Netflix’s recent documentary, Making a Murderer, has caused quite the storm. Presented as a voice for justice and one man’s struggle against a corrupt system. By the end of the season many questions are left hanging, including those the defence would like you to ignore.
First off the bat, it needs to be made clear: Netflix haven’t set out to make a balanced review of the case study. Their mission was to exonerate Steven Avery with trial by TV. And it’s easy to think this isn’t for noble purposes because a balanced show wouldn’t be as entertaining.
So who is Steven Avery?
Episode one reveals to us a man that is perhaps slightly unbalanced. He did wield a weapon at a police officer’s wife. Maybe not an accepted member of the community. But in no way an out-and-out bad guy.
Unfortunately for him, the Manitowoc County PD had him on their radar. That’s kinda what happens when you threaten the missus of the boys in blue. So when a woman is violently raped on a beach, their mission is to pin the crime on Avery. Something they successfully do.
This is in spite of Avery having an alibi and other mitigating circumstances. They also overlook the advice from neighbouring law enforcement agencies that a known sex offender is in the area. Doesn’t matter, they know who they want behind bars and they manage to get their man.
When asking the victim for a description the artist’s impression, drawn by Chief Deputy Eugene Kusch, was apparently produced by her word of mouth, when in fact, it looks like it’s been traced from the photo held on police file. All the way down to wavy hair and beard, that Avery no longer had.
The victim was adamant her attacker had brown eyes during the initial police interview, but later said Avery resembled the man despite him having blue eyes. A face she’d never forget. It’s not her fault. The police manipulated the presented evidence until she was convinced of any setup they’d forged.
For the crime, Avery spent 18 years in prison. He was released when DNA evidence proved the attacker was the guy the neighbouring force had warned of before the assault even took place. Before being captured he committed another known violent rape. That crime should also sit on Manitowoc County’s conscience.
The following nine episodes then tell the story after Steven Avery’s release for the crime he never committed. At first it seems like there can’t possibly be enough to fill a season. But the first conviction was just a small introduction for Avery and his family to the local judicial system.
Through embarrassment and PR, the court officials actually used him as a symbol for change and pushed through a new bill (aptly named after him) to improve police procedures to prevent a future repeat. During this phase he launched a lawsuit against Manitowoc County for wrongful conviction, aiming to receive a compensation figure of $36m (only in America do you get compo figures like that).
With officers and sheriffs being indicted, careers on the line, when a woman named Teresa Halbach goes missing in the area and the last known person to see her was Steven Avery, there’s only one place the police are going to look hard.
Here’s where facts in the documentary are replaced with opinions.
Following their lead, we’ll do the same here. There’s no doubt in those early days of the search the police failed to perform correctly. Before a body was even located, or her exact movements clarified, one police radio transmission was heard to ask: ‘Do we have Steven Avery in custody?’
Once again, with no evidence, he was guilty until proven innocent.
This was made even worse, when in a scene from a badly written film (but this was real life, folks), Ken Kratz (portrayed as evil prosecutor) holds a press conference spilling details of Brendan Dassey’s confession.
Dassey is the young cousin of Avery and the press conference left nothing to the imagination. The ‘confession’ described a mutilated rape scene with Avery pulling the strings and Dassey playing along. Never once did Katz say it was still unproven or speculation. The world was told – as matter of fact – this was exactly how Teresa Halbach spent her last hours on earth.
The recordings of Brendan’s interviews show a boy, low on IQ, and easily led. The officers could have got him to say he killed JFK.
The evidence that convicted Avery of Teresa Halbach’s murder were based on flaky use of Dassey’s story, where that faltered they made assumptions based on the weakest proof available. They tried to turn the table on Avery’s supporters and ask if DNA made him innocent once, then why doesn’t it count now?
The problem is, the prosecutors used forensic evidence only when it suited. There was never any blood or DNA of Teresa Halbach found in Avery’s bedroom (hard to believe she was raped, strangled and stabbed in there then), but they did find her car keys in there with Avery’s DNA on. Only Avery’s DNA. Surely hers would be there too?
And the key wasn’t found straight away. It was several searches later and by Manitowoc County’s Lieutenant Lenk who didn’t have jurisdiction to be there and was being investigated for his involvement in Avery’s wrongful conviction 18 years early. However, the documentary doesn’t highlight the DNA on the key was sweat. Very hard to transfer.
They found traces of Avery’s blood in Halbach’s recovered car, and he did have a small lesion on a finger. But they got their conviction on the basis he’d shot her in his garage, from a bullet recovered during a search. In there they failed to find any trace of Teresa’s blood. They even dug up the floor in case it had soaked through. It hadn’t.
So a man that can clean crime scenes better than Dexter forgets to clean down a few specs from a car? But, did wipe all his fingerprints from the vehicle. The sample of his blood held in police records had been tampered with too.
The body was then burnt. But where and when? There were three identified burn sites and it was clear the bones had been moved at least once. The argument is in which direction.
The question then becomes: where do you point the finger?
The odd behaviour of Teresa’s brother? He could have deleted messages on her phone, just like her weird ex-bf and her current flatmate. They should have been suspects, as per standard police procedure, but instead walked the Avery site, giving them the potential to ditch or place evidence.
Or another member of the Avery family?
An outsider altogether? Much like the original case seen in episode one.
Or was it Steven Avery, after all.
It could well be that the name of the show reflects what Manitowoc County did to Steven after sending him to prison for 18 years when he was an innocent man.
Perhaps he came out feeling untouchable, believing he could get away with anything now. He would have undoubtedly been angry and it’s horrid to think what life was like inside for a convicted rapist.
He’d also had a history of animal cruelty (he threw a live cat on a fire), a common trait for killers.
His defense may have come closest to the truth when they explained why Manitowoc County would try and frame Steven. It was out of the belief they had the right man, they just didn’t want him to walk free. So they made sure he didn’t.
That doesn’t excuse this mistrial nor does it make Steven Avery an innocent man wrongly convicted for a second time. It means no one can be sure beyond a reasonable doubt.
And while the internet is filled with amateur detectives trying to solve the case, it should be remembered an innocent woman lost her life.
Hopefully the truth will come out so Teresa Halbach can finally rest in peace.