The Thin Blue Line – Errol Morris’s documentary about Randall Dale Adams, the man wrongly convicted of murdering a Dallas policeman in 1976 – may be the only film in history instrumental in freeing an innocent man from death row. But if Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have their way, it won’t be the last. Berlinger and Sinofsky are the filmmakers behind the 1996 investigation of the Robin Hood Hills murders, Paradise Lost. Four years later, they return to the scene of the crime for the follow-up, Revelations.
The facts of the case are well known to those who have seen the first installment, but the sequel provides enough background information to catch up latecomers. In May 1993, three eight-year-old boys were found dead in a creek near West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols, a local teenager known for dressing in black and practicing the Wiccan religion, was arrested for the crime, along with his associates Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly. After a grueling ten-hour interrogation, Misskelly confessed to the crime and implicated Echols and Baldwin. Though no physical evidence tied the teenagers to the scene, and defense lawyers argued that Misskelly’s confession had been coerced, the three defendants were convicted of murder and Echols sentenced to death.
During the making of the original Paradise Lost, Mark Byers, the father of one of the dead boys, presented the filmmakers with a gift – a pocket knife speckled with dried blood. Berlinger and Sinofsky turned the knife over to the authorities as possible evidence in the Robin Hood Hills killings. Since then, a shroud of doubt has hung over Byers’s head. Many believe him to be involved in the murder of the three boys, and suspicions were heightened by the mysterious death of his wife in 1996.
The filmmakers returned to Arkansas to follow the appeals process and met with severely restricted access to the principals of the first film. Most of the original defense and prosecution teams refused interviews, and cameras were not allowed in court. The only family member of the three murdered children who agreed to appear again was – surprisingly – Mark Byers.