August 9, 1999
Sr. VP - Original Programming
Home Box Office
1100 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
Re: Proposed Sequel to "Paradise Lost"
Dear Ms. Nevins:
I am the father of Michael Moore. As you may know, on May 5, 1993 he was brutally murdered. The special delight that he was to his mother and me was abruptly and cruelly taken from us. Although six years have past, it remains a constant struggle not to be overwhelmed by heartache and bitterness.
From what I understand, because you thought that the account surrounding my son's murder would make for good television, you dispatched Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger to chronicle the events. We eventually met with them and consented to being filmed. The result was "Paradise Lost".
I can go on for pages about my discontent with "Paradise Lost". Those who view "Paradise Lost" may come away with the opinion that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were unfairly convicted for my son's murder. However, the information that Berlinger and Sinofsky chose to leave out of the film is more significant than what they chose to present. "Paradise Lost" is unduly ambiguous. Significant information that supports the convictions of Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley was knowingly not presented. The most daming was the fact that Misskelley made a post-conviction confession with his lawyer present, in which he once again implicated himself, Echols and Baldwin. However, Berlinger and Sinofsky saw fit to remain silent about this pertinent fact. Instead, the "spun" a tale that suggests that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley are the victims of deceit and inequity.
I wonder if the irony has escaped Berlinger and Sinofsky, because they relied upon deceit to ensure my participation with the film. At our initial meeting, they told me that the film would help other parent's of murdered children. However, as anyone can plainly see, it does no such thing. I allowed them access during a very painful period in my life. Instead of respecting my trust, they exploited it.
August 9, 1999
The intentional ambiguity of the film has spawned a group that has been formed to support Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley. This group is known as The Free the West Memphis Three group. Their website can be accessed at www.wm3.org.
Recently Bruce Sinofsky posted the following message on the group's discussion list:
Sat, 10 Jul 1999 09:24:24 EDT
HELLO, THIS IS BRUCE SINOFSKY SIGNING ON. JOE AND I ARE GETTING CLOSE TO COMPLETION OF THE FILM. WE WILL BE FINISHING THE ON-LINE EDIT IN LATE SEPTEMBER AND THEN TURNING IT OVER TO HBO'S LOVING HANDS. IT WILL BROADCAST SOMETIME IN THE BEGINNING OF THE NEXT MILLENIUM... HOPEFULLY IT WILL OPEN EYES THAT HAVE BEEN CLOSED AND WILL OPEN DOORS THAT MAY HAVE BEEN LOCKED. HAVING VISITED DAMIEN A FEW WEEKS AGO.. I CAN ONLY SAY HE HAS A GREAT SPIRIT AND STILL AMAZES ME WITH HIS WIT AND INTELLIGENCE. BEST WISHES..... BRUCE
As you might realize, I am greatly troubled that HBO plans to present a sequel to "Paradise Lost", especially since I believe the original is inaccurate and incomplete. However, through this letter, it is my aim to hopefully influence you about presenting it.
As you can gather, I find Berlinger and Sinofsky's fact-finding tactics to be suspicious, if not dubious. Their own statements can support this. During May 1998 Bruce Sinofsky was called to testify at Echols' appeal hearing. He was questioned about the circumstance surrounding Berlinger's and his contacts with Echols during the filming of "Paradise Lost". As pages 481-482 of the hearing transcript points out, Sinofsky testified that he and Berlinger deliberately stayed away from any questions concerning the events of the time the murders were committed based upon the insistence of Echols' attorneys that such areas not be discussed. Sinofsky also testified that nothing incriminatory was ever discussed with Echols. (Sinofsky's comments are referenced in a brief filed by the district attorney, Brent Davis, in charge of prosecuting Echols. The entire brief, along with cites to the hearing transcript, can be accessed on the www.wm3.org website).
Although Berlinger and Sinofsky have arrogantly claimed that "Paradise Lost" presents an accurate version of the events surrounding my son's murder, it does not contain a disclaimer stating that the filmmakers intentionally did not question Echols about the about the facts surrounding my son's murder. I believe that any viewer would want to know this information. Its exclusion from the finished product belies Berlinger and Sinofsky's bias.
There are other aspects of their filmmaking style that I found troubling. As I know from personal experience, they are not above staging events. Information contained on the www.wm3.org website stronly suggests that Berlinger and Sinofsky are also staging events for the sequel. One of Echols' supporters posted detailed narratives of the events surrounding Echols' recent appeal hearings which occurred during May, June
August 9, 1999
and October 1998 and March 1999. Although this narrative is too rambling and disjointed to reproduce in this letter, it does warrant reading.
The narrative is replete with descriptions of confrontations between John Mark Byers, who was the stepfather of one of the boys murdered along with my son, and Echols' supporters. Of course, Berlinger and Sinofsky were there to film the episodes. However, the narrative points out that Berlinger and Sinofsky had transported Byers to the hearings and had wired him for sound before hand. Furthermore, Berlinger and Sinofsky maneuvered Byers and Echols' supporters together in order to film the anticipated confrontation. Later, after the cameras are packed away, the narrative recounts how Byers acted like a different person than he was during the filmed confrontations. Instead of being belligerent, he was affable. When asked about his change in demeanor, Byers states that he is supposed to act that way when the cameras present. In another section of the narrative, Byers is quoted as saying he receives $500 per hour for "exclusive interviews".
I am aware that HBO was recently brought to task by the national media for events that were staged in the film "Frat House". Consequently, I have to believe that HBO would be especially sensitive about presenting another "documentary" that also contains staged events. Therefore, I implore you to review the information contained in the various narratives presented on the www.wm3.org website and decide for yourself whether it strongly supports a charge that Berlinger and Sinofsky have staged events for the proposed sequel to "Paradise Lost". If you come to that conclusion, I believe that you should consider whether the entire project has been tainted and whether it warrants canceling.
I believe that my family and I have been used by HBO before. In my opinion, by continuing to present biased versions of the events surrounding my son's murder, you are only inflicting more needless pain. An article about the HBO's production of "Life of Crime 2" described how you personally felt compassion for the children of the story's subjects. You saw to it that there lives were made better by enrolling them in a private school in order to provide them with a safe, positive environment. I applaud your kindness. Please be as kind to my family by preventing Berlinger and Sinofsky from spreading any further untruths about the events surrounding my son's murder.
Very truly yours,
(edit for noting cc's to follow)