Making a Murderer created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos (Synthesis Films, Netflix)
Starring Steven Avery.
I haven’t spent much of my waking tine daydreaming about what it would be like to live my life behind bars. Prison remains an ethereal concept. I know “bad” people are there; I realize a disproportionate number of inmates emerge from low socio-economic status.
In truth, I don’t proceed on a daily basis with any level of fear about breaking the law and the corresponding need to do time.
Aside from a riveting story of true crime, Making a Murderer renders me apart because of the way it portrays systemic issues in the judicial system that can lead to broken outcomes seeped with injustice.
The Avery Family
The series focuses on the Avery family, a poor group of Midwest folk trying to scrape by with an auto salvage business. Steven, one son in particular, receives the ire of the Manitowoc County Police department.
With some previous run-ins with the law surrounding burglary and animal cruelty, the department quickly believes he’s the prime suspect during a rape case in 1985. Despite protests of innocence, Steven spends 18 years in jail until DNA evidence proves his innocence in 2004.
As a free man, Steven sues the state of Wisconsin and finds himself on the precipice of receiving millions of dollars when a 25 year old girl, Teresa Halbach, goes missing, last seen taking pictures of a vehicle for Auto Trader on the Avery property.
When evidence emerges on and around the Avery property suggesting a grisly murder, the crosshairs point at Steven once again, even though it doesn’t quite add up.
We All Have Inherent Bias… But This Story Frightens
Granted, this entire series has an agenda. Check the title again, Making a Murderer suggests some sort of conspiracy of the state to make Steven Avery go away, or at the very least that the state possesses partial blame for hardening the man into the criminal he might have become. But no matter what actually happened, these events are truly frightening.
There are two options to this case and neither satisfy. One side requires the viewer to set aside reason for Steven Avery. Given this impending settlement and new lease on life, we’re to expect him to commit such an atrocity? And even worse, do such a poor job of covering it up? Halbach’s SUV was found in his auto yard, barely concealed, even though the Avery’s own a car crusher. Her body was discovered in a burn pit right behind the house where he supposedly wiped all DNA and blood evidence but at the same time carelessly left the SUV’s car keys in his bedroom. Avery’s blood is in the SUV, but again everything is expertly wiped except the car, which provides detectives with easy access to the most damning piece of evidence?
But the alternative option is just as unlikely. Avery claims a frame job. But are we willing to believer that the Manitowoc Sheriff’s department is willing to murder a young woman and plant her on the Avery property to make the thorn in law enforcement’s flesh go away?
Pouring One Out for Innocence Until Proven Guilty
Ultimately, I’m most concerned about the representation of due process during this case. From day one, all collected statements and taped phone calls point to a supposition of Avery’s guilt, not to mention the massive media attention and narrative around his guilt before the trial starts. As the defense argues its case, it continues to point out inconsistencies in evidence and narrative of the events. So many questionable actions occur where a competent prosecutor would want to rule out every other possibility to make the Avery case stronger, but the railroading of one suspect creates narrow blinders.
To me, this fact represents the most significant issue. Avery may have committed this heinous crime, but the shoddy police work, and the continued conflict of interest in having Manitowoc County help with the investigation after they publicly stated they would step away due to said conflict, create too much of a reasonable doubt.
While all of the above causes the average viewer to fear the legal process in our society. How could so many questionable aspects stack upon each other to create an unfair fight for an individual without means?
The Grinding Wheels of the System and a Poor Boy
Worst of all, however, is the coercion of a teenage boy. Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, “confesses” as an accomplice to Avery in the murder, telling a grisly story of rape, through slashings, stabbings, multiple gunshots, body dismemberment, and cremation—eye witness testimony that should be the smoking gun for the prosecution.
But the documentarians have access to the interrogation videos, and they tell a separate story. These videos depict a boy giving one-word answers to aggressive investigators clearly trying to plant the evidence they think they know. After multiple contradictions, Dassey finally tells the story they want to hear, with the reassurance that nothing bad is going to happen to him. Most devastating, the video shows how Dassey asks if he’ll be back in class that afternoon to turn in his project. This young man has no idea what he’s done and admits to his mother that the cops got into his head. Every physical cue suggests he’s doing whatever he can to end this continuous onslaught of aggressive questions from the investigators. It’s sickening.
Making a Murderer scares me because it points out the flaws in the system. For those without means, the legal system is a difficult road to navigate. The presumption of innocence is a nice soundbyte, but when the media is telling your story and the prosecution leverages the media to spread the word, what chance do you have if you truly are innocent?
Go watch Making a Murderer.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5