He affected a long black coat and a perpetual look of vague disdain for his surroundings. Sometimes a smirk, a smile, a frown appeared on his lips. This was rare because he never looked outward too much. He was staring straight inside, at himself. That’s how it was, that’s how it had always been. Just him. Self-absorbed. Isolated. Neglected by a family, a community, and perhaps, even the world itself.
He had survived, from tiny toddler to quasi-teen, on magical thinking and a wafer thin slice of intellectual realism, for he sadly knew his circumstances. He did not control much, but he could control himself if he learned magic. Shadows of Aleister Crowley and other esoterica thinkers loomed large, but never really deep, for what can be had in a poor country town library? Not much. He should have checked out books on depression, disassociation, and anger management, but teens rarely do that. It’s survival here and just living, where Wal-Mart, a bowling alley, and a skating rink were the center of night life if one was able to get a few dollars and get off the couch. Girls and sex. A beer or two. Cigarettes. Cheap and sugary foods. These were the goals and the grind. Maybe he pretended he could cast spells. Who wouldn’t?
In this now future, he is a character in somebody else’s story, a figure shaped by thousands and thousands of thoughts. He is famous for a triple child murder and his outlines and colors have been fashioned by the Internet and a cult following of an interesting HBO documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hill.
But few truly know him. People speculate. Some are obsessed. Maybe he obsesses too. Magic is still his drug of course, his addiction, how he lives and views the world. He can’t let go, not anymore than those who love or hate him. More accurately supporters and nonsupporters.
Damien Echols has always been a good candidate to commit a crime, especially with the likes of L.G. Hollingsworth or L.G.’s doppelganger, another wistful, lost boy from West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien’s delinquencies are many. The gory details are engraved across the surface of the Internet where we all can browse and speculate. Goth theory. Everyone is specialized. He was an angry baby-faced adolescent who could finish off a dying Great Dane so he could collect a skull. It seems cruel and utterly damning as a single act. But wait, there is so much more. Underage drinking. Unprotected sex with young girls. Clawing the eyes of his lover’s new boyfriend. Screaming and terrorizing in that thoroughly southern white-trash lingo we hear in poor trailer parks and juke joints that play Lynyrd Skynyrd on a wild Saturday night. This lost boy loves to shout and shock. If that isn’t enough, Exhibit 500 shades him, hinting at dysfunction. Depression. Disassociation. Conduct issues. Suicidal idealization. Possible personality disorder. He goes in at bad moments and doctors must conclude, put a diagnosis on paper, prescribe drugs to medicate. Instructions. Psychological commentary. All essential and regulated by your local Mental Health Clinic for the poor. It looks dirty. But the drugs tell the tale. Anti-depressants. He doesn’t even get a Valium. Certainly nothing for a psychosis. Some of us are baffled, but we remind ourselves he hasn’t a good alibi, he has failed his polygraph, someone had seen him walking down that dark service road by the I-40. This must mean he is a murderer like all those repeated confessions by his friend and condemnations of thousands of nonsupporters who are totally convinced he’s guilty, not a shred of doubt in their passionate hearts.
Twenty-five years after the murders of Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore.
Do I believe Damien Echols drown those three boys?
I’ve been trying to put Damien Echols at the ditch on that Wednesday evening around 7 o’clock, just on the other side of the pipe bridge over the Ten Mile, in the center of a small grove of trees. Why is he there? What is he doing? In an hour, it will be dark and the mosquitos are already swarming. What is he waiting on? After all, Christopher Byers almost didn’t make it there and I’m not sure Stevie Branch and Michael Moore would have crossed the pipe bridge without their friend. Coincidences happen. But still? Why would an angry Damien Echols drown three boys on a Wednesday? Why would he even think to conceal their bodies afterwards? It’s still a good long walk home. And what if someone comes looking for the boys. Besides, it’s the early evening. The street lights aren’t on yet, children’s voices can be heard, for just a few feet from the woods, other children are playing, other people are walking the path that edges that wooded ditch from the Blue Beacon to the neighborhood. Someone could hear. Someone might see.
The leap from here to there, from “Damien the Goth Outsider” to a child murderer is a long, long jump. No matter how hard I try to put him there, I feel I need some stepping stones. Even punching out the eyes of a dying Great Dane won’t get me there, nor terrorizing his family and classmates. He might even be a bloodsucking vampire, but the stepping up and over to kill a child is another kind of violence and requires a certain set of circumstances. Even Exhibit 500 seems lame.
It’s easier to believe Damien is guilty, it’s harder to believe he is innocent. I don’t like easy.
Damien Echols was convicted in 1993 of killing these children. He received the death penalty and spent 18 years and 78 days in prison on death row. In 2011, the Justice Department in the state of Arkansas agreed to an Alford Plea deal and Damien was set free. He lives in New York City with his wife.
These are the 10 issues I’ll be writing about in detail, each one as its own essay.
1 The State’s case for Damien killing these children.
2 Exhibit 500, which I have researched aka Damien’s mental health at the time of the murders.
3 What is a polygraph?
4 Does Damien fit any of the profiles, including my own?
5 The idea that Damien is evil because he likes Aleister Crowley and magic.
6 The death of the Great Dane.
7 The timeline. Could Damien really have been in those woods?
8 The cover up of the crime. Was Damien responsible for that and why?
9 The witnesses to Damien’s delinquencies.
10 The nonsupporter perspective and single-mindedness.