The Boston Phoenix December 14 - 21, 2000

[This Just In]


Circuit City pulls controversial CD

by Peg Aloi

Last week, Circuit City stores removed a benefit CD titled Free the West Memphis Three (Aces & Eights/Koch) from its shelves after complaints from Parents of Murdered Children, a victims' advocacy group. The disc, released this past October, brought together disparate artists, including Tom Waits, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, the Supersuckers, Steve Earle, and Rocket from the Crypt. What do they have in common? All harbor grave doubts about the convictions of three young men in the brutal murders of three eight-year-olds in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. The so-called West Memphis Three were all teens when they were arrested. One, Damien Echols, is on death row; his interest in Wicca and taste for heavy metal fueled rumors of satanic worship, which prosecutors looked to as a motive for the crime. The others -- Echols's best friend, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, an acquaintance with an IQ of 72 whose contradiction-riddled (and subsequently retracted) confession implicated the others -- are serving life sentences.

A pair of documentaries by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger -- Paradise Lost and its sequel, Revelations, released earlier this year -- have raised doubts about the convictions and the legitimacy of the trial. Those with misgivings point to the absence of any corroborating physical evidence, the mysterious disappearance of exculpatory physical evidence, and the prosecutors' repeated failure to investigate several prominent alternative suspects, including the stepfather of one of the victims.

Since the convictions of Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley, Web-based support groups have sprung up on both sides of the case. The CD was put together to raise both awareness of the case and money for a trust fund in the names of the West Memphis Three. A cover of X's "Poor Girl" from the CD by the Supersuckers (featuring Eddie Vedder) has been a hit in Seattle, and the disc has been featured on MTV. But complaints by Parents of Murdered Children prompted Circuit City to yank the disc from its shelves. Last week, an e- mail from customer-service representative Roslyn Sprague of Circuit City's corporate headquarters was posted to an online discussion group that supports the convictions. "In researching your concerns, we have reviewed the content, sales, and distribution of this compact disc with the appropriate management," the e- mail reads. "As a result, it was determined to remove this compact disc from our shelves.... We regret any discourtesy that we may have been [sic] portrayed to the families of the victims."

Reached by phone, Sprague confirmed that she wrote the letter, but said she was under orders from her supervisor not to discuss the case with anyone. Circuit City's decision could have a domino effect on other retailers. Transworld Entertainment, which owns chains including Strawberries, Camelot, Coconuts, and Record Town, has also pulled the disc from its shelves.

"As far back as October, I was getting letters from kids who were upset that they couldn't get the CD," says Nina Crowley, head of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition. She mentions receiving copies of a letter of complaint speculating that the funds raised by the CD would violate the Son of Sam Law (although the trust is set aside for the three men's use after their release and as such does not violate the law). The same letter, she says, demanded that the money raised go to benefit the families of the victims.

"I think it's too bad they've been pressured into this by only one side of the argument," she says of Circuit City. "This is purely a financial issue, and Circuit City, being a private company, can do whatever it wants. People are walking into the store and either asking to buy it or asking to have it removed, and whoever is loudest in the end is going to win."

Numerous calls to representatives for Koch Records, which released the CD, were not returned. We did manage to contact Steve Earle through the window of his tour bus last Thursday (it was parked outside Johnny D's in Somerville, where he was playing a benefit to stop the use of land mines). "Personally, I think the West Memphis Three are innocent," he said. "I would have done the song for the CD anyway, because I think they need a new trial." But Earle was philosophical about the controversy over the sale of the CD: "I guess I can understand why the parents of those kids feel that way. Can't you?"

For more information about the case or to purchase the CD, visit