Danny Johnston / AP file
Jessie Misskelley, Jr., James Baldwin, and Damien Echols were set free in August after serving nearly 20 years in prison.
Peter Jackson's "West of Memphis" documentary reveals fresh allegations in the 1993 murder case of of three young boys in Arkansas.
In the documentary, screening at Sundance Friday, three new witnesses undergo polygraph tests. They declared under penalty of perjury that the nephew of Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the young victims, told them his uncle was behind the murders.
According to lawyers working on the so-called West Memphis 3 case, three friends of Michael Hobbs Jr. came forward a few weeks ago after seeing a "48 Hours" special on the case. Damein Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. have long professed their innocence of the killings, and the case, and fight for their release has been chronicled in a trilogy of documentaries, most recently "Paradise Lost."
In August 2011, they were freed after nearly two decades behind bars and intense celebrity lobbying for their release.
Lonnie Soury, part of the investigative team being financed in part by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, told TheWrap that the new information came from a Dec. 11 call on the confidential tip line set up three years ago.
"Three eyewitnesses placed Terry Hobbs with the children immediately before they disappeared," Soury said.
This contradicted Hobbs' statement under oath that he didn't see the children the day they were murdered. The team quickly brought the witnesses to Washington, D.C. for polygraphs, he told TheWrap.
"This is critical new information," Stephen Braga, an attorney for Echols, said. "With the secret now out, let’s hope that someone in the Hobbs family has the heart, the soul and the courage to come forward to tell the truth directly."
Braga has given the new investigative materials to a district attorney for review.
The earlier convictions were not overturned completely. Rather through a legal maneuver, the three men will maintain their innocence, while acknowledging that there was enough evidence against them for a murder conviction.
A district court judge said the men had served their time, but issued a 10-year suspended sentence against them.
Soury said that the information was released Friday in advance of the screening, because the film covers some of the recent developments. "Once the information was out there, it would not be confidential."
According to an account by law firm Ropes & Gray, one witness that recently came forward said Hobbs Jr. picked up his friends in his truck.
"He was very quiet and upset," the witness said. "Michael then said to us, ‘You are not going to believe what my dad told me today. My Uncle Terry murdered the three little boys.’ According to Michael, his dad called this ‘The Hobbs Family Secret,’ and he asked us to keep it a secret and not tell anyone.”
Another witness recounted said that, while playing pool with Hobbs Jr. in his basement, he made the same revelation.
A third witness said that, while he was at Hobbs Jr.’s home in 2003 or 2004, he was told he couldn't go to the basement to play pool because Michael Hobbs Sr. and Terry Hobbs were talking. The witness said he “ listened with Michael Jr. at the top of the stairs. I heard two men talking. One appeared to be very upset even crying and he said ‘I am sorry, I regret it.’ The other man was trying to console him and said, ‘You are in the clear, no one thinks you are a suspect, those guys are already in prison.’ ”
Eyewitnesses have said they saw Hobbs Sr. with the three boys on the day of the murders. DNA consistent with Hobbs was found in the knot of a shoelace that was used to tie another one of the victims.
Hobbs has insisted he's innocent, saying he didn't see the boys the day they were killed.