Damien Echols has been keeping a low profile since moving to Salem several months ago. Can you blame him?
Echols (inset), one of the so-called West Memphis Three, spent more than 18 years on death row after being convicted of killing three young boys in Arkansas. So when he and co-defendants Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. got out last summer, Echols retreated, wanting to lead something approaching a normal life. (He was freed in no small part due to the pro bono efforts of Ropes & Gray partner Stephen Braga.)
On Saturday, Echols will make a rare public appearance in these parts, signing copies of his new book, "Life After Death," at the Barnes & Noble in Peabody. (The book, which is getting decent reviews, is a grim read, focused as it is on Echols's unhappy childhood and his hellish experience in prison.)
Echols, whose story is the subject of the forthcoming documentary "West of Memphis," has a lot of supporters, including Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and actor Johnny Depp. But, it seems, he also has some detractors. One is Salem resident Mike Blatty, whose father happens to be "The Exorcist" author William Peter Blatty.
The younger Blatty has been posting virulent anti-Echols comments in recent weeks on a Salem message board — basically, he thinks the guy's guilty and should still be in prison — and is calling for a boycott of the Barnes & Noble store. He accuses the store of accepting "blood money" by selling "Life After Death." We left a message Monday for Blatty, but he didn't call us back.
Paula Morin, spokesman for the North Shore Barnes & Noble, didn't seem terribly concerned about the boycott. But she said security has been notified just in case.
"I was told if [people] heckle and don't leave when we ask them, then they are trespassing," said Morin. "Damien has a right to be here so he should be here."
At Echols's book signing a few weeks ago in Manhattan, Depp showed up. Asked if the "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor might swoop into Saturday's appearance, Morin did not sound optimistic.