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October 4, 2012

From Death Row to Witch City

Arkansas man resettles in Salem, Mass., after spending half his life in prison

(Continued)

Even family members of some of the victims came over to his side.

Before his release last year, he had spent 18 years on Death Row, the last 10 in solitary confinement, in a tiny cell with almost no light.

“Here, try these on,” he said, as he handed over his prescription sunglasses. It was like looking through muddy water at the bottom of a pool.

“I didn’t see sunlight for almost 10 years,” he said. “Without these, I can see maybe 4 inches in front of me.”

Echols’ story has been told in an HBO documentary, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.” It has been featured on TV shows like “48 Hours” and, more recently, “CBS Sunday Morning.” It has been the subject of books and magazine articles.

Echols has his own documentary, “West of Memphis,” coming out later this year. It is produced by Peter Jackson of “Lord of the Rings” fame, another person who rallied to his side.

Right now, Echols is on a book tour for “Life After Death,” the haunting story of his troubled, impoverished youth and his horrific years in prison. Echols wrote the book himself in riveting, powerful prose that includes excerpts from his prison journal.

The book has made it to The New York Times best sellers list.

All this from a young man who never made it past ninth grade, but who read thousands of books in prison, including Jung, Freud, Dickens and Dostoyevsky.

“People ask me, ‘Where’d you learn to write?’ I say, ‘From reading Stephen King novels.’”

When he got out of prison, Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, a woman who not only married him but saved him, spent time at the Seattle home of Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame. Vedder has been one his strongest and most loyal backers.

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