Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly
"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." Library Journal
"Brutal, riveting....The true horror of Leveritt's well-written book is that this barely believable fate could potentially befall any American." Henry Rollins
About the Author
Mara Leveritt won a White Award for investigative journalism in 1991, was named Arkansas Journalist of the Year in 1992, and was awarded Arkansas's Booker Worthen Prize in 2000 for her book The Boys on the Tracks. A contributing editor to the Arkansas Times, she lives in Little Rock.