Saturday, February 27, 2010

Johnny Depp on 48 Hour Mystery

Johnny Depp makes a rare appearance as part of a TV newsmagazine this weekend, and he's not just a tease to get people in.

"This is not window dressing," says Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of CBS' "48 Hours Mystery," which Saturday at 10 p.m. has an extensive interview with Depp about the West Memphis Three - a trio of teenagers convicted of killing three boys in West Memphis, Ark., 16 years ago. "This is a man who grew up in Kentucky and felt some of the same alienation that these boys did," Zirinsky says. "He related to this case. He looked different [growing up]; they treated him like he was crazy."

After the bodies of the three 8-year-olds were discovered in 1993, there was speculation that their killings had been a satanic ritual. The case developed at a time when there was a media-fueled hysteria about cults, and Damien Echols, who had long hair and an affinity for dressing in black, became a suspect.

Police had no evidence tying him to the crime until Jessie Misskelly Jr., a mentally handicapped teen who barely knew Echols, told police he helped him and Jason Baldwin kill the boys. There was no physical evidence linking any of them to the killings, yet Misskelly and Baldwin are serving life sentences and Echols is on Death Row.

They have gotten support from celebrities such as Depp, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Depp, says Zirinsky, knows the case better than many folks.

"This man not only lends his name, but he knows every fact of this case," Zirinsky says. "He became a friend of Damien Echols." Zirinksy and her team were led to Depp through Lorri Davis, who married Echols a decade ago.The case was the subject of an HBO documentary "Paradise Lost," which brought nationwide attention the legal issues in the case.

"The better part of this is [Depp's] personal connection," Zirinsky said. "Him identifying with Damon as a kid. Damon was allegedly railroaded, and the facts are really frightening. Depp saw himself as an alienated kid growing up."

However, he's not the whole hour, Zirinsky says.

"We were doing this story no matter what," she says. "This is a story we're committed to because it was an injustice." Zirinsky realizes there may be questions about the timing of the telecast, which coincides with the release of Depp's film "Alice in Wonderland." However, she says she was unaware of the film and wanted to put a good hour up against NBC's Olympics coverage during a sweeps month.

"I think you leave this show thinking there was not a reasonable doubt that there wasn't the evidence," Zirinsky says. "These are the kinds of stories where we feel our journalism has a chance to take a case that was considered fact and raises questions."

The story isn't over, she adds.

"What we're doing is opening the curtain to say, you have to understand how flawed the original investigation was on every level," Zirinsky says. "When somebody of note pays attention to it, and enables us to draw more attention," she says of Depp, "we've done our job."