As a fan of true crime stories, I encourage everyone to watch the Netflix documentary,”Making a Murderer.” I have my own questions and doubts about specific elements of the case (I’ll get to that later) but as far as its entertainment value is concerned it is compelling, well told, and deeply troubling. This story cuts to the core of two basic ideas about our justice system; the deterioration of “Innocent until Proven Guilty” and transparency in law enforcement and the judicial system.
I am going to avoid spoilers as much as possible simply because I want everyone reading this blog that hasn’t viewed the documentary an opportunity to watch it for themselves. I don’t believe it hurts if you are spoiled or want to Google the final results of the case online- the most powerful portions of this documentary come in the forms of evidence presented, people involved, and unpredictable turns in the case you don’t get from a newspaper or Buzzfeed headline. Knowing the final fate of the defendant, Steven Avery, does not lessen the gravity of the tale or thwart the viewability of the show. Each episode has it’s own individual twists and intricacies that really allow this documentary to extend light-years beyond other true-crime tales like 1/2 hour Cold Case Files or artificially conceived CSI reruns.
As I mentioned above the two biggest concerns raised by the Steven Avery / Brendan Dassey cases are the presumption of innocent guaranteed by our justice system and judiciary & police transparency.
The presumption of innocence for the defendants in this case were devastated by police narrative and exaggerated and proliferated by local media in Manitowoc County. As soon as prosecutors had what they needed, they went to the press with the most enticing juicy horror story possible. This, in turn, set the stage for a biased jury and almost impossible environment for any defense team. To me this stands out at the prime injustice that sours the democratic process of this case; in this instance the police leveraged the media to guarantee the exact opposite of what we are promised by our criminal justice system and sentenced Avery & Dassey before any facts were even presented. This alone should scare the Hell out of all Americans – that innocence is not presumed.
My second major concern raised by “Making a Murderer” is the lack of police transparency and overall control of the case by the judge involved. The restriction of evidence, in part or whole, stands out as one of the greatest injustices I have seen. Both the prosecution and the court seemingly worked hand in hand to bind the defense and limit what evidence could be presented – all with the goal of conviction rather then seeking the truth or critically questioning the evidence.
The troubling cognitive dissonance created by the daily inconsistencies and bizarre antics of the police department are enough to make anyone question,”who are these people that have sworn to protect and serve us?” The fact that two persons of interest from the defendant’s past showing up time after time, despite having clear motive to do the defendant harm, is bizarre to say the least.
While the great majority of the film focuses on the Avery family, we rarely get a look at what the prosecution is thinking aside from press interviews. I would love to know the full case from the prosecution’s vantage point, but doubt it would do them any good at this point to expand on their personal beliefs now that this documentary is making waves across the internet.
One thing I believe all viewers must come to understand is how much power the media has; especially the power of editing and narrative. While during the course of events in the Steven Avery case the prosecution essentially crafted a horror-story narrative that helped turn the entire community against Avery. Ironically the Netflix documentary does exactly the opposite, crafting a powerful police corruption narrative against Manitowoc officers and investigators which has begun turning lots of Netflix users, Redditors, and Internet users against them. I believe the facts of this case lie somewhere in the middle – some prosecution points are likely valid while some defense points are invalid. There are likely major points of evidence or personal history in this story that are shaped or presented in a specific light to advance a cohesive narrative – either painting Steven Avery as a killer or the Prosecution as corrupt cops with a vendetta.
From what I was presented in this documentary all I know for certain is it makes stark critiques about our criminal justice system and effectively creates doubt in terrible cases where we would like there to be nothing more then “simple resolutions”. I believe it is extremely difficult for people to see the world without labels. We would like cops to be the good guys, but they all aren’t. We’d like to say our court system upholds justice, but it fails and innocent people pay the price.
I consider “Making a Murderer” as one of the top true crime stories because it both exemplifies the genre and transcends it to make large statements about the American justice system, the Media’s influence on public perception, and the nature of good and evil. I highly recommend it as your next binge-worthy program.