"The tour is going great, but it could fall apart any minute," Eddie Vedder said with a laugh, checking in from his bus in Texas in November. But at that moment he had something else on his mind: the case of the West Memphis Three. For a decade and a half, Vedder worked tirelessly with a team to free Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley who, as teenagers, were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of three eight-year-old Arkansas boy scouts (Echols was sentenced to death). The 18-year nightmare – plus their release in August 2011 – is chronicled in the new film West of Memphis, directed by Amy Berg and produced by Peter Jackson, which presents new evidence suggesting the trio's innocence."I'm grateful that I can live in a country and feel at least like there is some hope," Vedder says. "If Damien would have been executed that would have been something I can't even imagine."
You were there the day Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were released from prison. What was that like?
It was tantamount to seeing a child born, but instead of nine months, it took 18 years for them. [Laughs] I think I was involved for about 15 years. The dramatic last couple weeks were probably some of the most gutwrenching times of my life, so I can only imagine what it was like for them. But the fact that it happened and the way that it happened really just showed that if you've got the guts and the staying power, great things can happen. I learned so much about the judicial process by being involved and saw so many of the things that are wrong with the system that seem like they could be fixed. I also got quite an education on the prison system and how prisons are corporatized and privately owned.