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Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three
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Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three [Hardcover]

Mara Leveritt
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 8, 2002
On the evening of May 5, 1993, in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, three eight-year-old boys disappeared. The next afternoon, the naked bodies of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were found submerged in a nearby stream. The boys had been bound from ankle to wrist with their own shoelaces and severely beaten. Christopher had been castrated. The crime scene had yielded few clues, and despite Christopher's castration, there was a remarkable absence of blood. The police were stymied, and citizens' alarm mounted as weeks passed without an arrest. Finally, a month after the murders, detectives announced three arrests -- and a startling theory of the crime: that the children had been killed by members of a satanic cult. Detectives attributed their break in the case to a former special education student, seventeen-year-old Jessie Misskelley Jr. Although Jessie insisted he knew nothing of the crime, after eight hours of questioning, police announced that he had implicated himself and accused two other teenagers, eighteen-year-old Damien Echols and sixteen-year-old Jason Baldwin. Damien and Jason both denied Jessie's account, and Jessie himself recanted it within hours, but by then all three had been charged with the murders. With no physical evidence connecting anyone to the crime, prosecutors contended that the murders bore signs of "the occult" and that the three accused teenagers possessed a "state of mind" that pointed to them as the killers. As proof of the defendants' mental states, they introduced items taken from their rooms -- such as books by Anne Rice and album posters for the rock group Metallica. Jurors found all three teenagers guilty.Jessie and Jason were sentenced to life in prison. Damien was sentenced to death. While the verdicts were popular in Arkansas, an HBO documentary raised questions about the lack of evidence in the case, and a Web site was formed to support the inmates, now known as "The West Memphis Three." When the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the verdicts, state officials insisted that anyone who questioned the trials simply did not know "the facts." Now, for the first time, an award-winning investigative reporter examines that official stand. In riveting narrative, "Devil's Knot" draws readers into the drama of a modern-day courtroom dominated by references to Satan. In laying out "the facts" of this still-unfolding case, it offers a frightening look into America's system of justice.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Arkansas investigative journalist Leveritt (The Boys on the Tracks) presents an affecting account of a controversial trial in the wake of three child murders in Arkansas. In May 1993, three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in West Memphis, a small and tattered Arkansas town. The crime scene and forensic evidence were mishandled, but a probation officer directed the police toward Damien Echols, a youth with a troubled home life, antiauthoritarian attitudes and admiration for the "Goth" and Wiccan subcultures. Amid rumors of satanic cult activity, investigators browbeat Jesse Misskelley, a mentally challenged 16-year-old acquaintance of Echols, into providing a wildly inconsistent confession that he'd helped Echols and a third teen, Jason Baldwin, assault the boys. Leveritt meticulously reconstructs the clamorous investigation and two jury trials that followed. All three boys were convicted on the basis of Misskelley's dubious statements and such "evidence" as Echols's fondness for William Blake and Stephen King. Leveritt, who makes a strong argument that the convictions were a miscarriage of justice, also suggests an alternative suspect: one victim's stepfather, who had a history of domestic violence, yet was seemingly shielded by authorities because he was a drug informant for local investigators. Sure to be locally controversial, Leveritt's carefully researched book offers a riveting portrait of a down-at-the-heels, socially conservative rural town with more than its share of corruption and violence.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Arkansas Times investigative reporter Leveritt explores the 1993 West Memphis Three murder convictions, which have been the subject of two HBO documentaries. The book is arranged chronologically, from the crime through the trial, and dispassionately dissects the prosecution's case against three teens who were convicted of the grisly murders of three eight-year-old boys. Leveritt interviewed the principals, reviewed the police file and trial transcripts, and leads the reader to conclude from her exhaustive research (430 footnotes) that the case was botched, improperly based on a single confession from a retarded youth and the defendants' alleged ties to satanic rituals. Well written in descriptive language, the book is an indictment of a culture and legal system that failed to protect children as defendants or victims. Highly recommended.
Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Atria (October 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743417593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743417594
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
149 of 165 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and much-needed October 11, 2002
I'm fascinated by the West Memphis Three case, but the advocacy nature of so much of the available information (the documentaries, the website) has always left me with the feeling I'm not getting the whole story. The main figures in the West Memphis and Arkansas justice system have long said that the movies and website skirt the true facts, and if those facts were known people would understand that the guilty parties are in prison. Leveritt wisely took this assertion as the premise of her book--she decided to put it to the test. She has done a brilliant, dispassionate job of it. My understanding of this case had deepened tenfold by the time I finished reading the book (as well as its exhaustive end notes). Every opportunity is given to advocates of the boys' guilt to bring to light those missing "true facts." It is utterly horrifying to see how this process actually casts more doubt on the case that the prosecutors and police created. The horror is compounded by the obvious fact that Leveritt is not presenting a slanted version of the story. She goes above and beyond to find those crucial "true facts" that will establish guilt. But it seems they don't exist.
The documentaries, website materials and other information about this case (I've been semi-obsessed with it since 1996) have always left vague, nagging doubts in my mind. This book erased them.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tremendous Service To The World January 13, 2003
By A Customer
Having followed this case since 1996 and read much of the publically available documentation on the site, I can say that Mara Leveritt's book is meticulously researched - more so than most of the Pre-Mallett legal cases except perhaps Stidham's - and the fact that it is by a respected Arkansas journalist ought to help put to rest the notion that only "outsiders who don't understand" would support the WM3.
Leveritt does a commendable job on two counts - showing Arkansans that not only "outsiders" believe that the WM3 cases were travesties of justice, and showing the "outsiders" that not all Arkansans are as biased, incompetent, self-serving, and self-deluded as the officials in Crittenden County involved with the WM3 case seem to be.
It is preposterous that people continue to believe Misskelley's confessions after reading their transcripts and circumstances. You don't need to be an expert like Leo & Ofshe (whose papers can give much more detailed arguments as to why Misskelley's confession is bogus) to realize that the confession is coerced, and the specifics given in it are produced by Det. Ridge and fed to Misskelley. If you can read Chapter 7 in this book and still believe that this confession is valid, you've either not paid attention to the transcripts (feel free to ignore anything that you may consider Leveritt's "interpretations") or you have such preconceptions about the defendants' guilt (and/or the infallibility of Police and Prosecutors) that even scientific evidence would not convince you.
You can't get through this book without feeling that there are serious grounds for a retrial, and that there is more than a reasonable doubt as to the defendants' guilt.
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72 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly Disturbing December 2, 2003
I suppose there are hundreds of cases such as this hidden away in American history justice files - sensational crimes, creating mass hysteria, law enforcement officials desperate to catch a break and solve terribly violent murders. What is most profoundly disturbing about "Devil's Knot - The True Story of the West Memphis Three," a well-researched and eye-opening account by Mara Leveritt, is there is no comfortable resolution to this case.
If the three teenagers who were convicted in the slayings of three eight-year-old boys in 1993 are truly guilty - as the juries found them - then it is a sad testament to the ever-decreasing humanity existing within the interstate wasteland of faceless trailer parks, strip malls and fast food dives. However, if these three anti-social teens were railroaded simply because they were counterculture, adorned in black listening to Metallica and Black Sabbath while perusing Anne Rice, then this morbid tale is an example of a modern-day witch-hunt akin to the Salem Witch Trails hundreds of years ago.
Has justice been served in West Memphis, Arkansas - a small, faceless Southern town near the banks of the Mississippi River? Someone murdered those three innocent boys in or near the woods outside of town. But is that someone truly behind bars?
When reading "Devil's Knot," it is abundantly clear these law enforcement officials had little experience dealing with a violent case such as this. The crime scene was contaminated, officers didn't follow leads, interviews were not recorded, evidence was lost, witnesses were threatened, body conditions leaked to the press.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shocking July 3, 2003
By Ksuzy
The author says she wants to provide all the details, and that she does. I can't quite say she did it in a completely unbiased manner. For example, she spends a lot of time writing of their time in prison. This is perfectly okay with me, as I think it added to the book tremendously and helped to make the teenagers more human. I was even moved to tears. She is clearly on their side, however, but doesn't seem unable to consider the facts. She documents all of her work with so much evidence and almost 400 endnotes. She interviews hundreds of individuals and had access to documents that had never been seen before. She even reports on what could be some pretty damning evidence, in my opinion, which unfortunately was all that the juries were allowed to hear in some cases. She also provides access to all the details that the juries did NOT have. Much of the information that could have changed the outcome of the trials for these three teenaged boys was surprisingly supressed by the judge. During the trial portions, I literally could not put this book down and found myself reading aloud from it to others. This book should be required reading for anyone who thinks we have an impartial justice system in the U.S.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars You thought the documentary was in depth- read this!!
Informative, stimulating, and couldn't put it down!
Published 4 days ago by erika mcmichael
5.0 out of 5 stars I; m still not sure if the right thing ...
I;m still not sure if the right thing was accomplished or not.
Published 15 days ago by carol
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory!
I've read scores of true crime, including classics like HELTER SKELTER (Vincent Bugliosi) and THE STRANGER BESIDE ME (Ann Rule). But I think this might be the best. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Solipso
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond important.
I first became acquainted with the case which is the subject matter of the book while watching the HBO film, "Paradise Lost," about it. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very detailed and revealing
Published 1 month ago by william sullivan
5.0 out of 5 stars GOOD READ
Published 1 month ago by Chrystal Dozier
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, greatly detailed book that despite everything still left ...
Amazing, greatly detailed book that despite everything still left me without closure as to who committed the murders, i.e. it's not weighted one direction or another. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Chris Cheatham
5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book.
I absolutely loved this book. However it makes me sick the way the police department handled this case. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Deborah King
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
well written account of this screwed up investigation and trial.
Published 2 months ago by shecky
3.0 out of 5 stars Fair. It drags a bit and the ending (although ...
Fair. It drags a bit and the ending (although true) seems unsatisfactory.
Published 2 months ago by margaret berry
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