Transcripts from the CNN broadcast interview with two of the Memphis 3, Misskelley declined to be on the show::MonkeyNoNo:http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1109/29/pmt.01.html
PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
West Memphis Three Freed After 18 Years
Aired September 29, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, justice on trial. The case that shocked a nation. Three little boys murdered and dumped in a creek. And the three teenagers accused of horrendous crimes.
Whispers of devil worship, of sexual abuse. Then the verdicts. And the West Memphis Three disappeared behind bars.
Tonight, the extraordinary 18-year effort to free them.
JASON BALDWIN, WEST MEMPHIS THREE: We told nothing but the truth that we're innocent and they sent us to prison for the rest of our lives.
MORGAN: And the questions that remain. Did the killer or killers go free? And was the truth a victim, too?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're 100 percent innocent. We needed someone to hate to survive because our child was dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If these animals are released, you just as well give the key to everybody that's on death row right now.
MORGAN: The West Memphis Three in their own words.
DAMIEN ECHOLS, WEST MEMPHIS THREE: It does something to you when you see something like that. It cracks you inside.
MORGAN: This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
The case of the West Memphis Three began in May 1993 when the naked bodies of three 8-year-old boys were found in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. The boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, had been hog-tired with their own shoelaces. Three local teenagers were charged with the crime and allegations of satanic rituals.
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley were convicted of those murders. Echols was sentenced to death. Baldwin and Misskelley to life behind bars. But questions remain about their guilt and about the case. And as the years past, the West Memphis Three got the attention of celebrity supporters like Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. And last month, after nearly two decades behind bars, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley walked free in a controversial legal maneuver. More on that in a moment but joining me now, Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis.
Welcome to you both.
LORRI DAVIS, DAMIEN ECHOL'S WIFE: Thank you.
MORGAN: An extraordinary saga. No other way to put this. Ending in the most bizarre circumstances, and we'll come to those a little later. Where eventually you all admit guilt and yet you walk free, which is a bizarre twist in this tale, a weird anomaly in the legal system, and will make no sense to anybody, probably least of all you.
Damien, let me start with you. I mean you've lost 20 years of your life for a crime you've always said you didn't commit.
MORGAN: What has it been like for you? You in particular, you were sentenced to death, you had to live with that every day that you were incarcerated. You spent most of your time in isolation, I think. Tell me about the experience.
ECHOLS: Well, I spent actually the past 10 years in absolute solitary confinement. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week I was alone with the exception of the time that I would spend with Lorri. We were allowed to see each other once a week for three hours.
MORGAN: She was the only person you saw?
ECHOLS: Pretty much. Every once in a while maybe her family would come, you know, maybe once a year or something like that, but for the most part she was the only person I saw.
MORGAN: And what did you have with your solitary confinement? Did you have a television?
ECHOLS: There was a television, no cable anything like that. You just get the basic television channels. Your shower is right there in the cell with you. There's a drain in the floor. It's solid concrete walls and a solid steel door. There's a little slide in the door that they open up to pass food through or to give you mail, things like that. But for the most part, you're completely and absolutely sealed off from everybody.
MORGAN: What was the bed like?
ECHOLS: It's a concrete slab along the back of the wall. It's about 2 1/2 feet up off the floor. And they give you a mat like kindergartners take naps on to put on top of that, and that's your bed.
MORGAN: A computer? ECHOLS: No. I had never -- you know when I got locked up there was no such thing as the Internet. So I had never seen the Internet, I'd never used a cell phone.
MORGAN: Were you aware of news other than through the television -- I presume that you could catch up on news. But were you aware of world events? Were you following them?
ECHOLS: Just what I would see on, like, the major network television stations.
MORGAN: How often were you allowed to exercise?
ECHOLS: As often as you do it yourself in your cell. You know there were no exercise periods, you know there was no gym equipment, nothing like that. It's just whatever you could devise on your own.
MORGAN: When did you see daylight?
ECHOLS: Never. I hadn't seen daylight in almost a decade. I hadn't been exposed to sunlight.
MORGAN: In 10 years?
ECHOLS: For almost 10 years, yes.
MORGAN: What are you thinking throughout this period? I mean, this is -- for an innocent man, as many believe that you are and you've always protested this -- what are you thinking when you're stuck in there?
ECHOLS: The only thing -- the only thing you can do and maintain your sanity is to not think about the case and not think about what's happening to you. You have to sort of immerse yourself into a routine and never deviate from that routine. You know work out your own exercise regiment, work out a meditation regimen, start some sort of practice, sort of the artwork, writing, whatever it is. You have to create your own world in there or you'll go insane from that stuff.
MORGAN: Well, I don't know how you keep your sanity.
ECHOLS: You don't have a choice. You know it's not like you can get up one day and say, you know, I quit, I'm tired of this, I'm going to home. You just do whatever it takes to keep putting one foot in front of the other and get through the next day.
MORGAN: What effect did it have on your health?
ECHOLS: My health -- there's almost no medical care, no dental care, and things like that in prison so my health was deteriorating very rapidly. I've lost a great deal of my eyesight. Whenever you're in a confined space, you never get a chance to see anything far away and so you eventually lose the ability to.
So I started losing my ability to see anything further than a few inches away from me. And I was extremely light-sensitive due to the fact of not having seeing sunlight --
MORGAN: Yes, but that first moment you came out, what was it like to have daylight again?
ECHOLS: It was like having a spotlight turned right in your face. It was extremely bright. I couldn't wait for the nightfall, you know, just to see the sun go down because I had never seen that, not in almost 20 years. You know I'd never gotten to see a sunset.
And it was just one of those things that I had been waiting on for so long, you know, sunsets, to see the leaves change colors, to feel autumn come in. This is going to be my first years. One of the things I'm really excited this year. This is going to be, my first real Christmas, my first real Thanksgiving. It will be our first anniversary that we spent together outside in 20 years, 18 1/2.
MORGAN: What are the things that you've had to learn again about real life? The simple things.
ECHOLS: Well, there's -- there are things that most people would expect you to have to learn, you know, like I said, I had never even seen the Internet so I'm having to learn how to use a cell phone, how to use a computer. But there are also things, for example, I hadn't walked in 18 1/2 years without chains on my feet. So I'm not -- I wasn't used to that when I first got out, so I was literally having to learn to walk again.
And the first few days I would almost keep falling over myself because I was used to walking, you know, with short strides with chains on my feet. I had to learn to use a fork again. You know I hadn't eaten with a fork in 18 1/2 years.
ECHOLS: They don't give you forks in there.
MORGAN: How do you eat?
ECHOLS: With your hands.
MORGAN: I mean, there'll be people watching who will say, had you been the person responsible for the death of three young boys in this horrific manner, they don't care how badly you're treated in prison. The problem comes if you're completely innocent and you're being treated in these barbaric circumstances.
MORGAN: I mean, for someone like you to be enduring such an intolerable lifestyle believing absolutely you're innocent, again, I'm -- I come back to the question of sanity. It must have been incredibly hard.
Let me take you back to what happened. May 5th, 1993, the bodies of these three 8-year-old boys are found. It's a small town. Everybody knows each other or knows someone who knows someone. ECHOLS: Right.
MORGAN: So it becomes the biggest (INAUDIBLE) of its time for the town. It becomes a national story, it becomes something that grips people, and it's so horrifying that the desire by people to catch the perpetrators is intense.
When is the first time that you hear you are going to be in trouble with this?
ECHOLS: Almost immediately, and it wasn't just because of this. It was -- you know I had been harassed a great deal. It really was a really small town, and I stuck out due to the way I looked, the music I listened to, things like that. So I had been harassed for quite a while before these murders ever been took place.
MORGAN: Were you a troublemaker? Or were you just a bit different?
ECHOLS: The most trouble I had ever gotten into was like running away from home as a teenager, something like that. It was just --
MORGAN: Ever broken the law?
MORGAN: You were into, like, heavy metal?
MORGAN: And then you don't like reading Stephen King books, I mean --
MORGAN: Was thrown at you is kind of allegations but you know, there's nothing wrong with Stephen King, and nothing wrong with liking Ozzy Osbourne or whoever it was.
ECHOLS: Well, in 1993 I hadn't even heard this word but now it's pretty common. People say that what I was, was Goth. And you didn't have something like that in small towns back then. It really drew a lot of notice from, you know, a small town crowd. And it made me stand out and it sort of what made me a target.
MORGAN: So what happened?
ECHOLS: Just immediately, as soon as it happened, people said a murder this horrific couldn't have just happened. You know, what would have been the reason for it? Obviously they weren't robbed. They're 8-year-old children. We found out later they hadn't been sexually molested in any way. They tried to say that in the very beginning but we found out they hadn't been.
So what other reason could someone possibly have for murdering these children? The only thing I could come up with was that it was a satanic ritual. To them that made sense.
MORGAN: When was the moment you realized you were going to be pulled in by the police?
ECHOLS: They showed up at my door the day after the bodies were found. I mean, it was almost immediate that they started coming to me.
MORGAN: And how did that make you feel?
ECHOLS: There's no words to even describe it. You know most people don't have anything in their frame of reference that they could compare something like that to. Then to know that these people are coming to you because they actually believe that you are capable of murdering three children, it does something to you psychologically that you will never, ever get over.
MORGAN: Tell me about the relationship with you and the two other men who were accused with you. I've been saying men, you were boys at the time, 16, 17.
MORGAN: Tell me about Jessie, because he and his testimony to police very early on were the catalyst for what happened to you.
MORGAN: What we've heard subsequently is that he has a very low IQ, 72, he is mentally +++++++.
MORGAN: He's not somebody who really should have been given -- giving lengthy evidence without a lot of legal help.
MORGAN: What happened?
ECHOLS: Well, whenever they called him in for questioning, like you said, he was mentally +++++++. He had been in like special education classes in school, things like that. They said he had -- mentally he functioned at the level of something like a 5 to 8-year- old child. They called him in and started questioning him and basically with the mentality he had, what happened was he agreed to anything that they said. They would say, did you do this? He would say yes.
MORGAN: And very little of this -- of this testimony was ever kept on tape, well, certainly on tape that was found.
MORGAN: Just fragments of this interview, which in itself is suspicious and strange and weird. ECHOLS: Exactly.
MORGAN: He gives this evidence. He says, yes, I saw you and he saw Jason, and I saw them kill these boys and they raped these boys, horrific stuff he came out with.
MORGAN: And as a result of that, you guys are now in very serious trouble.
ECHOLS: Yes. I don't think he -- you know with the mentality he had and his IQ level, I don't think he could really even comprehend the level of trouble that he was in or that he had dragged us into with him.
MORGAN: How well did you know him?
ECHOLS: Not very well. Jason Baldwin I knew a great deal better. He was my best friend, you know, since we were teenagers. Jessie Misskelley was someone we would see around somewhere, you know, maybe had a pool hall shooting pool, something like that, but he wasn't, you know, as close to us as we knew each other.
MORGAN: Why did you think he was doing this?
ECHOLS: It's hard to say. I think part of it was just prompting by the police. Part of it may have been he thought he was going to get something out of it. It's hard to say.
MORGAN: When is the worst moment for you?
ECHOLS: It's hard to say. I almost want to say there were no worst moments. It just kept getting worse and worse and worse. You know every single moment was worse than the last one. It doesn't ever stop. You know, you think the moment you're arrested, that's the worst moment.
You think the moment you were in the trial, that's the worst moment. You think the moment you're convicted, that's the worst moment. You think the moment you're sentenced to death, that's the worst moment. Your first execution date rolls around, that's the worst moment.
It just gets worse and worse and worse. It's a horror story. It's like a train that doesn't stop. It just keeps picking up speed and getting worse and worse and worse.
MORGAN: Very few people can understand anything that you've been through. One of them is going to join us after this break. And he's one of the other members of the Memphis Three.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We the jury finds Damien Echols guilty of capital murder in the death of Stevie Branch. We the jury find Damien Echols guilty of capital murder in the death of Chris Byers. We the jury find Damien Echols guilty of capital murder in the death of Michael Moore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: All the Memphis Three were convicted of murder. Damien Echols, the alleged ringleader, were sentenced to death. Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis are here with me now. We've been joined by Jason Baldwin, another member of the West Memphis Three.
Welcome, Jason. I mean let's just cut to the quick here. What was the evidence against you, other than the word of Jessie, who we already established had a mental age of somewhere between a 5 and 8- year-olds?
BALDWIN: The evidence against us was our personal preferences in music. I remember at one point during the trial they lifted up our record. Boys' record and I think John Fogelman said this was found in Damien's girlfriend's mother's house.
MORGAN: He was the prosecutor.
MORGAN: As if somehow that implied that you were capable of killing young boys.
MORGAN: There's no DNA evidence against you?
BALDWIN: Well, at the time they had evidence and stuff but since it didn't match us it wasn't brought up and then --
MORGAN: But nothing tangibly linking any of you to the deaths of these boys.
MORGAN: Has ever emerged. Was there anything else other than music you listened to, books you read, clothes you wore or haircuts?
BALDWIN: That was it.
MORGAN: How do you feel? I mean you've listened to Damien out there. I'm assuming you didn't have much contact in the years that you were both incarcerated.
BALDWIN: No. When we first got locked up, we would write letters through his sister, Damien, but I got called up to the warden's office and told I wasn't permitted to do that. So I was no longer permitted. So only then the only type of contact we could have, like, through mutual friends, call a friend. And I'd be like, hey, how is Damien doing? Have you talked to Damien? And you know kind of pass on words of encouragement like that.
MORGAN: Presumably, in prison you are pariahs, right? People --
BALDWIN: Yes. In the first few years, like when I first got there, people were literally waiting for us to get there. You know, and they stay up alike, you know. Just to do us harm.
MORGAN: And they would attack you?
BALDWIN: Oh, yes.
MORGAN: How often?
BALDWIN: The first few years, a lot.
MORGAN: Like what?
BALDWIN: I mean I've got shattered skull, broken collarbone, teeth knocked out, multiple scars on my face and stuff from it. But as the years progressed and people got to know me and as the documentaries came out and stuff, you know, the curses turned into prayers. You know the fistfights turned into hugs.
MORGAN: But for the early period, this must just be -- this is a nightmare. I mean were you going through the same thing?
ECHOLS: Yes, absolutely.
MORGAN: It's just unthinkable to me that you're going through this.
Then the mood begins to change. And that's when I want to bring you in here, Lorri, because a campaign begins. There are rumblings of discontent about this case. People are beginning to think, this doesn't add up, there isn't the evidence, and HBO did big a documentary. You watched this documentary.
A lot of famous people now have been able to get behind this and giving it (INAUDIBLE) of publicity. When you watched it, it was very powerful and led you -- led the viewer to an obvious clear-cut conclusion that you could not have been responsible for the deaths of these boys.
You start writing to Damien. You write about -- what are you thinking when these letters arrive?
ECHOLS: I think I fell in love with Lorri pretty much from the very first letter.
ECHOLS: Because I can -- I just knew this was someone unlike anyone I had ever known in my life. She just stood out. There was something completely and absolutely different about her. She was out of my frame of reference. You know it was something -- she was something completely magical and alien to me at the time, and it was one of those kinds of love that just hurts because it's so much.
MORGAN: I'm going to play devil's advocate for a moment because -- and this won't surprise you. When you read about women who write to convicted killers and so on, there is a kind of freaky element to a lot of those relationships. It's unhealthy, it's weird.
This is different because you did it after watching a documentary where, as I say, you couldn't conclude from that that you were the killers. So really you're in your head writing to an innocent man, as you see it.
MORGAN: That is the distinction. But you must have still had family, friends, and people around you, presumably, as this relationship developed, thinking, what are you doing?
DAVIS: Well, fortunately, for most of my life I've been a pretty grounded, responsible person so I mean I think if I had been a little more erratic in my life, then maybe -- but it was astounding because my close friends stuck by me.
MORGAN: You fell in love. You started meeting each other. You were allowed to see him. And you get married.
MORGAN: There's still the prospect of you facing an execution. How -- you know, how do you deal with that psychologically?
DAVIS: I never entertained the thought of it. I just never did the whole time.
ECHOLS: That's what I was going to say. Yes.
ECHOLS: It's almost like you refuse to accept it. I heard a guy one time talking about racecar drivers and whenever they're training, racecar drivers they tell them never look at the wall. Because if you look at it you're going to drive into it, you're going to move towards what you focus on.
So therefore, we wouldn't focus on that because we didn't want to move towards it. We focused all of our attention, all of our energy, and all of our work towards getting out, towards proving our innocence.
MORGAN: The campaign that you then joined aggressively and began to be more and more vocal and public about it.
I want to take another break and when we come back, I want to get into when you were found guilty and also when you admitted guilt to get your freedom, which is, as I said at the start of the show, a bizarre some will say ridiculous way, for this to end. But it got you here. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: I did not want to take the deal from the get-go. However, they're trying to kill Damien, and sometimes you just got to fight to save somebody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: An emotional moment from the news conference right after Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were freed last month. To get there, they had to plead guilty while insisting they are innocent.
I should point out we asked Jessie Misskelley to join us tonight but he declined.
This is a fascinating development. It's called the Alfred Plea. It's a very rare part of American law. And in the end you were able to proclaim your innocence while pleading guilty.
MORGAN: I don't get it. So Jason, explain to me what this actually means.
BALDWIN: Well, the Alfred Plea was the only opportunity that we was given to plead our innocence and get out with -- the way it was set up was the state didn't want to admit that they had, you know, convicted three innocent people to prison and to death so what they put together was an opportunity to -- for them to be able to claim that, hey, we got the right guys, but the evidence doesn't, you know, prove that they're guilty.
If they go to trial again, they'll win. But we're giving them an opportunity to get out now to save taxpayers some money and they can still maintain their innocence and state still maintains the point that they're guilty and all parties --
MORGAN: I mean you did an extraordinary thing for your friend because you could have done a deal and got out. But if you didn't take this deal, he would have been facing the death penalty still, right?
BALDWIN: Well, on both deals, like they came to me with plea agreements, like, when I first got arrested. And I told my attorneys not to ever bring these plea agreements to me. But by law they -- you know they have to. First time they were like -- you know this is when I was 16.
They wanted me to testify against Damien. I'm like, that's impossible. I can't testify against him. I'd have to testify for him. It was -- my attorneys like, no, that's not what they want you to do. They want you to say that he did the crime and then they'll let you out, give you five years or whatever. I told them, well, I can't do that. I wouldn't care if they'd just let me out right now. So jump ahead 18 years to now, this deal, it's to save an innocent life. It's to save Damien from death row. It's a sure thing, you know, and it gets him home now and it gets him out of, you know, death row where he's, you know, suffering not being at home with Lorri and everything so --
MORGAN: How many execution dates did you face?
ECHOLS: I only ever had one. My original execution date was May 5th, 1994.
MORGAN: And in the build-up to that, did you genuinely think that you were going to get killed?
ECHOLS: I thought there was a good possibility, just because -- you know, we were convicted of something we didn't do with no evidence. If that was possible, then the execution was possible.
MORGAN: How many people were on Death Row with you?
ECHOLS: It varies. On average, I would say about 40. In the time I was there, I saw between 25 and 30 executions.
MORGAN: There is a big debate at the moment about executions following the Troy Davis execution last week. I mean, when you hear this debate, how many -- I've read statistics; 17 people who were on death row had their sentences commuted because of DNA evidence. Another 112 had their sentences commuted for other reasons.
So there you have 140 people who would have been executed wrongly. You could have been one of those people.
ECHOLS: And I knew I could have been one of those people, because it happens all the time. You know, people think this case was something out of the ordinary, and it wasn't. Innocent people get caught up in these situations all the time. You still have innocent people there in Arkansas on death row right now. It happens all the time.
MORGAN: What did your families think? How did they react to this? Did any of them turn against you? Any of them believe you may be guilty?
ECHOLS: None of mine.
MORGAN: None of yours?
BALDWIN: Well, the thing about that is I was with my family at the time the murders occurred.
MORGAN: Which is a key thing in the study of the evidence. It was all based on Jessie's testimony to the police, most of which has never been made public, because they didn't have the tapes or didn't want to release them at the time.
And he said, first of all, it all happened in the morning, then it happened in the afternoon.
MORGAN: Then finally, he washed up at a time that suited the timing of the deaths. I mean, this is scandalous, isn't it? Jason, why do you think Jessie was doing this?
BALDWIN: Well --
MORGAN: Because if he hadn't, I don't think any of you would have gone to prison, would you?
BALDWIN: The closest thing I can come to explain that in my mind is like the schoolyard bully who gets the kid to cry uncle under duress. The bully knows he's not the other kid's uncle and the kid knows the bully is not his uncle. But he puts him under so much pressure and pain that he's like, OK, uncle, let me loose.
MORGAN: Do you hate Jessie? Do you blame him?
BALDWIN: Not at all.
ECHOLS: He's mentally handicapped. It's not his fault.
MORGAN: He's a victim as well, you think?
ECHOLS: Exactly. He didn't choose to be born that way.
MORGAN: Some members of the boys' families supported you. Others, to this day, continue to say you were the people responsible for the deaths of their children. How do you deal with that psychologically?
ECHOLS: You just have to keep moving forward. I mean, if you do focus on that and if you do dwell on that sort of thing all the time, you're going to lose your mind. You're going to go crazy. And there's nothing you can do.
MORGAN: You know, you look at these pictures of these boys, the sweet eight-year-old sons. I've got three sons. They've all been eight years old at some stage.
BALDWIN: That's how old my youngest brother was when it happened.
MORGAN: Was it, yes?
BALDWIN: We were terrified for his safety, you know, when we first heard of the murders. Like on May 6th when with the bodies were found, we were like -- my mom was freaking out. She was like, oh, my God, there's somebody out here killing kids. Keep Terry at home. Watch him. Make sure nothing happens to him until they find out who done this.
MORGAN: Does a part of you understand why some of their family felt they had closure with your convictions? ECHOLS: Absolutely.
MORGAN: And they just can't deal with the fact that it may not be what they had been told it was?
ECHOLS: Absolutely, I can understand it.
BALDWIN: There's a quote that always comes to my mind when I think about this. It did throughout the entire thing. "Forgive them father for they know not what they do." It's what Jesus said when he was put on the cross. That's what I think of when I encounter this stuff.
MORGAN: Let's take another break. When we come back, I want to ask you who you think may have been responsible for the deaths of these boys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If these animals are released, you just going to give the key to everybody that's on death row right now to open up their cells and walk out here with all the rest of us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still standing and fighting for justice, because they're innocent! They did not kill my son!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Two very different reactions from fathers of two of the murdered boys. The West Memphis Three spent nearly a decade behind bars for the crime before being freed last month. Bath with me now is Damien Echols, his wife, Laurie Davis, and Jason Baldwin.
How do you feel when a lot of famous people begin to rally to your cause? I mean, we should explain. The music we've been using to play in and out of these breaks is a special thing for you. Explain what that is.
ECHOLS: It's a song on a Pearl Jam album that was -- Eddie Vedder had taken the lyrics from it from a piece of poetry I had written when I was much younger and put it to music. And it was, you know, just an incredible experience, even hearing the finished product and seeing what it sounds like. It's just an absolutely amazing thing, and something that means a great deal to me.
MORGAN: To have the support of somebody like him.
ECHOLS: In a way, it was almost like we didn't think of it a lot of time as support from someone famous, because these were people that -- they weren't just like celebrities who came in and threw money at the case. These were people who were involved on a very ground floor level.
MORGAN: Peter Jackson got involved. Johnny Depp got involved. These are high, high profile, very famous people. And they definitely made a difference to the atmosphere around your case.
MORGAN: This guy here sitting next to you, you know, he -- you come across to me -- I've never met to you before in my life. But you come across to me as somebody grounded, intelligent, eloquent, not the things you would associate with the portrayal of you in your court case of this Devil worshipping, Satanic, occult obsessed, you know, weirdo, dangerous maniac who could be capable of murdering three young children.
You knew him very well. You were his best friend at the time. Put yourself aside for one moment. When you saw him described as this evil ring leader of mass murder, what were you thinking?
BALDWIN: I knew everybody just had it wrong. They didn't know him. Like in high school, his mom fixed him lunches to carry to school in paper bags, you know. Even then with the high school kids, they joked. They'd be like, what you got in the bag, Damien, a cat? He'd be like, meow, yeah.
But it would be peanut butter and jelly and an apple or soda or something, you know. So it was a joke to the kids this, you know, look and everything, his personal dress and Goth look and stuff. So to children, it's fun, you know. But when the adults got in and the police and everything, and they twisted that and gave it a sinister thing. Yes, and it was just totally unrealistic.
MORGAN: Did either of you ever have suicidal thoughts?
ECHOLS: I think I probably did when I was young teenage angst, you know, stuff you go through as a kid, just because I was such a misfit in the community where I lived. But it never was anything --
MORGAN: But not after you were put in prison?
ECHOLS: Oh, yeah.
MORGAN: Did you ever try to take your own life?
ECHOLS: Yeah, I did.
ECHOLS: I took an overdose of basically sleeping pills, anti- depressants, just because it was -- like you said a while ago, there's no light at the end of the tunnel. It seems like there's no hope. And the pressure was so great that for a moment, I lost all hope. I thought, I may spend God knows how long here going through this. And I did. I took an overdose of pills to try to end my life.
MORGAN: Let's take a short break. I want to come back and ask you how you've managed to rebuild your lives, both of you, and with Lorri's help. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ECHOLS: We can still bring up new evidence. We can still continue the investigations we've been doing. We can still try to clear our names. The only difference is now we can do it from the outside, instead of having to sit in prison and do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Damien Echols at the news conference on his first day of freedom after nearly two decades behind bars. That moment when you walk free, how did that feel?
ECHOLS: It's hard to describe. You know, like I said earlier, most people don't have anything like that in their frame of reference. But it was like having a huge weight taken off your chest. For the first time in almost 20 years, I could actually breathe. You know, I didn't feel like I was being crushed to death.
And there were times in prison when we were going through that that it literally felt like being crushed to death. You feel like there's weight on you and you can't take another step. And for the first time, it felt like that had been completely lifted, taken off.
MORGAN: Lorri, were you surprised at the strength of Damien through this?
DAVIS: Oh, yes.
MORGAN: I mean, many lesser people, in terms of strength of character, would have crumbled under this. Yet I see somebody who -- to me, you've come out and you've survived. That's how I see you, someone that hasn't been destroyed by this, damaged beyond any imagination but not destroyed. Would you agree with that?
DAVIS: Oh, absolutely. But he's worked very hard for that. I mean, there were times when it got really hard for me on the outside, just the stress and trying to get through and thinking there was no -- you know, it was just hard, everything, in the middle of it. And Damien would get me through. So, you know, the strength of that.
But I saw how hard he worked, how long he meditated, how disciplined he was with his mind, his education, his just -- he's such a disciplined person, which is one of the reasons why I found him -- I mean, there's just so many layers to him.
MORGAN: You had a son by a previous relationship.
ECHOLS: Right. He's 18 years old now. The same age I was whenever I got locked up.
MORGAN: Literally he just arrived.
ECHOLS: He was born while the trial was taking place. The very first time I held him was during the trial.
MORGAN: Did you see him at all during the time you were inside?
ECHOLS: Not very often of course. But yes, he would come to the prison. We tried to keep him as far from the situation as possible.
MORGAN: Now he's 18. He's a young man. I've got an 18-year-old son. How does he deal with what's happened to his father?
ECHOLS: I don't know. I you think it's going to take more time than we've had so far to get into things like that. Because who knows what sort of resentments he has or anything else for missing his entire childhood.
MORGAN: He's another victim.
MORGAN: So many victims here.
MORGAN: Whole families crushed on every way you look at this. Do you think death penalty, state executions, should they be abandoned? Many people think they should be now. There are too many miscarriages of justice, too many innocent people being put on death row.
ECHOLS: I don't think we have any idea how many innocent people have died yet.
MORGAN: Would you stop the death penalty? Did you believe in it before this?
ECHOLS: I didn't give it much thought.
MORGAN: You did?
BALDWIN: I would stop it.
MORGAN: I didn't give it much thought before this. You know, it was something that I never really thought about in depth. But the media -- a lot of the media and prosecutors and things like this portray this image to society like all of these people on death row are like Hannibal Lecter. They're these evil geniuses. They are not.
You are talking about people who are mentally +++++++, who are schizophrenic, who are brain damaged, just horrendously damaged people that --
MORGAN: Or completely innocent. I mean, this is my issue with it. You know, I come from a country where we don't have the death penalty. Every poll of the public says 90 percent would bring it back tomorrow. They would all bring back hanging. Because they do that in the belief that 100 percent of the people who would be accused are 100 percent guilty. ECHOLS: Yeah.
MORGAN: And that is just not the case.
MORGAN: Let's take another break and come back and ask you about how you can clear your names completely here, what you think you can do to get proper closure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: I don't worship the Devil or anything like that. I worship God, you know, like everybody. Every normal person in this -- around here knows. .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was a young Jason Baldwin during the trial, from the HBO documentary series "Paradise Lost." James Baldwin and Damien Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, are back with me now. Just a kid only there. You have lost a lot of your lives, the pair of you?
What has been the hardest thing about your reentry into normal life? Can you sleep? Can you get employment? What are the practical realities of your life now?
BALDWIN: I am -- I sleep very well. I'm currently employed for a construction company, just get me on my feet. I think the most difficult thing is learning to drive. I'm working with that. I have read the DMV and took the online practice test, aced it. Now I'm just trying to get down to --
MORGAN: Had your first beer yet?
BALDWIN: Oh, yeah.
MORGAN: Quite a few I should say, right?
BALDWIN: I think, at one point, I went to a coffee shop and they were like what kind of coffee do you want. And I'm like kind? Coffee, right? Americana, espresso and --
MORGAN: Before you went in, it was like, I will have a coffee. Now it's you got to have a Ventura iced latte whatever it is yeah. It's not progress, trust me.
MORGAN: What's it been like for you, Damien?
ECHOLS: I think one of the most remarkable moments that let me know that it was really finally over is we had friend who took us to see like an improv comedy routine. And we are sitting in a room full of people watching the show. And we are on the very front row and there's a bunch of people behind us.
And I realized I don't have to worry about anybody behind me stabbing me or hitting me in the back of the head. They are all watching the show. That's over.
MORGAN: And that was the fear you lived with for ten years?
ECHOLS: Every day.
MORGAN: An awful thing to have to live with. Have you managed to get work?
ECHOLS: Not yet.
MORGAN: Why is that?
ECHOLS: Um, I think it's just the things that I'm interested in, you know? I really started getting into the realm of art whenever I was in prison. And that's what I would like to continue doing, continue writing, continue doing visual artwork. And I just haven't been out long enough to pull things together to get that going.
MORGAN: You've only been out, what, six weeks?
ECHOLS: A month -- a month and a week.
MORGAN: Extraordinary month it must have been for you. Can you quite believe that you're out? I mean, you were facing a death sentence, that was it.
ECHOLS: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes it seems like it's just happened. Other times it seems like the whole prison experience was years ago already. It's hard to describe. It's been extremely surreal.
MORGAN: Do you have any way of clearing your names for good? Is there anything you can do proactively to clear your names? Because there will still be people out there who will have seen the circumstances of your release saying, well, hang on. They are pleading guilty but maintaining their innocence. What's going on here?
It is confusing for people and therefore must be frustrating for you, that that was the only way you could finally get released. Is there a mechanism for closure for you.
ECHOLS: We can be eventually pardoned maybe. We are still continuing with the investigation.
MORGAN: Who decides that, the governor?
ECHOLS: The governor. Yes.
MORGAN: Governor of Arkansas?
MORGAN: Is there a petition to him at the moment?
ECHOLS: I don't think it's been put together yet, but everybody's been talking about it. There have been a lot of people really getting behind the movement. The same people who, you know, were responsible for, you know, exposing this case to the public and making sure we got free are now also starting up a movement for us to be pardoned.
MORGAN: Is the case still open or was it closed?
ECHOLS: To the prosecutors, it's closed. To us, it's opened.
MORGAN: Should it be reopened?
ECHOLS: Of course.
MORGAN: A pardon would be great. It should come to you, given the -- all the evidence in this case. But actually getting somebody put on trial with real evidence, that should have happened from the start, and leading to a proper, safe conviction, that is when you are going to get proper closure. That's when everybody -- right?
DAVIS: In that sense, that's what we have been working on all these years with the legal team and people who have helped us. We're going to continue that, because that is the most important thing, is to bring new evidence to the case, to discover new evidence, everything we can do. Because we want to -- we want to discover who did this.
That's the most important thing.
BALDWIN: We definitely want that process to be free of coerced confessions, free of pressured, perjured testimony.
MORGAN: You have been remarkably candid and brave to do this kind of interview. I think that Damien, Jason -- Damien, in particular, given that you were facing execution -- I mean, this is one of the greatest pieces of testimony against the death penalty being continued in this country.
I just think you look at cases like this, Troy Davis and others, and you think this is just archaic. This cannot be allowed to continue.
But I thank you for your time. I wish you good luck with your rehabilitation into normal life. And go make some music. Have some fun.
ECHOLS: Thank you.
MORGAN: Take care.
BALDWIN: You, too.
MORGAN: Nice to se you.
DAVIS: Thank you so much.
MORGAN: Damien, Lorri and Jason. What an extraordinary story. "Paradise Lost One" and "Paradise Lost Two" are HBO documentary films by Joe Bellinger and Bruce Stonofsky (ph). The latest installment, "Paradise Lost Three" will debut in January on HBO. That is all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts now.