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If the character of Eddie Munson in the newest season of “Stranger Things” seems familiar to true crime fans, there's a reason for that. He's based on a key figure from the infamous case of the West Memphis Three.
In the fourth season of the popular series, which came out last week, viewers were introduced to the metal-loving character played by actor Joseph Quinn.
Munson is a social outcast, a drug dealer, and the leader of the Hellfire Club, a group for Dungeons & Dragons fans. The first episode opens up with him scoffing at reports that the nerdy role-playing game leads to Satanism and even murder.
Soon enough, Munson himself is accused of murder.
Matt and Ross Duffer, who created the show, recently said in an interview that Munson is based on Damien Echols, who was controversially convicted, along with two friends, in the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.
The Duffer brothers said that “something we really wanted to get into this year was the Satanic Panic.”
“So that brought us back to the Paradise Lost documentary series with the [West] Memphis Three, and it brought us back to Damien Echols,” Ross said. “We really wanted that character who’s a metalhead, he’s into Dungeons & Dragons, he’s ultimately a true nerd at heart. But from an outsider’s point of view, they may go, ‘This is someone that is scary.’ So that’s really where the idea for Eddie came in.”
The “Paradise Lost” documentary series, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, explored the case. Three boys — Steve "Stevie" Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore— were discovered murdered in a West Memphis, Arkansas ditch on May 6, 1993. Damien Echols, then 18, Jason Baldwin, then 16, and Jessie Misskelley, then 17, were identified as suspects and arrested; all three were convicted the following year. Misskelley and Baldwin received life sentences, but Echols was sentenced to death.
The teens were described as social outcasts who liked metal music, and their controversial trial focused on Echols' interest in paganism and Stephen King books. The apparent “Satanic Panic” (a fear in the 1980s and 1990s that Satanism was running rampant in society) element of the case was a central focus of the documentary series, and questions about the teens' convictions grew louder.
New DNA evidence emerged in 2007 casting further doubts on the trio's guilt, which fueled attempts to get the case retried. After years of court battles, the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2010 ordered a lower court judge to re-examine the case, specifically whether new the DNA evidence might have exonerated the three.
With a new trial seemingly on the horizon, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley reached a plea deal with prosecutors in 2011. The three men would enter an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to maintain their innocence, but acknowledges the prosecution has enough evidence to convict them. The judge in the case vacated the previous convictions and ordered a retrial, at which point, the three entered their Alford pleas and were sentenced to time served.
In other words, they were freed.
Since his release, Echols has published four books about magic and ritual, one of which is titled “High Magick: A Guide to the Spiritual Practices That Saved My Life on Death Row.”
Of the new Echols-based character, Matt Duffer said, “What’s sad about his narrative is that the people who get to know him love him, and the people who don’t have judged him horribly. Just because of the way he dresses and just because of his interests.”
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