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Extended Interview: How death row changed Damien Echols

Damien Echols with KPCC's Patt Morrison
Damien Echols with KPCC's Patt Morrison
Raghu Manavalan/KPCC

After 18 years and 78 days sentenced to death in an Arkansas prison, Damien Echols was released when new evidence cleared his name. His life became the subject of numerous books and documentaries like HBO's "Paradise Lost" and the forthcoming film, "West of Memphis," but in "Life After Death," Echols himself explains coping with spending nearly half of his life on death row. KPCC's Patt Morrison talked with Echols about his own side of the story.

Excerpts from this interview aired on KPCC's Off-Ramp

Interview Highlights


On what's left for Echols to say about his life

"I tried to steer away from things that have already been covered incessantly and repeatedly. What I wanted to focus on was what no one has before. What you have to take into consideration [is] I'm almost 40 years old. The trial lasted for 17 days. There's a lot more to my life than what happened in that 17-day period."

On how Echols coped with being in prison

"About the first three years that I was [placed in prison], it was eating me alive. From the moment my eyes in the morning opened, I was furious. My first thoughts would be, 'these people have no right to do this to me, I should have never have been here in the first place'. There was a quote by the Buddha who said, 'holding onto that sort of anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.' And that's exactly what it is, you're not hurting anyone but yourself."

On the other prisoners on death row

"The average IQ of the person on death row is 85. We're taught in society and in the media that death row is full of all these Hannibal Lecter 'genius criminal' types. We have people in death row that the law defines as mentally retarded. The most horrific case which I wrote about in the book is a guy who shot himself in the head and gave himself a lobotomy. But he survived. When they come to execute him, they ask him 'What do you want for your last meal?' He says pecan pie. He eats half of the pie, and when they come to get him for the execution,  he wraps the other half up and says 'I'm going to save this until after.' We're executing people who don't even have the mental capacity to realize what it means to [be] executed."