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story.lead_photo.caption Actor Johnny Depp (left) and Damien Echols (right), who spent nearly 18 years on Arkansas' death row before being freed, appear at an anti-execution rally Friday, April 14, 2017, on the steps of the state Capitol in Little Rock. ( Emma Pettit)

A freed death row inmate returned to the state he still has “nightmares” about to advocate against the executions of seven condemned men set to begin next week.

Damien Echols, who spent more than 18 years on Arkansas’ death row, stood on state Capitol steps to criticize what he called the “conveyor belt of killing” that Arkansas put in motion earlier this year. Seven inmates are scheduled to be executed over 11 days starting Monday.

Echols and two others became known collectively as the West Memphis Three after they were tried and convicted in the 1993 murders of three boys. After new DNA evidence in the case, the three men were eventually released after accepting a rare plea deal.

Rally against death penalty at Arkansas Capitol

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Photos by Stephen B. Thornton and Emma Pettit

Dressed in black, Echols faced hundreds gathered for a rally hosted by the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU and the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. While Echols readied himself to speak, his wife, a couple close friends and actor Johnny Depp stood behind him with their arms linked.

[IN-DEPTH: State sets deaths of 7 men over 11 days]

Echols, who lives in New York, first told the crowd he hadn’t wanted to come back to Arkansas.

“I still have nightmares. I still have panic attacks about this place,” he said.

But when he heard about the executions, Echols said he “wouldn’t be able to live with myself” if he didn’t do something, even if his efforts were futile.

Echols described his relationships with the condemned men during his almost two decades on death row. One man has the intellect of a child, he said. Another believes his execution is a test from God to prepare him for a mission, Echols said.

Though some of the men committed the crimes for which they were convicted, Echols said he got to know them in a different light.

“These are the people who showed me more kindness, compassion and generosity than any of the good people trying to kill them ever did,” Echols said.

He then introduced Depp as his “brother” who is one of the people responsible for saving his life. The crowd strained to hear as Depp, one of Echols’ longtime celebrity supporters, spoke softly into the microphone, saying the option of death was “dangling” over Echols’ head for years while he sat in prison.

“I just don’t believe that that possibility should ever, ever, ever happen again,” Depp said.

Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


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Archived Comments

  • Redheadgirl
    April 14, 2017 at 4:32 p.m.

    Just what we need in Little Rock, Arkansas a Nut named Johnny Deep and a convicted Murder Named Damien Echols who murdered 3 little kids in Marion, Arkansas. Who's mother dated a murder named: Brian Mcfadden who shot and killed a man she was also dating in cold blood in Marion, Arkansas in 1994. He should have got the death penalty like the 12 people on the several juries imposed on him. If you kill someone then the state of Arkansas has the obligation to see that you are punished for your crimes and if the death penalty is what the 12 members of a jury say then that is what the criminal gets as punishment. NO 2nd chances for murders!

  • Popsmith
    April 14, 2017 at 4:47 p.m.

    Hollywood needs to go back to La La land.

  • cam
    April 14, 2017 at 5:04 p.m.

    Wow. Apparently there are still people in Arkansas that have never read the information on the West Memphis Three case. Nor have they paid attention to or even considered the physical evidence and lack there of that "proved" the three teens were guilty. Redheadgirl, I humbly suggest you do some research on the case BEFORE you spew your narrow mindedness and lack of knowledge, as well as completely irrelevant "information" on a public forum. You're making yourself look as ignorant as those that investigated and tried the three teens without sufficient evidence. If you had any clue about the case, you would be more concerned about the REAL perpetrator still walking around on the streets, just as many of us that have studied the case are. No wonder people across the globe think Arkansans are dumb rednecks- when people post their ignorance to the public, anyone with any logic would think that.

  • SirWilliamGold
    April 14, 2017 at 5:22 p.m.

    I belive that Echols and his friends where GUILTY as He** and he should have gotten his penality that was handed down by the jury. Johnny Deeep should kept his noise out of the State Of Arkansas business and should worry about himself. I see he is on the news for wife and girtlfriend beating all the time. We don't need him or the convicted mureder of 3 small children in Arkansas. Sorry CAM but your are wrong they took plea deal which means per the letter of the law they are GUILTY! Just Like Brain Mc Fadden who shot a man in the back of the head becuase he was dating Echols mother also. This was in Marion, Arkansas in 1994

  • mrcharles
    April 14, 2017 at 5:24 p.m.

    Cam remember facts are hard to accept here in Arkansas. And Echols mothers sin is biblical as Ezekiel says only the one who sins is to suffer
    . Wait you mean Echols can't be punished for what his mother did? Ed headed person read your bible.

    All you got to remember is this state went for W twice & trump once. Thinking will probably be outlawed by gop so they can remain in power.

    Ed head do you accept O J verdict?

  • Meh
    April 14, 2017 at 5:30 p.m.

    We're not trying the Memphis 3. We're carrying out sentence on 7 whom have been convicted of grisly, cold blooded crimes. I guess you guys think we should release these guys back into society with a wave and a 'good luck'? What would you do with them were the victims members of you family/friends?

  • Redheadgirl
    April 14, 2017 at 5:31 p.m.

    If he plead guilty and he was not then his plea deal is no good and he guilty of perjury. This is a crime in all 50 states and he should be retired and when found guilty by 12 members of his peer and given the death penalty again he be executed.

  • SirWilliamGold
    April 14, 2017 at 5:35 p.m.

    MEH I agree if you murder someone and the jury says the punishment is the death penailty then these outsiders like Johnny Deep should keep out of i. I think he should be charged with interferring with government operations since he is Not law enforcement and is just a over paid actor who likes to beat females per the news. Plus was arrested in australia recently for dog sneaking dogs into the country without proper paperwork.

  • SirWilliamGold
    April 14, 2017 at 6:43 p.m.

    Violation: 2 Citation#: Age at Violation: 27 Plea: 17-MAY-95 GUILTY
    5-10-104 MANSLAUGHTER; FC Disp:17-MAY-95 GUILTY
    Violation Date: 27-FEB-95
    Violation Time: 08:00:00

  • SirWilliamGold
    April 14, 2017 at 6:44 p.m.

    Filing Date: Monday , February 27th, 1995
    Court: 18 - CRITTENDEN
    Location: CI - CIRCUIT
    Type: DI - FELONY