October 10, 2013


Description:  The West Memphis Three. Accused, convicted…and set free. Do you know their story?

In 2011, one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American legal history was set right when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were released after eighteen years in prison. Award-winning journalist Mara Leveritt's Devil's Knot remains the most comprehensive, insightful reporting ever done on the investigation, trials, and convictions of three teenage boys who became known as the West Memphis Three.

For weeks in 1993, after the murders of three eight-year-old boys, police in West Memphis, Arkansas seemed stymied. Then suddenly, detectives charged three teenagers, alleged members of a satanic cult, with the killings. Despite the witch-hunt atmosphere of the trials, and a case which included stunning investigative blunders, a confession riddled with errors, and an absence of physical evidence linking any of the accused to the crime, the teenagers were convicted. Jurors sentenced Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to life in prison and Damien Echols, the accused ringleader, to death. The guilty verdicts were popular in their home state, even upheld on appeal, and all three remained in prison until their unprecedented release in August 2011.

With close-up views of its key participants, this award-winning account unravels the many tangled knots of this endlessly shocking case, one which will shape the American legal landscape for years to come.

My Thoughts on Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt

From the 1994 convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, I have been interested in this case and read everything I could on it.  Without a doubt, the best resource is Mara Leverett's excellent recounting, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three.  With the same tenacity and brutal honesty she displayed in The Boys on the Tracks (another excellent read), Ms. Leveritt, an Arkansas resident herself, pulls no punches in shining a harsh light on three young men wrongfully convicted by a community desperate to hold someone accountable for terrible acts. 

Devil's Knot will drop you right into the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas and take you through the crimes, the circus of an investigation, the questioning of suspects, the circumstantial evidence, the trials and the convictions. She brings life to not only the three boys who were killed but the three young men who found themselves at the center of the controversy because of their penchant to wear black, their style in music and their low incomes. 

Having covered the trials for her local paper, Ms. Leveritt has been enmeshed in this case from the beginning and her close proximity to locale and residents is evident in her writing.  It is flawless; not only does she take you to the scene, as mentioned above, but she makes you feel.  I was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, anger, despair, disgust, rage and loss while reading this book.   Regardless of your feelings on the guilt or innocence of The West Memphis Three, the local police's coercion, laziness and lack of a cohesive investigation, along with the prosecutorial misconduct and the judge's bias, should make your blood boil.    Shoddy police work aside, the trials were anything but fair, allowing community hysteria to take over, evidence to be fabricated and questionable testimony to become expert.  From the start these three young men didn't have a chance and Ms. Leveritt puts that on blast.

In the hands of a lesser journalist, Devil's Knot could easily have become a dime-store paperback; one that told the basic tale, glorifying the violence, but without any real depth.  In Ms. Leveritt's able hands, this is a must-read for not only true crime junkies but also for anyone in the legal field.  This is a lesson on how not to rush to judgment, how not to conduct an investigation, how not to speak to the press. 

While this book was written in 2002, nearly ten years before Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were released from prison, it's still the best read you will find on the case.  Not a stone was left unturned in Ms. Leveritt's quest to find justice not only for The West Memphis Three but for the children killed. 

I would not hesitate to recommend Devil's Knot to anyone wanting to learn about the investigation into the West Memphis crimes, the trials and the wrongful convictions.  The story of The West Memphis Three and what can happen from public hysteria should scare the hell out of you.

Devil's Knot: The True Story of The West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt is available for purchase at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate.  I will make a small commission if you make a purchase through my link. 

For more information on author Mara Leveritt, please visit her website

FTC Disclosure:  This book was from my own private collection, purchased by me.  I was neither paid nor compensated in any way for this review. 

No comments: