Drama brings 1993 case back into spotlight, implicating boy's father as possible suspect
Hollywood’s latest feature about the West Memphis Three debuted with a press and industry screening Friday morning at the Toronto Film Festival, offering another passionate look into the Arkansas murders that took the lives of three boys on May 5, 1993.
“Devil’s Knot,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, explores the legal trappings that led to the conviction and eventual release of “Satanic” teens Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr., while shedding some insight as to who might be responsible for one of the most notorious crimes in U.S. history.
Directed by Atom Egoyan and based on Mara Leveritt’s 2002 book “The Devil’s Knot: The True Story,” the drama proposes that one of four suspects, Chris Morgan, Terry Hobbs, John Mark Byers and an unidentified black male dubbed “Mr. Bojangles,” could have committed the murders.
While Morgan, Byers and “Mr. Bojangles” are at the center of private investigator Ron Lax’s (Firth) suspect list, it’s Terry Hobbs, step father of 8-year old victim Stevie Branch, who emerges as the most likely suspect by the movie’s end.
After Pamela Hobbs (Witherspoon) finds their son’s pocket knife in her husband’s tool box, the film later notes that Hobbs’ DNA was found at the crime scene on the rope binding one of the victim’s hands to his feet.
But “Devil’s Knot,” which is looking for a U.S. distributor, never tries to make a strong case for either suspect, instead focusing on the lynch mob-like mentality that affected the small community of West Memphis, Arkansas and spawned several documentaries like “Paradise Lost” as well as spurring celebrities such as Johnny Depp to fight for the trio’s eventual release in 2011.
“Devil’s Knot” officially premieres Sunday night in Toronto.