There have been a couple documentary films or series recently surrounding true crime that have gained notoriety for helping to revisit cases to bring about justice. The Paradise Lost films wound up assisting, at least to some degree, in getting the West Memphis Three released from prison with a new plea deal. On the other end of the spectrum, the HBO series The Jinx helped uncover some evidence that got Robert Durst charged with another murder and he is awaiting trial.
Netflix joined this genre with the release of Making a Murderer, which is a 10-part series surrounding Wisconsin resident Steven Avery. Avery had been wrongfully convicted for sexual assault and was eventually freed after 18 years thanks to DNA evidence. It was found that law enforcement officials had ignored evidence early on that could have led them to the actual offender. Instead, they set their sights on Avery and didn’t deviate from that plan. Avery wound up filing a civil suit against the County for his wrongful conviction, and was nearing a large payout when things turned bad, quickly.
After his release there was the murder of a woman named Teresa Halbach. Her bones were found on Avery’s property as well as her vehicle with his blood in it and the key in his home. However, the evidence didn’t appear to add up, as nothing was found for days and then some evidence magically appeared. There were also many inconsistencies, tampered evidence and ignored evidence as well.
The way the story is told, the entire investigation was done inappropriately, including badgering his learning-disabled nephew to conjure up a false confession, which he later recanted. Despite mountains of evidence showing that there was no actual proof that Avery or his nephew were guilty, they were both convicted.
By watching this, I still can’t say whether or not Avery did it, but I am 100% confident that there were too many questions unanswered and unethical behavior from law enforcement and the prosecution team to result in a conviction for either of these men. However, the prosecution played on feelings and what appeared to be manufactured evidence to convince the jury, which clearly disregarded the part about needing to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt. There is way more than reasonable doubt, as there was more evidence pointing to impropriety by law enforcement than there was toward Avery or his nephew being the murderers. Maybe the series will help get a retrial to have a better chance and uncovering the truth.
This leads me to wonder how fair our justice system really is. Are these isolated cases, or is there a larger systemic issue, as suggested by Avery’s defense attorneys? The Innocence Project, which seeks to help free people who were wrongfully convicted, claims they are continually evaluating thousands of cases each year.
We all want to feel safe and want for people who harm others to be brought to justice. I have tremendous respect and appreciation for law enforcement personnel, but have also seen first-hand how good people can do bad things under the influence of a group. Is it possible that our system is geared toward not finding the truth, but instead looking for someone to convict, as Making a Murderer suggests?