Jason Baldwin Makes Appearance at Local Paradise Lost 3 Screening

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Jason Baldwin
  • Jason Baldwin
The 14th Indie Memphis Film Festival ended with some unexpected drama last night during a question-and-answer session following the screening of Paradise Lost: Purgatory, the third installment of filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's documentary series about the “West Memphis 3” case.

By the time the screening ended, it probably wasn't much of a surprise when the recently released Jason Baldwin, one of the “3” came onto the stage for a post-screening discussion. Baldwin's likely appearance had been well-known to those around the festival for several days, but organizers had requested the information be kept under wraps for security reasons.

But a quiet interaction at the end of the question-and-answer session did appear to catch everyone off guard. Baldwin had been asked if he's spoken to any of the victim's families. After apparently citing minor interactions during the trial and subsequent court hearings, Baldwin suggested he hasn't spoken to any relatives of the three murdered boys — Christopher Byers, Steve Branch, and Michael Moore — since his release.

Soon afterward, a young woman in the front row raised her hand and said she didn't have a question but a comment. She identified herself as Amanda Hobbs — the younger sister of Branch, now apparently in her early 20s — and told Baldwin that she too wears black and loves Metallica and that while she used to believe that he, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were guilty she came to realize that “there were six victims, not just three.”

“I see now that none of us got justice,” Hobbs said. Baldwin, rather than speaking into the microphone, looked down at her and appeared to mouth “thank you.” After the event was over, one of Baldwin's lawyers was seen tracking Hobbs down outside the screening and bringing her backstage, presumably to meet with Baldwin in private.

If that was the most dramatic moment of Baldwin's appearance, it wasn't the only memorable one. Appearing alongside Paradise Lost 3 producer Jonathan Silberberg in a session moderated by the Flyer's Chris Davis, Baldwin radiated a serenity that seemed to impress and move everyone in the room.

Asked if he's had a chance to visit Disneyworld, a wish a younger version of himself expresses in one of the docs, Baldwin said, “I'm still looking forward to it. I haven't been there yet.” Baldwin went on to describe his new freedom: “Life is wonderful. I'm working. Learning how to drive — haven't had a wreck yet. Visiting my family.

And he was insistent on still wanting justice not only for himself but for the victims families.

“We're working to get the truth out,” Baldwin said. “We want to find out what really happened, who really did this crime. Time's wasting. Everyone deserves to know what happened. Chris and Michael and Steve's families deserve to know who did this. My family deserves it too. And Damien's and Jessie's.”

Baldwin recounted a story of working in the prison law library and getting to run an errand to the super-maximum security end, where he saw Echols meeting with his wife and banged on the glass to exchange waves. It was an accidental meeting that cost Baldwin his prison job.

Baldwin insisted that without the threat of the death penalty for Echols he would not have accepted the “Alford plea” that freed him — one that required him to plead guilty in court while still maintaining his innocence.

He suggested that his family's limited means helped make him an easy scapegoat for West Memphis authorities. “Like any bully, they pick on someone they don't think can fight back,” he said. Baldwin said that a the time of the crimes, his mother had just gotten her GED and was working to move the family to Memphis. But the charges against Baldwin scuttled those plans. “It destroyed us,” he said.

He expressed hope that he'll get to see a Metallica concert in California in the near future and said that he doesn't have a favorite food to eat since he's been out of prison. “That's actually a very tough question because I'm finding that everything is my favorite,” Baldwin said, smiling.

One interesting question from the audience was how Baldwin was treated by fellow inmates. “the first couple of years were really rough. They were waiting for me,” Baldwin said, confessing that he got into multiple fights, some of which resulted in broken bones. “But after a few years, when the docs came out, those curses started to turn into tears and hugs,” he said.

Baldwin also recounted when he first heard about the crimes, with his mother warning him to stay at home and the family worrying about Baldwin's then-nine-year-old brother.

As for the future, Baldwin said that he's had offers to help him go back to school, to college, maybe to law school and expressed interest in that and a desire to work on juvenile justice issues.

“I grew up in prison,” Baldwin said. “For 18 years, with guys who were guilty but turned out to be okay guys except for one bad moment in their lives. So I'd like to work against life without parole for juvenile defenders.”

Baldwin, who lives in Seattle at present, marveled at the opportunities he has now, noting that, until his release a couple of months ago, the farthest north, west, and south he'd ever been in his life were all court or prison facilities in Arkansas.

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