Celebrities often seem to get behind people they perceive as being wrongfully imprisoned. Take, for example, the West Memphis Three. They were accused in 1993 of murder and have been in prison since then — their case is now being re-opened due to new DNA evidence but for years, celebrities such as Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp have stood behind them and proclaimed their innocence.

In an interview with “48 Hours Mystery,” Depp advocates for the release of death row inmate Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who are all serving life sentences for the brutal murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., in 1993.

“There’s nothing from the crime scene that links Damien or Jason or Jessie to these crimes. There’s not a shred of evidence, nothing there, there’s no physical evidence,” Depp tells correspondent Erin Moriarty.

Then we have the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on death row for nearly two decades. He, too, has had plenty of celebrity support.

Mumia’s celebrity support includes a Who Who’s who line up including such names as Ed Asner, Danny Glover, Sarah Sarandan [sic] and others. A street in France has been named after Jamal.

Abu Jamal, 56, who once went by the name of Wesley Cook, was convicted of the murder of five-year police veteran Danny Faulkner, who had only been married six months at the time of his death. Jamal’s supporters say he was framed in a sloppy police investigation.

The newest person to get a lot of celebrity support — some of it even in the form of financial aid — is none other than the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange.

Despite having never personally met Assange, Ken Loach, the veteran British director of movies including “Kes” and “Sweet Sixteen,” said he had offered £20,000 ($31,444) towards his bail. “I think the work he has done has been a public service,” he told reporters, in quotes carried by Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those that govern us.”

Assange also found prominent support from across the Atlantic, as controversial U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore pledged $20,000 from “his own pocket.”

The director of thought-provoking documentaries such as “Bowling for Columbine,” which looked at U.S. gun control in the wake of 1999 Columbine High School massacre, wrote on his website that he would be offering the assistance of his website, servers, domain names and “anything else I can do to keep WikiLeaks alive and thriving as it continues its work to expose the crimes that were concocted in secret and carried out in our name and with our tax dollars.”

He added: “We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off.”

Other than the fact that I wonder why Mr. Moore had to specify that he was pledging money from his own pocket (as opposed to a production company?) I think the support being offered to Assange seems more helpful than the words of support offered to Jamal and the Memphis Three. Part of me, however, can’t help but think that there is always a little self interest in these offers for help. Let us not forget how quickly Wyclef Jean’s help to Haiti turned into a run for president.


  1. Great article, Gordon!

    I am reminded of the work Mike Farrell — of M*A*S*H — does on behalf of those condemned to die on Death Row. He uses his own money and spends his own time flying in to localities to provide support for the sentenced and to try to get the States NOT to kill them. He uses his celebrity in a good and positive way and he stands up to be counted when it matters.


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