History

Damien Echols and Lorri Davis met in 1996, and were married in a Buddhist ceremony at Tucker Maximum Security Unit in Tucker, Arkansas, in 1999. As part of the “West Memphis Three,” Echols was falsely accused of murder and spent nearly eighteen years on death row until his release in 2011. Echols is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Life After Death (2012). Lorri Davis was born and raised in West Virginia. For more than a decade, Davis spearheaded a full-time effort toward her husband’s release from prison, which encompassed all aspects of the legal case and forensic investigation; she was instrumental in raising funds for the defense and, with Echols, served as producer of the documentary West of Memphis. Echols and Davis live in New York.

Timeline

1993

May 6: The bodies of three eight-year-old boys—Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore—are found in a creek in an area known locally in West Memphis as the Robin Hood Hills.

June 3: After being interviewed by the police for hours, mentally challenged Jessie Misskelley implicates himself, Jason Baldwin, and 18-year old Damien Echols in the murder of the three children. Baldwin, Misskelley, and Echols are arrested. Misskelley later recants his confession.

June 7: Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky make their first trip to West Memphis. Over the course of the next year and a half, they shoot the material which will be featured in the Paradise Lost documentary films.

1994

March 19: Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin are found guilty of capital murder; Echols is sentenced to death by lethal injection.

1996

February: Lorri Davis sees an early showing of Paradise Lost at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

April: Davis sends her first letter to Echols. (The first letter was actually sent in March, but is lost.)

June 22: Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills begins airing on HBO, casting doubt on the WM3’s guilt, drawing critical praise and sparking international interest into the case.

Early July: Echols and Davis begin speaking regularly on the phone.

July 26: Davis makes her first trip down to Arkansas to visit Echols in prison.

December 23: The Arkansas Supreme Court denies Echols’s appeal.

1997

May 27: The U.S. Supreme Court rejects Echols’s appeal without comment.

Early June: Davis quits her landscape architect job in New York City and moves to New Orleans to be closer to Echols.

July 10: At seven hours away, New Orleans is still too far from Tucker Max Security Unit, where Echols is incarcerated. Davis moves to Little Rock, AK.

1998

Throughout 1998 Echols attended several hearings for his Rule 37 petition, which claimed that he received inadequate defense in his original trial.

Pearl Jam contacts Echols’s attorney Ed Mallett about supporting his defense.

1999

April: Davis first tells her parents about her relationship with Echols.

June 7: Judge Burnett, the judge who presided over Echols’s original trial, denies his Rule 37 petition.

December 3: Echols and Davis are married in a small Buddhist ceremony at Tucker Max in Tucker, AK.

Late December: Echols and Davis have their first contact visit, and are able to touch for the first time.

2000

May: Eddie Vedder and Nicole Vandenberg of Pearl Jam host a meeting in Seattle with legal representatives for Echols, Berlinger and Misskelley, and legal experts. Davis attends, it is their first in-person meeting, but she has been corresponding with Vandenberg for months.

June 22: Paradise Lost 2: Revelations begins airing on HBO, focusing on new evidence.

July: Johnny Depp calls Davis, they discuss how he can help.

September: Echols participates in a Jukai ordination ceremony, the first step towards priesthood in the Rinzai Zen tradition of Japanese Buddhism.

2001

April: The Arkansas Supreme Court rules that Judge Burnett failed to give sufficient attention to Echols’s arguments in his rejection of Echols’s Rule 37 petition.  The Supreme Court sends the case back to Judge Burnett for further consideration of the issues presented in the petition.

May: Henry Rollins comes on board. Begins working on Rise Above, which will come out in 2002.

 

2002:

January: Echols meets Davis’s parents for the first time.

April 19: Arkansas Legislature passes a statute allowing convicted criminal defendants to challenge their convictions with new DNA evidence.

July 25: Echols’s attorneys file a motion for forensic DNA testing.

October 8: Arkansas Times investigative reporter Mara Leveritt explores the crime and subsequent legal battle in her book Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three.

2003

October 30: The Arkansas Supreme Court affirms Judge Burnett’s denial of Echols’s 1999 Rule 37 petition.

2004

June: Judge Burnett finally issues an order allowing DNA testing.

2005

January: The Arkansas Supreme Court denies Echols’s petition for a new hearing.

June: Echols self-publishes Almost Home, a memoir of his time in prison.

July 25: Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson send their first donation to the defense fund.

December: After several court-instigated delays, DNA testing begins, and will continue into 2007. Walsh and Jackson meet with Davis and Dennis Riordan, they begin work on the case; hiring investigators, experts, etc.

2007

June: Natalie Maines contacts Davis, makes a donation to the defense fund.

November 1: Lawyers for the defense claim that new DNA evidence recovered at the crime scene does not match any of the defendants, although it is consistent with 1.5% of the population which includes Terry Hobbes, victim Stevie Branch’s stepfather.

2008

September 10: A request for a new trial based on new DNA evidence is denied by Judge Burnett.

November: Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines) is sued by Terry Hobbs for defamation. The suit is eventually dismissed.

2009

March: Echols’s attorneys file an appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court arguing that Burnett’s decision violates the state’s DNA law.

2010

May 18: Judge Burnett wins election to the Arkansas State Senate; he can no longer be involved in pending legal cases.

August 28: Davis and Arkansas Take Action organize “Voices for Justice: A Rally in Support of the West Memphis 3” in Little Rock featuring Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Patti Smith, Ben Harper, and Johnny Depp to raise awareness.

November 4: The Arkansas Supreme Court reverses Judge Burnett’s September 10, 2008 orders and remands the defendants’ cases back to the circuit court for hearings to consider new DNA evidence and a charge of juror misconduct.

2011

August 19: In a rarely used plea arrangement known as an “Alford Plea,” Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley plead guilty to murder while still maintaining their innocence. They are released with time served and a suspended 10-year sentence.

October 11: Paradise Lost: Purgatory premieres at the New York Film Festival. The film debuts on HBO in January 2012.

2012

September 18: Echols’s memoir of his time in prison, Life After Death, is published by Blue Rider Press, and becomes an instant New York Times bestseller.

November 22: The film West of Memphis, produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Amy Berg, premiers at the Sundance Film Festival. The film suggests that Terry Hobbs was likely the murderer of the three boys.