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date: 16 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

On June 6, 1993, the Commercial Appeal, a daily newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, ran the headline “Evil Worship Debated in Slayings” following the arrest of three teenagers—one of them Wiccan—for the brutal murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The Commercial Appeal, the Jonesboro Sun, and other local newspapers kept the devil in the headlines over the weeks following the teenagers' arrest, subsequent trial, and, not surprisingly, eventual conviction. Throughout the trial, most news coverage neglected to distinguish between “cult,” “occult,” “Wicca,” and “Satanism.” In 1994, with no motive other than “Satanism,” Damien Echols, the oldest of the three teenagers, was sentenced to death, while the other two young men, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley, were sentenced to life in prison. News coverage of the “West Memphis Three” trial and its growing numbers of celebrity supporters two decades later is a clear example of how media coverage and public understanding of witchcraft has changed since the 1960s.

Keywords: Wicca, witchcraft, cult, Satanism, newspapers, Memphis, Damien Echols, news coverage, media

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