Jackson in Auckland for film festival

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 11:32 30/07/2012
 Damien Echols
Reuters
FREED: Damien Echols.
Sir Peter Jackson
ANDREW GORRIE/The Dominion Post
FIGHT FOR TRUTH: Peter Jackson will attend the West of Memphis screening in Auckland on Thursday.

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Kiwi director Sir Peter Jackson backed a film about their dodgy murder convictions, and now one of the "West Memphis Three" has spoken of his desire to live here.

"I wouldn't be averse to it at all," Damien Echols said at the first New Zealand screening of the feature length documentary West of Memphis, at a packed Embassy Theatre in Wellington last night.

"Right when I first got out this is one of the first places I came. I stayed here for two months, and it was an incredibly healing place for me. Even when I hear the New Zealand accent now it gives the feeling of home because it took me in when I didn't have anywhere else to go."

Echols and Jackson spoke at last night's screening, as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, and will attend the Auckland screening on Thursday.

Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were teenagers when accused of killing three eight-year-old boys - Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore - in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993.

They were released last year, after entering "Alford" no-contest pleas to lesser charges after fresh DNA evidence analysis, meaning they could be freed while not being legally exonerated.

Last night, dressed head to toe in black, Echols told the audience he had no choice but to take the plea deal if he wanted to live.

"My physical health was deteriorating very rapidly. I had started losing eyesight. You heard the prosecutor say that one of his considerations was that the three of us together could have sued the state for about $60 million. And I knew they could have had me stabbed to death for $50 any day of the week. It happens in prison all the time. So I knew this deal was the only chance I was going to get to ever see the outside of those walls again."

Jackson told the audience he and Fran Walsh first got involved with the defence on the case in 2005.

Vital evidence was uncovered, but a local judge wasn't interested, he said.

"We thought a hopeless scenario was unfolding where the state was suppressing any information at all which would lead to the truth in this case."

The pair brought in director Amy Berg to make the film.

"We thought a documentary was the most potent way to get the evidence before the public," Jackson said.

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Echols said he was still traumatised by his prison experience, but trying to stay positive.

"I don't want anyone to leave here tonight heavy hearted or depressed. I'm here, we're out and I'm happy."

- Auckland Now

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