocent."

"I can understand you believing that he's innocent and wanting to work on his case. But what made you actually decide to marry him?" asks "48 Hours Mystery "correspondent Erin Moriarty.

"Well, I mean, the simple answer is I loved him. He's an amazing person. And he's going to be worth this."

Lorri is now familiar with every facet of Damien's case and works day and night with the legal team, fighting not only for Damien on death row, but for Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, the other convicted men who are serving life sentences.

"We have gone through every aspect of this case and there was never been anything that pointed to their guilt," she explains.

They are known as the West Memphis Three, and they are now actively supported by people who could really make a difference, like Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and actor Johnny Depp.

"I'm here because I firmly, truly, 1000-percent believe that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley are totally innocent," Depp tells Moriarty.

Photos: Star Support for the West Memphis Three
Video:More of Depp's "48 Hours" interview

Despite all that, the Arkansas courts have upheld all three convictions for more than 16 years. Prosecutors maintain that Damien, Jason and Jessie are responsible for the cold-blooded murder of three 8-year-old boys.

On May 5, 1993, Chris Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch were out playing together.

"Stevie was very outgoing, a brilliant child. Anyone who knew him loved him," says his mom, Pam.

A waitress back then, Pam didn't worry very much when her son wasn't home before her 5 p.m. shift began. "I just figured that he might of lost track of time and was on his way home."

It was when her husband, Stevie's stepfather, picked her up at 9 p.m. that she heard for the first time that the boys had still not returned. "I just started cryin' and sayin', 'God, no, no. Why isn't he home?'"

Pam searched straight through the night along with other panicked parents, including Chris Byers' father, Mark.

Then, at 1 p.m. the next day, police made a grim discovery in a wooded strip by the interstate known to the kids as Robin Hood Hills. Stevie, Michael and Chris were found bludgeoned and drowned in a drainage ditch. Their bodies were naked and hogtied with their own shoelaces.

"I hit the ground screaming, 'God, no, no!" says Pam.

"Just a gut wrenching moment to put into words... the disaster, the devastation," Byers recalls.

Six days later, he buried his son, Chris.

"When these murders happened, it was something that was almost like an atomic bomb going off," Damien explains. "You have three children that are murdered. I mean, that in itself is a pretty horrific thing...And then slowly, details start comin' out about how they were found. Now, a lot of these details weren't true."

Byers says there were a lot of rumors. "I heard that one of 'em was skinned. I heard that one of 'em's face was cut off."

"Then you start hearin' all these, you know, people whispering about, maybe it was Satanists that did this," says Damien.

That theory did not seem so farfetched at the time. A media-fueled hysteria about satanic cults was sweeping the country.

An FBI investigation found no such satanic murders, but in 1993, West Memphis juvenile officer Jerry Driver was concerned about cult activity, saying, "It seems to be a trend right now."

Video: Retired Agent Ken Lanning on the FBI investigation
Video: Damien Echols speaks out

Driver had Damien, an 18-year-old dropout, in his sights.

"I think I was the closest thing he could come to conceiving of what he thought a Satanist would look like... all black was the only thing I ever wore. Ridiculous hairstyles. I was a stupid teenager. I really was a smart ass," he says, admitting he didn't help his case at all.

Driver was convinced that the murders were the work of Damien Echols, and he told that to the police.

Damien was now a prime suspect and he says word of that leaked out. "I walked into a softball game. I went around the concession stand and I hear people sayin', 'There he is. That's him.'"

Still, police had no physical evidence or anything else to connect him to the crime; not until someone Damien knew spoke out.

48 Hours App

More From 48 Hours

Comments