making a murderer


Though it premiered on December 18, I finally got around to binge-watching the Netflix production of Making a Murderer. It does nothing to dispel my prejudices about the corrupt state of policing in America and, in fact, intensifies them.

If you have been following the stories about “Black Lives Matter,” it would be easy to think that police corruption is primarily a problem affecting big cities and blacks, but our experience with Lawrence County PA and now with this, Manitowoc County WI, suggests that dirty cops are endemic to our entire culture and not just Hollywood film noir stories.

I realize that this is an egregiously broad-brush statement; there have to be a lot of honest cops out there.

Yet the fact remains, if you are poor, of limited intelligence, or the victim of tunnel-vision or knee-jerk policing, justice is a nearly-impossible thing to come by in America. The bail and public defender systems are a joke. The courts have become a money-making racket. Legislatures are pressured by police unions and private prison lobbyists to have over-broad laws and overly-severe sentencing guidelines.

Too many innocent people are arm-twisted into pleading guilty to reduced charges by unscrupulous prosecutors who use the threat of long prison terms for more serious charges, and never provide the defendants their days in court. Crime labs are incentivized to find what the police and prosecutors want found, and to ignore exculpatory evidence. Some police and prosecutors have even been caught red-handed suppressing evidence favorable to the defense.

Regardless of locale, the culture of corruption is so widespread, the criminal justice system should not be trusted by anyone—innocent or guilty—who do not have what it takes to mount an “affluenza” defense.

Making a Murderer takes 10 hours to watch and took 10 years for filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos to complete. District attorneys and defense lawyers alike have received negative Yelp reviews and death threats. Mia Farrow is outraged, Ricky Gervais thinks the series deserves a Nobel Prize, and Alec Baldwin live-tweeted his thoughts while watching. In Wisconsin, the Manitowoc Police Department has distanced itself from the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, which handled the case. And the hacktivist group Anonymous has apparently found its latest mission.

Here, according to The New York Times, is a quick rehash of the case’s facts:

“In 2003, after spending 18 years in prison, Mr. Avery, as a result of DNA evidence, was found not guilty of a sexual assault he’d long maintained he didn’t commit.

“Two years later—after filing a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County officials over his false conviction—he was arrested again and charged with a new crime: the murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach, who’d visited the Avery family’s car-salvage yard to photograph a minivan for an automobile magazine.

“Despite Mr. Avery’s having been one of the last people to see Ms. Halbach alive, there was not an overwhelming amount of physical evidence linking him to this crime. But what did packed a wallop: Ms. Halbach’s Toyota RAV4 was discovered in the Avery car-salvage yard. Some of Mr. Avery’s blood was inside the car. The key to the vehicle was found on the floor of Mr. Avery’s bedroom. A bullet casing with her DNA was found in his garage and the fragments of her bones and teeth in a fire pit next to Mr. Avery’s home.

“Brendan Dassey, Mr. Avery’s 16-year-old nephew, confessed to participating in the rape and murder of Ms. Halbach (but later recanted his confession, saying it was coerced).

“Mr. Avery once again maintained his innocence, claiming that he was framed by officers angry at the public humiliation they’d endured after his exoneration and the potential financial repercussions they faced because of his lawsuit.

“Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, Mr. Avery’s defense lawyers, maintained that the physical evidence was planted; that Mr. Dassey’s confession was coerced; and that two officers, Sgt. Andrew Colborn and Lt. James Lenk, masterminded the setup.

“Mr. Avery’s lawyers built a case on what wasn’t there: no blood spatters inside Mr. Avery’s home or garage, no DNA evidence from Ms. Halbach was inside the home or garage beyond the single bullet casing, no scratches or rope fibers on the bed on which she was supposedly bound and murdered.

“But their case was not strong enough to sway jurors. Mr. Avery, who settled the lawsuit for $400,000 to pay legal fees, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Mr. Dassey is serving life with the possibility of early release in 2048.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed online petitions to free Steven Avery. Two petitions have surfaced—one on WhiteHouse.gov with 19,239 signatures and another on Change.org with a whopping 164,862 signatures—asking for a pardon for Avery and his co-defendant and nephew Brendan Dassey.

Now there may be a small crack in the “Making a Murderer” case.

Speaking on TODAY Tuesday, filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos said a juror from Avery’s 2005 Wisconsin murder case reached out to them amid the frenzy over their hit series to say he/she believed Avery was framed by law enforcement. But the juror never spoke up because he/she feared what might happen, the filmmakers said.

“(The juror) told us that they believe Steven Avery was not proven guilty,” Ricciardi said. “They believe Steven was framed by law enforcement and that he deserves a new trial, and if he receives a new trial, in their opinion it should take place far away from Wisconsin.”

There was behind-the-scenes vote-trading going on during the trial,the juror told the filmmakers, and the verdicts on each count were “a compromise.”

“That was the actual word the juror used and went on to describe the jurors ultimately trading votes in the jury room and explicitly discussing, ‘If you vote guilty on this count, I will vote not guilty on this count,'” Ricciardi said.

“So that was a significant revelation.”

The juror also said he/she voted to convict, but claimed the decision came under duress.

“They told us really that they were afraid that if they held out for a mistrial that it would be easy to identify which juror had done that and that they were fearful for their own safety,” Demos said.

The filmmakers said they have not been able to verify the claims because they have not spoken with any other jurors. If there was a new trial, though, the mystery juror would be willing to serve as a “source,” they said.

Following this revelation, the Wisconsin Innocence Project said that they may be willing to become involved if the jury irregularities are substantiated. Let’s hope they do.

Manitowoc County should be raked over the coals and prevented from allowing this kind of frame-up from ever happening again. And let’s not forget: the real murderer(s) remain free as long as this outrage is allowed to continue.



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