While one man awaits execution and two others endure life imprisonment, Eddie Vedder, Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Joe Strummer, the Supersuckers and others are working to win their freedom.
The compilation Free the West Memphis Three collects previously unreleased material from artists including the Long Beach Dub Allstars, Rocket From the Crypt, Nashville Pussy and others who believe the three were wrongly convicted, in an effort to raise awareness of their plight.
"We want to make people aware of what's going on, wake people up a little bit, and put together a kick-ass compilation of like-minded, concerned artists," said Supersuckers frontman Eddie Spaghetti, co-owner of the Aces & Eights label, which will release the disc in conjunction with Koch Entertainment on Oct. 10.
The West Memphis Three are Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who were teenagers when they were convicted in the brutal 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., just across the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tenn. Echols is sentenced to die by lethal injection.
But since the 1996 HBO-produced film "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills," a growing number of Americans believe the three, now in their 20s, are innocent.
The film brought to national attention the flaws among them lost and excluded evidence and allegations of a coerced confession in the case against Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley, and inspired the Los Angeles-based Free the West Memphis Three Support Fund.
Critics of the investigation and conviction of the three men say sloppy police work and rumors of the killings being related to a satanic cult ritual combined to create a witch-hunt climate.
'No Confidentiality Or Security'
"In crime scene videos, there are unidentified people at the scene," support fund co-founder Burk Sauls said. "Information was leaked to friends in the community; there was no confidentiality or security at the crime scene. The police say that Jessie Misskelley knew things about the murders that nobody else knew, and that's not true. People all over town had been talking about it. It was obviously impossible to get them a fair trial."
"They're victims of geography," Supersuckers guitarist Ron Heathman said. "They didn't do a damn thing. [Police] had to have somebody guilty. In the eyes of the community these three are devil worshippers. The South is frightening that good-ol'-boy mentality. ... The only thing they're guilty of is wearing Metallica shirts."
A second film, "Revelations: Paradise Lost 2," shown on HBO earlier this year, followed the appeals process in Jonesboro, Ark., and revealed new evidence that human bite marks found on one of the victims do not match the bite prints of any of the convicted men. Despite the testimony of a criminal odontologist, Judge David Burnett refused an appeal for a new trial.
When former Supersuckers manager and Aces & Eights co-owner Danny Bland saw the first film, he was moved to action.
"I did a Web search and came across the support fund page (www.wm3.org)," Bland said. "I was going to call them and volunteer our services for anything that was going on. It turned out nothing was going on, so we decided to get involved. We've been working on [the CD] a little over a year now."
Bland helped establish a nonprofit group, the Justice League, to work for wrongfully imprisoned people. Proceeds from Free the West Memphis Three will go to that organization, but will be earmarked for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley.
"The money is for them to get the hell out of Arkansas when they get out of jail," Bland said.
Musicians' Support Welcomed
Sauls was happy to receive support from the music community. "It's nice to know that public figures are finally having the courage to speak up about this," he said. "Eddie Vedder talked about the case in a Web chat recently. The tides are turning, and it has a lot to do with the information that's out there."
One of the West Memphis officers who discovered the mutilated bodies of the three boys said he understands how people might think the three defendants are innocent, based on the HBO documentaries.
"I don't blame them for thinking those boys were railroaded," said Capt. Mike Allen of the West Memphis Police Department. "If I was in California or New York, I'd feel like a great injustice occurred. But I know that's not what happened.
"Two separate juries heard six weeks worth of evidence and both found them guilty," he said. "I personally feel like [the artists on the record] don't know all the facts. If they did, there's no way in the world they'd play a note or sing a tune for Damien Echols."
Free the West Memphis Three features a diverse assortment of musicians bound by their collective belief in the West Memphis Three's innocence. Bland said highlights will include cover songs both predictable and unexpected. The Clash's Strummer teams with the Long Beach Dub Allstars on Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," Nashville Pussy take on AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," Vedder fronts the Supersuckers on X's "Poor Girl" and former Breeders singer Kelley Deal puts her spin on Pantera's "Fucking Hostile."
Original Compositions For Compilation
Many original songs were written specifically for the compilation, including Waits' "Rains on Me," Rocket From the Crypt's "Wrong and Important," L7's "Boys in Black," the reunited Killing Joke's "Our Last Goodbye" and Earle's "The Truth."
Earle's passionate stance against the death penalty rubbed off on Bland, who's known the singer/songwriter since Earle and the Supersuckers collaborated on a five-song EP in 1997.
"Steve is a big part of it, 'cause I was never one to be politically conscious of anything before meeting him," Bland said. "I'd always been against the death penalty but never vocal about it. Being around Steve and seeing the work he does really inspired me."
Other songs on Free the West Memphis Three include: Mark Lanegan's "Untitled Lullaby"; the John Doe Thing's "Highway 5"; Zeke doing Iron Maiden's "Wrathchild"; Fastball member Tony Scalzo's "Indicted"; and the Murder City Devils covering the Misfits' "She."
Appeals for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley are continuing at the state level, Sauls said.
(Sonicnet.com's Jennifer Tatone and Correspondent Christian Boone contributed to this report.)