Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Our Take on Making a Murderer

Caution: Spoiler Alert : The documentary Making a Murderer is discussed below in detail.
 By now, you've probably heard of or have seen the binge-watching series Making a Murderer on Netflix. After viewing the documentary, we were left with dismay at some of the actions taken by law enforcement and the prosecution, and still had some unanswered questions. It is easy to understand why the film has become as popular as it has.

The film initially covers the wrongful conviction of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin resident Steven Avery for rape. After spending 18 years in prison, his conviction was overturned when DNA evidence cleared him. Avery is eventually released from prison and becomes the poster child for wrongful convictions in Wisconsin and he sues the county for over $30 million. 

While the process of suing the county is going on, a woman disappears, and her burned remains and car are found on Avery's property. Avery and his 16 year old nephew are eventually charged with her murder. The series switches from the wrongful arrest and 18 year imprisonment of Avery to his new arrest and trial for murder.

 Due to a potential conflict of interest, another country sheriff's department is brought in to lead the murder investigation. Yet, Manitowoc County deputies (including some involved in the Avery law suit ) are part of the crime scene search even finding key pieces of evidence.

There are questions raised during the trial asserting that evidence was planted by Manitowoc officers in order to frame Avery for the murder. A jury ultimitely finds Avery guilty of the murder and he returns to prison. 
The documentary raises the question "Did Manitowoc County frame Avery for the murder due to his pending lawsuit against the County?" 

We found the story line to be interesting and engaging. Most commentary in the public seems to see this documentary as proof that the Criminal Justice system is broken, Avery is “obviously” innocent, and justice has not been served. 

We would like to share some of our unanswered questions from our academic and professional experience: 

Our Key Takeaways: 

  • Understanding the bias of the film is important. The film is definitely from Avery and his legal defense point of view. This makes sense as the film was initially about the wrongful conviction of Avery before turning to the recent allegations against him. Also the prosecution did not agree to be part of the film so producers have to rely on news footage and courtroom video for the prosecution point of view. 

  • The interrogation of Avery's 16 year old nephew is disturbing. The questions are leading and the young man appears to have a low IQ and grasp of what is happening.

  • Although Avery was exonerated in the first case, he was not a man without a prior criminal record. He had reportedly been charged with burglary, pointing a gun at a woman, burning a cat alive , and was accused of public masturbation. Additionally, while in prison he wrote threatening letters to his wife at the time. While this doesn't automatically mean he committed murder, it is not impossible to believe that a man with previous issues, wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for 18 years, could come out an angry man capable of murder.

 In conclusion, it is an intriguing, entertaining, addictive, documentary that easily leads one to question whether Avery is being wrongly prosecuted again. We can understand how the film makes it easy to see law enforcement and the DA as the bad guys as they make poorly worded statements and come across at times as arrogant and incompetent. 

Also, the same law enforcement agency that is being sued and wrongfully arrested Avery years earlier is involved in this case despite the conflict of interest. Although there are questions raised by the defense about pieces of evidence, we do know: 
  • Avery did meet the woman on his property.
  • Her car was found on his property. 
  • Her burned remains were found on his property. 
  • His blood was found in her vehicle. 
  • His DNA was found on the hood latch of her car. 
  • Her car key was found in his house. 
  • There is evidence the victim was shot in Avery's garage. 

Finally, if one were to believe that Avery was framed by Sheriff's Department, did the Sheriff's Department kill her? Are we to conclude that the Sheriff's Department was so eager to get back at Avery that they killed an innocent woman, put her vehicle on his property, then burned her body on his property?

 If Avery (who didn't deny meeting the woman on his property) didn't kill her then who did? What was the motive? Is one to conclude the same law enforcement agency that is portrayed as so incompetent was able to effectively lure a woman to Avery's property by making him call her, then kill her , burn her body, plant the burned remains on his property, plant her car on his property, plant his blood and DNA in her car, plant bullet fragments with her DNA in his garage, and force his 16 year old nephew to implicate Avery and himself in the crime? 

This may be too much of a leap for a reasonable person to make. Entertaining and thought provoking as it may be, the film is definitely biased towards Avery and not all the facts make it into to the final cut. 

There are certainly questions raised and suspicious coincidences but not enough to conclude that police killed an innocent woman in order to frame a person suing them.

If you enjoyed Making A Murderer, may we suggest other thought-provoking films that highlight interesting cases in the criminal justice system, such as: 

Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/me-facing-life/ 

Murder On A Sunday Morning: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0307197/ Into The Abyss: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1972663/ 

The Central Park Five: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/ 

West of Memphis: http://www.sonyclassics.com/westofmemphis/ 

The Confessions: The Norfolk Four:   http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/the-confessions/ 

We look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

-Michelle, JR

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