The latest thing to catch the mind of the American public, or at least part of it, is the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” If you’re one of the few who have no idea what it is, here’s a brief primer: In 1985, a Manitowoc, Wisconsin, man named Steven Avery was arrested and charged with rape. From the start it was obvious Avery had nothing to do with the crime, but a sheriff’s department with extreme tunnel vision had a victim description that sounded like him, so there was never any effort to look anywhere else.
Avery sat in jail for 18 years, never backing off his assertion that he was innocent, and in 2003 one of the groups that looks at old cases took his on and found DNA evidence that showed Avery could have not in any way been the rapist.
He was freed and did what you’d expect, suing the arresting agency and county for $36 million. Not long after depositions were started in that case, a young photographer went missing and her car was soon found on Avery’s property along with burned bones that turned out to be her.
Avery was arrested a few days later, his nephew shortly afterwards for being an accomplice and they were both convicted and given live sentences.
A terrible thing, but if you haven’t seen the documentary you might be wondering what the big deal is. After all, people die in horrible ways all the time.
The reason a big deal has been made is that, if you believe what the documentary shows you, Avery has now been railroaded twice by the justice system in his hometown. There was literally no evidence to prove Teresa Halbach had ever been in his home until sheriff’s officers, who weren’t supposed to be anywhere near his home, searched it eight times and finally found her car keys in a spot that had already been searched several times.
Yes, police corruption and what most people don’t like to think about is the center of the documentary. As one of Avery’s lawyers says, you may think you’ll never commit a crime, but that doesn’t guarantee someone won’t think you deserve to go to jail and accuse you of a crime and make sure the evidence fits.
Avery’s trouble seems to stem from a feud he had with a cousin in 1985. That cousin happened to be married to a sheriff’s deputy at that time, a deputy who didn’t like anybody messing with his wife and an abuse of power seemed to start.
Avery’s life hasn’t amounted to much since. Eighteen years in jail, two years free, then right back. And through it all was nervous looking cops who always seemed to want to be anywhere but in court testifying.
And then his nephew Brendan Dassey, 16 at the time, was dragged into it and interrogated by cops until he finally said what they wanted to hear. Dassey, who is said to have an IQ right around 70, was so baffled by what was happening that after the cops told him he was being charged with murder, said, “Okay. But I have a test at 2 and need to get back to school.”
To get the full effect you’d have to watch the 10 part documentary. Avery and Dassey are far from “beautiful” people, nowhere near rich, completely socially awkward and Dassey, at least, comes across like he needs to be in some kind of assisted living facility.
You can make up your own mind about guilt or innocence. Neither Avery’s case or the police case is helped none by the idea no one else was even looked at for Halbach’s murder. I have questions about her creepy looking brother or an ex-boyfriend who didn’t seem upset at all about her death. But that’s just me watching from a distance.
I’ve covered a lot of small town murder cases over the years. Some ended with convictions others ended with the accused hugging family members and walking out free. Honestly, I don’t ever remember thinking, “Boy, the jury got that one wrong!”
But I’ve never seen a case where the prosecution was so obviously lying. One deputy, confronted with fact he called in the tag number and description of a car that had yet to be found, stared at the defense lawyer in horror and mumbled that he must’ve gotten the info from another officer.
And when the poor Dassey kid said he’d gotten what he’d told about Halbach’s murder from a book called “Kiss the Girls” (written by James Patterson and made into a movie starring Morgan Freeman) why didn’t somebody hunt a copy down and see if anything in it matched what the boy had said?
If you haven’t watched the documentary yet, be prepared to forget about the outside world when you start. And know that not committing a crime is no guarantee you’ll never go to jail.