Saturday, January 19, 2013

Life After Death, by Damien Echols

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Author: Damien Echols
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover; 399 pages
Series: N/A
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, True Crime
Avg. Rating:

Goodreads | Book Depository
In 1993, teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.—who have come to be known as the West Memphis Three—were arrested for the murders of three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas. The ensuing trial was marked by tampered evidence, false testimony, and public hysteria. Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison; while eighteen-year-old Echols, deemed the “ringleader,” was sentenced to death. Over the next two decades, the WM3 became known worldwide as a symbol of wrongful conviction and imprisonment, with thousands of supporters and many notable celebrities who called for a new trial. In a shocking turn of events, all three men were released in August 2011.

Now Echols shares his story in full—from abuse by prison guards and wardens, to portraits of fellow inmates and deplorable living conditions, to the incredible reserves of patience, spirituality, and perseverance that kept him alive and sane while incarcerated for nearly two decades.

When the whole ordeal with the West Memphis Three happened, I didn't pay it much attention. I was nine years old, so it didn't interest me much. Obviously, even at that age, it made me sad that children my age died.. and I got the "don't trust strangers" talk from my parents about a dozen times - but that was about the extent of my concern. But my father kept up with the case. A couple of years later, I found myself more caught up in the case. I liked mysteries. These murders were mysteries to me. And, for whatever reason, I never believed that the three guys who were found guilty of killing the three boys were actually the murderers. Ever since I was thirteen, I have kept up with the West Memphis Three. When they were released (albeit with a crap bargain), I was happy. When I saw that Damien's memoir was out, I was even happier. Now, I have a first-hand account into the history of the West Memphis Three all through the mind of the alleged "master mind" of the group. 

I think I should say that it's pretty hard to actually review a memoir, as it is a story of someone's life. I am not trying to review Echols' life - rather, the format this book was written. As far as the story, I loved this book. Yet, at the same time, it was truly heart-wrenching. I couldn't imagine being in Echols' shoes, having to spend eighteen years in prison for a crime you didn't commit.. especially a crime so heinous as the murders of three little boys. Echols has an amazing talent at writing, and you can practically feel the emotion he put into his writing oozing out of the pages. 

Having said that, I did see some minor things that could have been worked on. First off, it felt like the first half of this book was Almost Home (Echols' book he wrote while incarcerated) written all over again. I don't know, there could have been a reason for this. For someone who has read Almost Home (me), this seems like it could have been skipped. But, if you haven't read it, then you practically get two books for the price of one. There were also some other parts of the story that were repeated that could have been skipped, but it doesn't really distract from the story. What does distract me is the constant use of the word magick/magickal (yes, he spells it with the "k" every single time). The usage was a little excessive - however, again, not a true distraction to the point of this book.

Like I said, I really did enjoy this book. If you know about the WM3 and haven't read this book, then you're missing out. For those of us that do believe that sometimes innocent people are accused of horrible crimes, this is not a book to be ignored - it's a real eye-opener to what sometimes happens to those innocents. 

Source: Netgalley

Damien Wayne Echols, along with Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, is one of the three men, known as the West Memphis Three, who were convicted in the killing of three eight-year-old boys Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore at Robin Hood Hills, West Memphis, Arkansas, on May 5, 1993.

Damien Echols was convicted of murder by a jury and sentenced to death by lethal injection. He was on death row under 23 hours per day lockdown at the Varner Supermax. On August 19, 2011, Echols, along with the two others collectively known at the West Memphis Three, were released from prison after their attorneys and the judge handling the upcoming retrial agreed to a deal. Under the terms of the Alford guilty plea, Echols and his co-defendents pleaded guilty to three counts of first degree murder while maintaining their innocence. DNA evidence failed to connect Echols or his co-defendents to the crime.


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