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HBO's documentary "Paradise Lost 2" revisits one of the most sensational murders in Arkansas history.

Chilled to the Bone


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John Mark Byers may or may not have had a hand in the brutal murder of his stepson and two other 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., back in 1994. But one thing is certain: He is a thoroughly loathsome, despicable and vile excuse for a human being.

There is no doubt whatsoever you'll come to the same conclusion as you watch the HBO documentary "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations."

Byers is your worst nightmare — a cracker redneck who's taking about a half-dozen psychotropic prescription drugs. He's just smart enough to be dangerous, but not clever enough to worm his way up past trailer trash. He arms himself with a variety of knives and guns. He lies more easily than he tells the truth. His wife died under mysterious circumstances in bed with him. He's been convicted of stealing from his neighbors, writing bad checks and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. And his idea of mourning his stepson is to kneel by the boy's grave and scream "Go to hell, go to hell, GO ...TO...HELL!" at an HBO camera, as though it were the three teen-agers who were convicted of the child murders.

Byers is one sick puppy.

But that doesn't make him a murderer as many suspect him to be.

"Paradise Lost 2" is a follow-up to a documentary about one of the most sensational murders in Arkansas history. Three teen-agers — Damien Echols, now 24; Jason Baldwin, now 22; and Jessie Misskelley, now 23 — were convicted of the murders six years ago after a trial full of innuendoes of devil worship, allegations of coerced confessions and emotionally charged statements about severed genitalia and cruel sexual abuse. Echols is on death row, and the other two are serving life sentences.

The original documentary won an Emmy for the producer-director team of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. They revisited West Memphis to update the story and to explore what the defense says is new evidence that has emerged since the trial. They question whether Misskelley's confession is valid, given that he has an IQ of 72 and was interrogated by police for 12 hours without a lawyer or family member present. Misskelley was the only one of the three who did confess. And no blood, fingerprints or other evidence was found in the secluded ravine where the three bodies were discovered.

In addition, a criminal profiler has since found evidence of bite marks on the victims' bodies, and a defense odontologist says the marks don't match the teeth of the convicted teenagers. (John Mark Byers had all of his teeth pulled some time after the murders and now wears dentures.)

During the filming of the second documentary, a state judge refused to grant the convicted men a new trial, prompting publicity-hound Byers to sing a hymn for HBO's cameras.

Too weird by far.

"Paradise Lost 2" raises questions it can't answer, as documentaries often do. Nonetheless, it is compelling to watch, and the story it tells will chill you to the very marrow of your


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