If you haven’t watched Making a Murderer and you’re a documentary buff, you likely heard about it as it was all everyone seemed to be watching over the holidays. The series from filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi has made headlines across various news outlets, peppering the web with article after article. Even Nancy Grace “graced” us with her presence on CNN this week to argumentatively point out as only she can how the documentary wrongly manipulates the audience by omitting key facts and skewing their vision into a biased portrayal of a real murderer’s innocence.
There are too many articles that detail the 10-part documentary beat by beat. You can find it on Netflix streaming and review it for yourself. So, I will not get too heavy into the dissection of the story and every plot point. Essentially the subject under scrutiny is how just our current justice really is, and how might we prevent the improper or just plain incorrect convictions of innocent people. How might we eliminate excess wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on the amount of people who are wrongly imprisoned?
Steven Avery was one individual who winds up stuck in the criminal system. Here are some basic facts about his criminal history prior to a wrongful conviction of sexual assault that resulted in him spending 18 years in prison for before DNA evidence exonerates him.
- At 18 years old he is found guilty of burglary and sentenced to 10 months in jail.
- Two years later he pleaded guilty to pouring gasoline on a live cat and throwing it into a fire.
- In 1985 he was convicted of assaulting his cousin and spent six years in jail.
So when Penny Beerntsen was raped and brutally beaten, one might understand how local police concluded it was Avery who did it, even armed with a police sketch from the victim’s eyewitness accounts that seemed to match Avery to a tee. Except he said he didn’t do it.
While certainly not the first convict to proclaim he got the shaft, Avery was finally exonerated after spending 18 years in prison when DNA evidence proved another man committed the crime, and further it becomes apparent the local police overstepped their bounds in arresting Avery and setting the wheels in motion toward his conviction.
The docu-series picks up with Avery being released from prison after DNA evidence proves he had no part in the attack on Beerntsen and instead another man committed the crime. Further details come out that police had reason to suspect someone other than Avery attacked Beerntsen but they never acted on it.
On the verge of a new Wisconsin state law bearing Avery’s name being enacted that would have given him and other wrongly convicted individuals the ability to sue those who wrongly accused them in the first place, things get very interesting. Auto Trader photographer Theresa Halbach goes missing and the last person to have purportedly seen her alive is … you guessed it … Avery.
Judging by Avery’s rap sheet, he has had what we’ll call some “issues” in life, and to be fair the documentary glosses over this. Still, the documentary expertly and ever so entertainingly casts aspersions on the resulting police investigation into Avery for Halbach’s murder and the entire trial, not to mention that of his cognitively disabled, 16-year-old nephew Brendan Dassey.
In meeting him and his family on Making a Murderer, the audience learns that Avery is yet another example of how uneducated members of the poorer classes can easily get caught up on the wrong side of the law and never quite escape its snatches. Certainly plenty of others who come from low socioeconomic rungs of the ladder don’t turn to a life of crime, so that shouldn’t excuse Avery. But the fact he did make mistakes and previously proved he was capable of bad things doesn’t mean he killed Halbach, whose remains are found outside of Avery’s house. But all the evidence is so circumstantial, at least how portrayed by Demos and Ricciardi, it’s frightening how things unravel for Avery. Even more disturbing is the treatment of Dassey, who despite is apparently undiagnosed special needs is coerced by police investigators, scapegoated by his own defense team and is essentially sold to the prosecution to testify against Avery using an allegedly made up story.
The result is not only Avery but also the naïve and slow Dassey are both found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Avery has no chance for parole, while Dassey could get out when he’s about 57 years old.
Did Avery and Dassey kill Halbach? They may well have, but Demos and Ricciardi turn in an award-worthy job in casting every reasonable doubt on the eventual verdicts by dissecting far too many head scratching events during the investigations and trials.
Making a Murderer has received an overwhelming following from fans completely engrossed in whether or not justice was truly served. From long reddit threads debating Avery’s innocence to extensive news and magazine articles to TV coverage, the series has captivated America. A change.org petition with more than 350,000 supporters calling for Avery’s retrial or pardon reached President Obama’s desk but all for naught.
“A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities,” a representative for the White House wrote online. “While this case is out of the Administration’s purview, President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system.”
Making a Murderer is a must-see docu-series that has already stirred audiences into a rage with mixed emotions of feeling that there was injustice and also exposing obvious flaws in our justice system.