Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A series of documentaries are made about a brutal murder that cast doubt on the guilt of the convicted. In its wake an online community springs up calling for the convicted’s exoneration. Sound familiar? If you’ve been following my site for any length of time you may think that I would be taking about Damien Echols of the infamous West Memphis 3. Normally you’d be right but this time I’m talking about Steven Avery and the Netflix documentary series ‘Making a Murderer’. It seems to be causing me a lot of deja vu.
Steven Avery served 18 years in prison for a rape for which he was later exonerated for due to DNA evidence. Two years later he was arrested and later convicted of brutally murdering 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. The documentary supposes that Avery was framed by police looking for revenge since he beat the rape charges. The investigators and prosecutors in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin are portrayed as bumbling rednecks who were willing to pin the case on Avery so they could close the case quickly. Again if that sounds familiar it’s because it’s the same tactic used in the Paradise Lost series of documentaries. Also as with Paradise Lost outcries of injustice have gone up all across the internet calling for the pardoning of Avery.
Paradise Lost and Making a Murderer have one other thing in common. Not all the facts were presented in either documentary. Here is a great article about a lot of the information that was left out of the series. I’m going to post just a sample…
— The documentary said that part of Avery’s criminal past included animal cruelty. To my recollection, it didn’t specify exactly what that animal cruelty was. I know that for some of our readers, knowing is enough to want to see Avery get the death sentence regardless of whether he murdered Halbach: He doused a cat in oil and threw it on a bonfire (this is not relevant to the murder trial, but it certainly diminishes the sympathy some of us felt for him).
— In the months leading up to Halbach’s disappearance, Avery had called Auto Trader several times and always specifically requested Halbach to come out and take the photos.
— On the day that Halbach went missing, Avery had called her three times, twice from a *67 number to hide his identity.
— The bullet with Halbach’s DNA on it came from Avery’s gun, which always hung above his bed.
The problem with documentaries like this is three-fold. The first is that they’re designed to prey on emotion rather than logic. Why else would people take to making harassing phone calls to the Manitowoc County Sheriffs Department? I wonder how long it will be before they start harassing the victim’s family. The second is that they usually start with their desired outcome first and work their way backwards to have the narrative try to fit their objective. Lastly it’s very rare for a documentary to be made where the filmmakers say “yep, he did it’ unless it was about a hard to catch serial killer like Ted Bundy or David Berkowitz. That’s not even to mention that a lot of these ‘convicted criminal is really innocent’ stories that are run in places like network news magazine shows almost all of the time the criminals are actually guilty.
Another point I’d like to make is that it’s not unheard of for someone to be exonerated of one crime only to commit another. For example Joseph “Shabaka” Brown was hours away from being executed before being exonerated for rape and murder. He was arrested in 2012 for murdering his wife. Brown pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 15 to 18 years.
My final thought on this for now is that there seems to be one person missing being talked about in all this and that’s the victim, Teresa Halbach. Her family has stated that “they were saddened to learn that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and to seek profit from their loss.”
Steven Avery is guilty. To think otherwise is to deny justice for Teresa Halbach no matter how ‘entertaining’ a documentary may be.