The History Of John Mark Byers Film Studies Essay

On May 6, 1993, three eight year old boys were found indescribably abused and murdered in West Memphis Arkansas. The investigation lacked a lot of hard evidence and had no suspects in which would be the key leads to the murder of these three boys. Then the police automatically turn their focus on Satanism. Unfortunately, three teenage boys became the prime suspects: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. These three boys where convicted because they wore black, had long hair, and were always separated from society. With nothing but circumstantial evidence mounted upon these teenage boys, the community let a "Satanic Panic" outweigh the facts. All the while, there is more than just circumstantial evidence that points to one of the victims' stepfather, John Mark Byers. He had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit this heinous crime.

It is very difficult to picture the idea that a father, biological or not, could murder his son. In the case of the West Memphis Three, this idea never entered the minds of the people in the community or law enforcement. In the boys’ case, there was never any direct evidence linking them to the murder and still they were arrested. No clear reason for their arrest was ever given because there was never any substantial amount of evidence against them. Meanwhile, evidence against other possible murderers, such as John Mark Byers was disregarded. The fact that Christopher Byers was tormented the most, it comes off as though his murder was something personal and Michael Moore and Stevie Branch just happened to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Compared to the three teenagers, Byers had the means to commit the murder. Byers stood six feet three inches tall and approximately two hundred fifty pounds. Three eight-year-old boys, fighting with all their might could not possibly overpower this man. They trusted him because of the fact that he was Chris’ stepfather and they would most definitely go somewhere with someone they knew before going off with strangers.

Both Paradise Lost and Devil’s Knot point the finger at John Mark Byers, stepfather of Chris Byers, as the real killer. However, there was never the slightest evidence that John Mark Byers committed the crime. West Memphis police investigated him early on, took hair and blood samples, interrogated him at length, but never uncovered anything suspicious. Unlike the three convicted killers, Byers had a solid alibi for the timeframe of the murders. His whereabouts were accounted for by multiple people. John Mark Byers got a lot of screentime in Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2. His outrageous screen presence was a documentary filmmaker’s dream. Co-director Bruce Sinofsky called him "one of the most interesting figures in film history." By many accounts, Byers was drunk, stoned, on Xanax and otherwise medicated throughout the first film’s shooting. Paradise Lost and sequel smear Byers with the same cultural prejudice they supposedly decry. The films argue (falsely) that there was no evidence against the WM3, that they were unfairly targeted because they dressed in black, had weird haircuts, listened to heavy metal music, etc. And then there’s that crazy stepfather — he dresses weird, he has weird facial hair, he talks weird, he’s a total redneck, he’s obviously guilty. There’s no doubt that John Mark Byers is a weird dude. But being weird doesn’t mean he killed anyone. In December 1993, Byers gave a knife to Paradise Lost cameraman Doug Cooper as a present. After consulting with HBO, the filmmakers turned the knife over to West Memphis police. The knife had blood traces around the handle, which the crime lab tested. The tests showed the blood could have belonged to either John Mark Byers or Chris Byers. West Memphis police interrogated Byers again in January 1994.WM3 supporters often claim that "the Byers knife" had Chris Byers’ blood on it. This is not true. The DNA tests conducted did not have the precision to match the blood to a single individual. The tests just narrowed the blood source to a particular segment of the population, which included both John Mark Byers and Chris Byers. John Mark Byers could have been the sole source of the blood on that knife. John Mark Byers is an attention-seeker. He loved being the star of the Paradise Lost films and willingly played the fool to get more screen time. Maybe the filmmakers duped him for the first film. But even after Paradise Lost came out and basically accused him of torturing and killing three children, Byers willingly participated in the making of the sequel. Paradise Lost 2 again made Byers look like the real killer, but he has reportedly worked with the same filmmakers on an upcoming Paradise Lost 3. The Memphis Flyer ran a decent profile of John Mark Byers in 2006, part of an otherwise awful "innocents railroaded because they wore black and liked Metallica" rehash. Around 2007, the "free the WM3″ movement abandoned John Mark Byers as their main suspect. Did admitting they were wrong about Byers’ guilt mean admitting they were wrong about the WM3′s innocence? Of course not. WM3 partisans simply began pointing fingers at Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steve Branch, as the new "real killer". Freed from harrassment by WM3 supporters, did John Mark Byers leave the spotlight? Sadly not. He switched gears and joined the "free the WM3″ movement, where he continues to enjoy being the center of attention. He now champions the WM3′s innocence and participates in the smear campaign against Terry Hobbs.

In November 1993, John Mark Byers was interrogated by WMPD officers after he had given a knife to a member of a film crew who were making a documentary about the case. During questioning by the police, John Mark Byers admitted that he had given the knife away. He also stated that his wife Melissa had given it to him for Christmas, two or three years previously and he had never used it. He kept it in the top drawer of a dresser in his bedroom where he was sure that neither of the boys could have gained access to it. When asked whether anyone might have cut themselves with the knife, Byers stated that he was certain that no one had. This story changed when the interviewing officer told him that blood had been found on the knife. Byers then recalled that he had used the knife to cut up some deer meat at home. When he was told that the blood found on the knife had matched Christopher's blood type, Byers continued to assert that he had no idea how Christopher's blood had come to be there. Later after test results on Melissa, Ryan and John Mark Byers were concluded, it was found that the blood stains matched in blood type with both John and Christopher Byers. No further testing was carried out which could have determined more conclusively whether it was Christopher or John Mark Byers's blood. Another item of evidence which could have linked John Mark Byers to the murders, at least as much as any evidence brought against Damien, Jason and Jessie, was the presence of another human hair on the victim's clothing. It was a black Caucasian hair which was shown to be microscopically similar to both John Mark Byers and Damien Echols. Unfortunately, nothing more specific was determined. During this interrogation the interviewing officer asked Byers what medication he was on to which he answered Xanax and Zorinal which he stated were anti-depressants. When he was asked whether he had any other medication he told police no, yet he had stated at other times that he was taking Tegretol which is the brand name of the drug Carbamazepine. This is the same substance which was found in non-therapeutic amounts in Christopher's blood after his death. Christopher had also been taking Tegretol according to his medical records, but Byers had stated that Chris had not taken his medication on the day that he went missing. Although there were many items of evidence that could have pointed to John Mark Byers as the murderer of the three boys, he was never considered by police as a suspect nor was he ever thoroughly investigated. It is interesting to note that John Mark Byers was on very friendly terms with the investigating officers and was a drug informant for the WMPD at the time of the murders. Could bias in favor of Byers and against Echols on the part of the investigating police have blinded them to any evidence which might have led the investigation away from Damien and toward Byers? Finally, the tennis shoe imprint which was found on the creek bank near the bodies, did not match with any footwear owned by Damien, Jessie or Jason. This fact would again suggest that police should have been concentrating their investigations in another direction. Yet suspicion fell on Byers after he gave a New York film crew a knife that later was found to have human blood on it. Byers said Monday the folding knife had on its hinge a spot of dried blood so small DNA testing at the time could only determine a blood type. It was the blood type of both Byers and Christopher. The two weren't biologically related; a stepson, Christopher was adopted by Byers.When that film crew produced a movie, and a sequel, both of which aired on HBO, Byers said he was introduced to a national audience as a crazed, backwoods nut. He was seen in one film shooting pumpkins in a woods and likening the explosions to the wounded heads of Echols and his co-defendants and in the sequel lighting three graves in effigy on fire. Looking back, Byers said he blames himself for his odd behavior, blaming it on grief and stress he was under. After the murders, he served 15 months in prison for burglary and said he's been in rehab several times.

He seamed too eager to declare Damien, Jason and Jessie guilty. From the moment them boys names were presented to him he was yelling slander and hateful things. Not truly weighing the evidence for himself. He has an obvious violent streak. In the films Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 he frequently shows how he would like to kill Damien, Jason and Jessie. He even goes into great detail to explain how he could shoot someone with a certain pistol type and not have it traced back to him. He then shot at a pumpkin while acting out as if it were Damien, Jason and Jessie. In Paradise Lost 2 he digs three mock graves for Damien, Jason and Jessie. He places some leaves in them, with a stick for a headstone and sets fire to them. While the fire is burning he dances around saying "Were having fun now" and smiling. It was almost as if he were giving a performance instead of genuinely having emotions. John Mark Byers would start saying slander to the support group as soon as the camera would come on, but be nice and buddy when it was off. When the bite mark evidence came into play, John Mark Byers started defending himself again. This time he told three different stories on camera of how he lost his teeth and couldn't submit a dental impression. He also at the same time claimed to have already submitted a dental impression. He changed the year that he lost his teeth several times as well. If you haven't already go look at the John Mark Byers conviction list. It is posted on this board as well. All of the info is documented at wm3.org and on the Paradise Lost films. I cannot say John Mark Byers is guilty. But I do think that he should have been treated and investigated as a possible suspect.

Now in 2007 John joined the "Free the WM3" support group. Is this all a distraction in order for him to not be accused again and make him look like a good person?