July 24, 2014

West of Memphis an Examination of Incompetence

West of Memphis directed by Amy Berg written by Amy Berg and Billy McMillin
Rating *****

scott-ellingtonThis documentary covers the same ground covered by the three Paradise Lost films concerning the wrongful convictions of Jason Baldwin, Damien Wayne Echols, and Jessie Misskelley. As good as those other films were, this film stands on its own and serves as a case study in the incompetence of the justice system in general but especially the incompetence of the Arkansas justice system.

Do a search on this site for wrongful convictions or false confessions and you will see that this is a subject area that I am drawn to. One of the goals of this site is to bring attention to worthy documentaries, and nonfiction films and books. But I also occasionally single out individuals who deserve to be singled out, and not in a good way. Such is the case with the gentleman whose picture accompanies this post. His name is Scott Ellington. More on Scott in a minute. But first a little background.

Anyone who has followed this case through the numerous books, news shows,  and documentaries knows that three teenagers were wrongfully convicted of killing three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. I won’t rehash the details of how this happened;  this documentary does an excellent job of that. But when the three wrongfully convicted men were finally released from prison, I was confused and angered that their release was contingent on the three pleading an Alford Plea (a way of claiming your innocence but pleading guilty). It didn’t make sense to me at the time. If you waited eighteen years for justice, why not fight to the end? After watching this film and hearing from some of the players involved, principally our man Scott Ellington, I have a better understanding.

Damien’s health was perhaps the biggest concern. The poor nutrition, lack of sunlight, and dismal existence of life on death row was affecting him physically and emotionally. The state of Arkansas had done everything in their power to delay and obstruct justice for eighteen years. There was every reason to believe that they would have drawn things out for as long as possible, perhaps adding several more years of confinement. It was a bad deal, but if I were in their shoes. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same thing.

Anyone watching the court proceedings that day knew that the whole thing was fishy. By making an Alford Plea the three men could not sue the state of Arkansas for wrongfully imprisoning them for eighteen years. That might be true, but the people behind that decision, primarily our man Scott Ellington, the prosecutor in the case, deserve something known as karma.

But before I send a little Karma Scott Ellington’s way, it’s important to mention the original incompetent people responsible for the wrongful conviction: Chief Detective Gary Gitchell, Prosecuting Attorney John Fogleman, Associate Medical Examiner Frank Peretti, and Judge David Burnett.

Now we get to Scott Ellington, who is still an Arkansas prosecutor, and who as aspirations of running for Congress. Mr. Ellington has a bit of an ego. He probably should have kept his mouth shut. He definitely shouldn’t have agreed to be interviewed for this film. But when you have an ego like Mr. Ellington, you can’t keep your mouth shut. You say stupid things like you haven’t looked at any evidence but you know they’re guilty. You make ill-informed comments about how the personal political ramifications and potential liability to the state of Arkansas weighed in your decision to accept an Alford Plea. You let the murder of three young children go unsolved when the evidence points to a likely suspect.

Here is my suggestion to anyone in Arkansas who wants to run against Mr. Scott Ellington for any elected position. Just play the last few minutes of his statements in this film as your campaign ad. You won’t have to worry about raising any more money than it takes to run this ad a few times. You will win. And Scott Ellington and will disappear into obscurity, except for his fifteen minutes of ignominious fame in the film West Of Memphis.

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