Now he has settled in this New England seaport where public hysteria in the late 17th century led to hearings and executions of people accused of witchcraft.
Before his release last year, Echols had spent 18 years on death row, the last 10 in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with almost no light.
“Here, try these on,” he said, as he handed over his prescription sunglasses. It was like looking through muddy water at the bottom of a pool.
“I didn’t see sunlight for almost 10 years,” he said. “Without these, I can see maybe 4 inches in front of me.”
Echols’ story has been told in an HBO documentary, TV shows, books and magazine articles. His own documentary, “West of Memphis,” is coming out later this year. It is produced by Peter Jackson of “Lord of the Rings” fame.
Right now, Echols is on a book tour for “Life After Death,” the story of his troubled youth and horrific years in prison. He wrote the book in riveting prose that includes excerpts from his prison journal. The book has made The New York Times' best-sellers list.
All this from a young man who never made it past ninth grade, but who read thousands of books in prison, including Jung, Freud, Dickens and Dostoevsky.
“People ask me, ‘Where’d you learn to write?’ I say, ‘From reading Stephen King novels.’”
When he got out of prison, Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, a woman who not only married him but saved him, spent time at the Seattle home of Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame. Vedder has been one of his most loyal backers.
Then they went to live in Jackson’s apartment in New York City.
A few weeks ago, they moved to Salem and a house at the edge of the downtown.