(WMC-TV) – Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis 3, is trying to set the record straight with the reporter who has covered his case from the very beginning.
Three little boys were murdered in West Memphis in 1993. The case captivated the world.
Action News 5's Janice Broach covered the crimes, the trials, the convictions, and just last year, the release of the three men, who claimed innocence from the beginning.
The Damien Echols that Janice Broach sat down with is a very different man than the person she saw 18 years ago.
He spent almost two decades on Arkansas' death row, and he is now spending his time reading tarot cards for wisdom and meditation.
"What I would like to do eventually is when everything is calmed down, I'd like to open up a meditation center there," said Echols in an exclusive interview with Action News 5.
Echols and his wife now live in Salem, Massachusetts. It is home to the infamous Salem witch trials, and is the type of place some might think he would want to stay away from considering his fascination with mysticism was one of the reasons he became a suspect in the murders.
"It's like the one place in the world where I'm in the majority, finally," he said.
Echols is currently traveling non-stop on a book tour to promote "Life after Death".
Though the title refers to his newfound freedom, he also writes about life before his conviction.
"We lived in horrific poverty at times," said Echols. "I have a 9th grade education. That's more than anybody else in my family."
Echols also struggled with bouts of mental illness.
Janice Broach asked him about his bizarre behavior during the trial, the tongue flicking and smiling. They were actions that seemed inappropriate for a man trying to convince jurors he was not the monster portrayed by prosecutors.
"Probably the most famous footage is me in the back of the cop car looking out the back smiling. What that was is me trying to reassure my family. My family is standing behind the car. I'm trying to let them know I am okay," explained Echols. "But you don't see all that on TV. You don't see that in the documentaries. It's taken out of context. And it makes you look like, basically, like you're crazy. I was 18 years old. I was still basically a child. I'd had my entire world destroyed, my entire life ripped apart."
He is now trying to get his life back.
Echols is suing the West Memphis Police Department, demanding 200 pages of FBI documents be turned over to his defense team, which is conducting its own DNA tests.
"We tracked down the truck that Terry Hobbs had at the time of the murders. He sold it a week after the murders," said Echols. "We did find blood in the truck. The problem was it was so old and degraded we couldn't type it."
Terry Hobbs is the stepfather of Stevie Branch, who is one of the boys Echols is accused of murdering.
Echols' team says evidence points to Hobbs, although Damien will not go so far as to say Hobbs committed the crimes.
"I'm not the judge. I'm not the jury. But they never had any physical evidence that connected us to this crime. They had 100 million times more on this guy than they ever had on us," said Echols.
Damien is now on a mission to exonerate himself and he is supported by many famous friends.
"This was the last one we got with Johnny Depp," he said.
Echols also has a lot of new tattoos, some of which he designed.
"The lines in the middle would be mine and Johnny's name spelled in Hebrew, and this, it just says brother," he explained.
They are signs of new life after death – and a story he hopes no one will forget.
"This could make sure the thing that happened to me doesn't happen to someone else," said Echols.
Damien says the plea deal he, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Miskelly agreed to, which let them out of prison, was not the end to this story.
He says until they are exonerated and the real killer caught, the West Memphis 3 will not stop pursuing this case.
And for the record, police have never labeled Terry Hobbs as a suspect. Janice Broach spoke with Hobbs many times, and he vows he had nothing to do with the murders.