Though there is no evidence to support this, I theorize that eleventy billion people watched Netflix’s “Making a Murderer.” *insert joke about Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office similar lack of evidence*
“Making a Murderer” is one of Netflix’s new ventures into changing television as we know it, peddling an enthralling story about a man who, wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and spending 18 years in prison before being exonerated and released, is accused of another crime of which he vehemently claims he is innocent – murder.
I didn’t binge-watch the show with family in a single day as many people seem to have, but I eventually finished the 10-episode documentary series after about three weeks of watching a couple episodes on weekends and half of an episode during my lunch breaks and after work. In other words, I took my time. In taking my time, I noticed that my reaction to the show differed from that of many people of the Internet. (SPOILERS AHEAD, IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE FEW WHO HAVEN’T ALREADY SEEN THE SHOW.)
I am convinced that Steven Avery got a fair trial and received the conviction he deserved.
When I began watching, I was appalled, outraged even, that law enforcement could do such a thing to a man and his family twice. Nothing could convince me that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t out to get Avery. I shook my head at their malice, ashamed that such people could call themselves “the good guys.”
By episode five, I was watching more slowly, with more time to collect my thoughts between viewings. By episode seven, I was fed up with the series. I was no longer ashamed of “the good guys.” I was ashamed of filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how in the world anyone could be swayed by this tasteless editing and completely biased storytelling.
Yes, Demos and Ricciardi were entitled to produce the film in whatever slant they saw fit. It wasn’t labeled as a balanced journalistic documentary, after all. However, the revictimization they have put the family of the murdered and mutilated Teresa Halbach through is inexcusable.
Additionally, the show has spawned a culture of armchair detectives at their finest – or worst, however you look at it. (And yes, I realize I am part of this group, as I have thrust myself into this conversation.)
Viewers started a petition – a petition – to request from President Barack Obama pardons for Avery and his nephew/accomplice, Brendan Dassey (whose conviction, I’ll admit may be iffy). To show you how brilliant are the minds of these 125,000+ armchair detectives, they neglected one little thing: Avery and Dassey were convicted in a state criminal court, therefore, Obama can’t pardon them. But he did respond to the viewers. Like the airport employee standing at the terminal gate of a canceled flight, he suggested they take their issue to the the proper place: the state of Wisconsin where the two men were convicted.
Although the docu-series addresses that both Avery and Dassey have attempted the legal channels for appeals or new trials, the fact that those rulings haven’t gone in the two convicts’ favor obviously means that the entire state of Wisconsin – all judges, juries, attorneys, cops, sheriffs deputies, etc. – has banded together to show those no-good Averys who’s boss. In fact, I believe they covered it at their annual Top Secret Cops Et Al. State Convention Dedicated To The Unlawful Imprisonment Of People We Just Don’t Like Very Much. At least, that seems to be what a lot of viewers think.
The counter argument to that is probably, “So you think Steven is lying? You think his entire family lied?” Considering that Avery and some members of his family had been in trouble with the law before, yes, I think that convicted criminals sometimes *gasp!* lie. And sometimes, their families don’t want them to go to jail, so they *gasp!* lie too!
Honestly, what is it with this craze of seeing a show, or an awards list, or a news story and suddenly assuming expert status? Why would any of us – without the proper training, without certain life experiences – feel so haughty as to assume that we know better than anyone the ins and outs of a situation and demand the outcome we personally think would be the best?
I’ll interject here that something good has come of this series (though I doubt the Manitowoc County Clerk of Circuit Courts Office will agree with me). People are practicing their right to obtain open records like it will be declared unlawful tomorrow. That clerk’s office is drowning in open records requests. If nothing else, people are learning more about the justice system. As someone who has obtained open records several times, I can vouch for how valuable and fascinating I find the process. “Making a Murderer,” I hope, has led to a more educated populace regarding a legal system that affects millions every day.
Please don’t think that I have any idea what it’s like to lose a loved one to a violent crime, whether that loved one was the perpetrator or the victim. I don’t. There’s obviously a lot of emotion on both sides. And I hate that the justice system failed Avery from 1985 to 2003. I’ll go along with the Netflix series as far as that perhaps the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office did make a murderer. Maybe Avery wouldn’t have developed/unlocked a rage or a personality prone to slaughtering another human being if he hadn’t been caged in for almost two decades with men who were capable of violence. Maybe Avery learned violence on the inside, an unwilling student as either a survival tactic or as a target. If Avery, as an innocent man at the time, endured that, then I lament the injustice.
But I can’t reconcile forcibly exhuming the images of violence a woman my age spent in her final moments on earth just to make a binge-watching culture feel sorry for a man who spent 18 years locked up for something he didn’t do. Just because he didn’t do it the first time, doesn’t mean society owes him a pass the second time he’s accused of a crime. The series isn’t without bias, and there are obvious attempts to even make the viewer scoff at the Halbach family for not seeing things the Averys’ way as the 1985 sexual assault victim eventually did.
But here’s my biggest question: does anyone actually care? Do all those 125,000+ petitioners understand that these are real people and not just characters in a TV show? Do they just feel sorry for a man because of cleverly edited material and no other research? Or do they just rail at the injustice long enough to compose a tweet?
Here’s the story in the Journal Sentinel covering Avery’s conviction in 2007. Take note of a couple things in there that the series failed to hit on.