Binge watching is always an emotional journey. Netflix’s Making a Murderer will take you on a ride that you’ll never forget. The docuseries chronicles the real-life trials of Wisconsin man Steven Avery. Avery spent 18 years in prison until he was exonerated. A powerful series on the corruption of local government could’ve been produced from the first leg of Avery’s journey.
The Manitowoc County Sheriff department’s initial investigation reads like a Do NOT manual for police investigations. In light of the systemic failures in the first case, you’d assume that lessons were learned and adjustments were made. You’d be wrong.
Avery’s story doesn’t end with his exoneration. His decision to file a civil suit against the men and county responsible for his imprisonment is the engine of the series. Soon after, Avery is accused of another more insidious crime, the murder of 25-year old photojournalist Teresa Halbach. The documentary is clearly pro-Avery. The creators aren’t heavy-handed in the presentation, but it’s clear they believe they are presenting an injustice. Avery’s background and the background of his family aren’t deeply delved into. There are a few petty crimes here and there but they are mostly glossed over.
It’s impossible not to become infuriated with the conduct of every person sworn to uphold the law in this small town. There are no true checks and balances. Prosecutors, judges, and even defense attorneys serve as an echo chambers rubber stamping the conjecture of the other. Because of the history of the case, a special prosecutor is named and we are told that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s office will have nothing to do with the investigation(other than providing resources). Not only are they involved but they find key evidence that leads to Avery’s conviction.
The prosecution argued that Halbach was murdered in Avery’s trailer but none of her blood was found there. The key to Teresa’s vehicle was found after months of searching by a Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Deputy. The critical piece of evidence was found by the same deputy who ignored evidence that would free Avery the first time around. Avery’s evidence kit from the 1985 case was tampered with, the seal was broken and the vial of blood it contained was punctured. Despite the irregularities, conflicts of interest and outright incompetence of the investigation, the police are given the presumption of innocence at every turn.
Steven Avery sat in prison for a year while DNA evidence that would later free him lay dormant. No one rushed to free this innocent man, no one in authority was eager to see this wrong righted. When the tables were turned and law enforcement was accused of wrongdoing, the FBI practically invented a test to protect fellow law enforcement officials. It’s amazing to watch how far these men will go to maintain the status quo.
The most audacious example of the arrogance of those in power is when the County Sheriff opines that it would be far easier to murder Steven Avery than it would be to frame him. What country am I living in? How was this man allowed to keep his job? Ken Petersen is now retired but not before receiving a glowing write-up in the local paper.
The saddest aspect of this sorry saga is the treatment of mentally challenged teen Brendan Dassey. Dassey was interrogated by police for hours without an attorney- until he finally told them what they wanted to hear. The interrogation was emblematic of the conduct of law enforcement throughout the case. They predetermined Brendan had something to do with the murder of Teresa Halbach then pressed him until he gave the answers they wanted.
As dark as Making a Murderer is, the real conclusion may be more morbid. Special prosecutor Ken Kratz has recently presented his side of the story, claiming the filmmakers cherry-picked information to fit their narrative of a frame up. Honestly, the points he makes are compelling. What if Steven Avery did it? What then? Was an innocent man “made” into a murderer? Is that worse than the system falsely imprisoning him twice? If this dark theory is true, the blood of Teresa Halbach isn’t only on Avery’s hands, but all sworn to uphold the law in both cases featured in the documentary.
However you feel about Avery’s guilt or innocence, this documentary will change the way you view the justice system.