"The Long Fight for Freedom"


Annual Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lectureship
Damien Echols and Lorri Davis with Attorney Stephen Braga '78
8 p.m., Monday, November 18, 2013

Co-Sponsored by Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and Open VISIONS Forum
Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts

Image: Lorrie Davis and Damien EcholsFairfield University's Annual Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lectureship presents a special program entitled "The Long Fight for Freedom" with Damien Echols, Lorri Davis and attorney and Fairfield University alumnus Stephen Braga '78 at 8 p.m., Monday, November 18, 2013, at the Quick Center for the Arts. The event is co-sponsored by the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and Open VISIONS Forum. The evening will be presented in a discussion format, with participants to also include Dr. Ellen M. Umansky, the Carl & Dorothy Bennett Chair in Judaic Studies & Professor of Religious Studies, and Philip Eliasoph, Ph.D., OVF moderator and professor of art history. The program consists of Damien Echols and Lorri Davis engaging in a five-person conversation with Mr. Braga, Dr. Umansky and Dr. Eliasoph, that will speak to such topics as spirituality, perseverance, and justice. Moffly Media is the exclusive magazine sponsor for the 2013-14 Open VISIONS Forum series. Single tickets: $45.

After nearly 19 years in prison, Damien Echols, who was on death row, and Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who were serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, left an Arkansas prison in August 2011 as free men. There were known as the West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers wrongfully convicted of killing three boys. Attorney Stephen Braga, who graduated Cum Laude from Fairfield University in 1978, was instrumental in arranging for their freedom, doing so pro bono. In 2009, Lorri Davis, the wife of Damien Echols contacted Braga. Echols had been on death row and held in solitary confinement for 14 years; his friends Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were serving life sentences. All were convicted of the gruesome murder of three, 8-year old Cub Scouts in 1993. Articles, books, and even a documentary over the years suggested that the "West Memphis Three" had been framed, but still, Braga thought long and hard before taking on the case. "It takes your heart and soul – a man's life is hanging on your work - you have to be able to give everything to the case," he says. "But once I met Damien and felt very strongly that he was innocent, I became committed to help." Over the years, new evidence had surfaced that paved the way for a potential new trial. "There was DNA evidence from the crime scene that had never been tested [because the technology wasn't available in 1993]," said Braga. "All of that evidence was tested and none of it ended up being tied to the three who were convicted. There were also new witnesses who came forward and further undermined the State's theory."

Prosecutors weren't interested in a new trial, but they recognized the need for a resolution to the now eighteen year-old legal battle. The defendants wouldn't plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, but they held out hope for an end to the case that would restore their freedom, especially Echols who was suffering debilitating health consequences from his solitary confinement on death row. Braga saw the opportunity for a compromise and negotiated a resolution under the Alford Doctrine, "a sort of no-contest plea in which they acknowledge that the State has enough evidence to convict them but which also allows them to maintain their innocence." Sixteen days later, the West Memphis Three, now in their mid-thirties and having spent fully half of their lives behind bars, walked out of prison as free men.

Damien Echols is one of few on earth to know what it means to persevere through false imprisonment and ultimately reclaim his freedom. There were many who stood by his side through his 18 years on death row, including such high-profile artists as actor Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines, and former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins. His story has also been the subject of three Paradise Lost documentaries from HBO. But it is Echol's wife Lorri Davis who has been his biggest supporter, whom he credits for taking charge of his legal efforts, leading to his 2011 Alford plea deal and release. The media also played a crucial role in Echol's fight to clear his name, bringing to light new forensics in 2007 that revealed no DNA evidence existed to link him to the crime scene.

Damien Echols' memoir, Life After Death, to which Johnny Depp has optioned the movie rights, was published by Blue Rider Press in 2012. And a recent documentary film, West of Memphis, premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The film was directed and written by Academy Award nominated Amy J. Berg, and produced by Damien Echols and Lorri Davis, in collaboration with the multiple Academy Award winning team of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.

Tickets are available through the Quick Center Box Office: (203) 254-4010, or toll-free 1-877-ARTS-396 (1-877-278-7396). Tickets can also be purchased online at www.quickcenter.com.

The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts is located on the campus of Fairfield University at 1073 North Benson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. Entrance to the Quick Center is through the Barlow Road gate at 200 Barlow Road. Free, secure parking is available. Access for people with disabilities is available throughout the Quick Center for audience members and performers. Hearing amplification devices are available upon request at the Box Office. Fairfield University is located off exit 22 of Interstate-95. For further information and directions, call (203) 254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396, or visit www.quickcenter.com.

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Media Contact: Mike Horyczun, (203) 254-4000 ext. 2647, mhoryczun@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 5, 2013

Vol. 49, No. 107