MUSKOGEE, OK — Throughout the night of March 5, 1995, misfit lovebirds Sarah Edmonson, 19, and Benjamin Darras, 18, spent the night in the Edmondson family’s vacation cabin, watching, over and over again, one of their favorite ultra-violent movies, director Oliver Stone’s controversial 1994 shocker, Natural Born Killers (NBK).
While NBK’s avant-garde depiction of homicidal couple Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) drew inspiration from the real-life 1958 death trip of teenage lovers Charles Starkweather and Caril Anne Fugit, Stone said he intended it to be a satire of criminal celebrities and how the mass media portrays violence.
Apparently, not everyone got the joke — especially not, it seemed, Sarah Edmondson and Benjamin Darras.
Sarah Edmondson grew up the well-to-do daughter of Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice James Edmonson and the niece of State Attorney General Drew Edmondson. The Edmondsons possessed money, power, and high social standing. Still, Sarah reportedly took some wayward turns upon entering adolescence. She spray-painted her bedroom black, enthusiastically consumed drugs, routinely had run-ins with the cops, and took to running with the local burnouts.
It made sense, then, that Edmondson fell so hard for a wrong-side-of-the-tracks-type like high-school dropout Benjamin Darras (and vice versa).
Like many a teen romance since time immemorial, Edmondson and Darras believed their love superseded all other concerns and even reality. Unfortunately, unlike other pubescent couples, they looked to Mickey and Mallory Knox as role models.
On March 6, Edmondson and Darras departed Oklahoma in the former’s 1986 Nissan Maxima en route to a Grateful Dead concert in Memphis. They packed the vehicle tight with marijuana, LSD, sleeping gear, and a fully loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.
While allegedly still enthralled by Natural Born Killers, the couple pulled in to Hernando, Mississippi, in search of a human target to execute. Finding one didn’t take long. After pulling the car over, Darras got out, walked up to 58-year-old cotton mill manager William Savage, pressed his pistol against the man’s head, and squeezed the trigger.
One down, who knew how many more to go?
Two days later, apparently “high” from the first murder and definitely in need of quick cash, Edmondson and Darras stormed the Time Saver convenience store in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, just before midnight. Once inside, Darras blasted a bullet into the back of clerk Patsy Ann Byers, 38. The wound permanently paralyzed her from the neck down.
Edmondson then raided the cash register and yelled at the bleeding Byers, “Are you dead yet? How do you open this?!” After figuring out how to access the money, Edmonson and Darras sped off, believing Byers had expired. Only they got that part wrong.
Patsy Ann Byers survived with a severed spinal cord. She would live the rest of her days as a quadriplegic. When paramedics carried Byers away from the store on a stretcher, her husband rushed up to her and leaned down. Into his ear, she whispered, “I quit!”
Surveillance video from the Time Saver captured the attack with stark black-and-white images, shot three seconds apart. The entire crime was on view, but both local law enforcement and the FBI, brought in when the slugs discovered in Mississippi matched the ones found in Louisiana, remained baffled as to who the assailants might be.
On June 1, authorities finally caught a break. Muskogee Police pulled over an ex-boyfriend of Sarah Edmonson for a minor traffic violation. The driver, supposedly still miffed about losing Edmonson to Darras, told the cops all about the Sarah and Benjamin’s Natural Born Killers crime spree. Feds picked up the guilty teenagers the next day.
What might have been an all-too-typical tragedy involving bored, drugged-up, violent youth took on potentially historic dimensions after Patsy Byers amended her lawsuit against Edmonson and Darras to also include Natural Born Killers director Oliver Stone and Time Warner, the parent company that produced the movie.
Prompted by her friend and best selling legal thriller author John Grisham, Byers claimed “product liability,” stating in court documents that the individuals and corporate entities most responsible for Natural Born Killers in fact “knew, or should have known, that the film would cause people to commit crimes.”
John Grisham backed up his friend’s argument in an Oxford American article titled “Unnatural Killers,” wherein he wrote:
“The last hope of imposing some sense on Hollywood will come through another great American tradition, the lawsuit. A case can be made that there exists a direct causal link between ‘Natural Born Killers’ and the death of Bill Savage. It will take only one large verdict against the likes of Oliver Stone, and then the party will be over.”
As censorship trials in the 1990s tended largely to fall in favor of freedom of speech, lawyers defended Stone and Time Warner with the First Amendment. A judge later dismissed the suit, ruling that no one could prove that the makers of Natural Born Killers intended to incite violence.
To dodge the death penalty, Benjamin Darras pleaded guilty in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole. While incarcerated, he has devoted his life to religion and graduated from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Ministry. In a letter to Governor Barbour in which he is requesting a pardon, Darras wrote, “I was a child who made horrible choices; but now I am a man who has made the best of my situation, taken every opportunity available, and can successfully return to society.” In 2008, he was one of three inmates interviewed for the Mississippi Baptist Convention about the Seminary program.
Sarah Edmondson served 11 years of a 30-year sentence and walked free in 2010. Patsy Ann Byers died from cancer in 1997.
Natural Born Killers, to date, has come up as a debatable factor in dozens of crimes since its release, including a multitude of the most notorious school shootings and other atrocities committed by (usually) youthful offenders.
Oliver Stone, when asked about the possibility of Natural Born Killers being at least partially responsible for real-world murders, stated:
“Yes, people may have been influenced by the film in some way, but they had deeper problems to contend with. So I felt terrible about it all… [But] there is no partial responsibility. If you make a film that results in people getting killed, then you are guilty. Therefore I’m not accepting any responsibility.”
He just makes movies. Don’t blame him.
For more on this case, watch the “No Remorse” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Wicked Attraction on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Sarah Edmondson [Oklahoma Department of Corrections]; Benjamin Darras [Pardon Letter/screenshot]