If you became emotionally involved while listening to Serial or watching Making a Murderer then you have to read Leveritt’s Devil’s Knot. I finished it two weeks ago and it still has me fired up. There was absolutely no way those three teenagers murdered those kids, which should have been obvious to anyone with a brain.
In Arkansas, 1993, three little boys were murdered and three teenagers were charged with the crime. These teenagers were nicknamed “the West Memphis Three” and their trails brought in national attention. Part of the attention was due to the heinousness of the crime and part of it was due to the fact that the local law enforcement based most of their case on the teens’ supposed involvement with Satanism. This book is able to look at the entire ordeal, from before the murders to several years later, connecting pieces that only became relevant after the trials had ended to tell an astonishing true story.
I think the most commendable aspect of this novel is its organization. Like I mentioned, it has thousands of pieces of information included over the span of many years, yet I never felt confused. I knew who was who and the importance of what was being said. The footnotes make the case even more detailed, and consequently absurd, but aren’t obtrusive. It would be easy to get lost in the mountain of information but it was displayed in a compelling fashion. Even when I was outraged I finished the whole thing in one sitting. I also thought that the narrative’s perspective was clear. Leveritt points out that the three boys didn’t do it, without beating the point to death. Which is an impressive feat considering the injustice that resulted from this case.
I’m going to split the reaction portion up. As a whole, I felt like the book was a success in getting its point across. And I appreciated that it was written with extremely through research, even though that process must have been immense.
But beyond that it was also successful in making me emotionally respond to the actual case. I imagine that’s a bit obvious at this point but if not, I’ll summarize it in one word; disbelief. There’s a lot of anger and frustration too, but mostly I’m shocked. 22 years ago, in our United States, there was a witch hunt that caused three innocent teens to spend years in prison. Even if you ignore how horribly the investigation was handled, and it was bad, no rational person should have convicted those three.
In fact, it seems so ridiculous I felt like this should have been fiction. The state presented black t-shirts as evidence of Satanism. The fact that the boys liked Metallica was constantly mentioned. Seriously? One of the boys had the mental capacity of a third grader and you think dark clothing proves they were murderers in the name of Satan? Not to mention the judge was so backward it’s amazing he knew how to get to work in the morning.
It was a close call, but eventually the three were released (after about two decades in prison); one of them, Damien Echols, came within three weeks of his execution date. I’m in a state of disbelief.
So read the book. And please don’t just watch the movie; I love Colin Firth but it skipped over a ton of details and felt unfinished. If you’re looking for more, there are tons of websites devoted to the case and Echols has a verified Twitter account. I scrolled through all of it while listening to Van Halen but I promise I’m not a devil worshiper.