In 1993, the lives of three young teenagers — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin — were changed forever when they were convicted of a crime they didn’t commit: the brutal murder of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Almost 20 years behind bars and countless voices of support later, the West Memphis Three are free at last, with their story chronicled in the Peter Jackson-produced documentary “West of Memphis.”
Over the years, Echols and his peers found their cause championed by famous faces including Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Johnny Depp. At the Toronto International Film Festival, Depp appeared alongside Echols and spoke with MTV News about why the case of the West Memphis Three was something he found himself drawn to.
“I believe it was Henry Rollins, also a longtime supporter and friend of Damien’s, who said it, and it’s absolutely true: it could have been any of us,” Depp said of the circumstances surrounding the West Memphis Three’s wrongful imprisonment. “Because, what, you look different? [The authorities] put their eyeball on Damien and didn’t take it off, even though everything around them — they didn’t look at the insane amount of holes in the case. They just looked at the guy with the black T-shirt and the long black hair. It was a witch hunt.”
With Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin finally out of prison, the men, now in their 30s, have a lot of world to catch up to. “Here’s a kid who went to prison wrongfully convicted. He went in at the age of 18 and came out at the age of 36. Suddenly you can take photographs with your phone. So much has changed,” Depp observed of Echols’ current experience. “By the time you came out, it’s ’The Jetsons.’ It’s a whole ’nother world.”
Depp said there wasn’t much more than “tater-tots, tacos and tattoos” that he could offer Echols upon his release from prison. (To his credit, Echols added “guitar lessons” to the list of gifts he received from Depp.) But it’s actually Echols who taught Depp a long list of valuable lessons, the actor said.
“As a friend, I instantly fell in love with this guy. I knew him instantly,” said Depp. “I’ve learned so much from him and his experiences. Not just experiences of living in a tiny concrete room but the experiences from his mind and his strength and his ability to survive in a situation that’s nearly impossible.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “West of Memphis.”