I first saw Paradise Lost in 2001 or 2002, when I was at USC. Like a lot of people around my age who'd had a fairly-sheltered, middle class childhood, it was my first real experience with how frustrating and terrible true injustice could be. I went on to read the book Devil's Knot by Mara Leveritt, getting more obsessed with the case. I spent more hours than I could ever count on message boards, reading evidence amateur sleuths had uncovered over the years, finding myself convinced by this theory, then that one. I followed the appeals and motions for years, and every time something new came up - another example of the courts' malfeasance, new exculaptory evidence - I would think, "this is it, this is how they're going to get out," only to have everything go back to square one. And the whole time, Damien was on Death Row, getting sicker and sicker. Five years ago, when I checked CNN in the middle of a desk shift at work, I hadn't heard a whisper of what was coming. Yet there it was, the headline: "West Memphis Three Free."
If you've never seen it, I highly recommend the documentary West of Memphis. Though the Paradise Lost films are very good, you have to watch all three to get the full story; and honestly, the second one suffers quite a bit in retrospect for suspecting the wrong stepfather. West of Memphis follows the case from start to finish, from the murders, through the trial, through the painful eighteen years in prison for crimes they didn't commit, to their eventual release. In fact, I'm planning on watching it (for like at least my sixth or seventh viewing) tonight.
To Jessie, Jason, and Damien: I'm still so proud and happy for you. All the best.