We Investigated Netflix’s Controversial Documentary “Making A Murderer.” Did They Get It Right?

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Unless you’ve been living in seclusion (or don’t happen to have a Netflix subscription), you have likely heard about the controversial documentary “Making a Murderer” – This stranger than fiction murder case involving Steven Avery has every person who watched the 10-episode series feeling unhinged and weighing in with their opinions. Most people fall within two major camps in regards to the case. One camp thinks that Steven Avery is guilty as sin and brutally murdered photographer Teresa Halbach. The second camp is pronouncing his innocence and insisting he was setup by local law enforcement. But could there be a third possible outcome? Could Steven Avery still be responsible for Teresa Halbach’s murder, but the police planted evidence to ensure a conviction?

The Wrongfully Convicted – In 2003, after an astonishing 18 years in prison for sexual assault charges, Steven Avery’s conviction was overturned based off of newly uncovered DNA evidence that exonerated him. Based on the mishandling of his 1985 case by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, Avery launched a $36 million lawsuit against the county.

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In 2005, mere weeks after officials within the department gave depositions as part of the suit, photographer Teresa Halbach was reported missing. Her last known whereabouts?

The Avery Salvage Yard—home to Steven Avery. After an extensive police search, Teresa’s vehicle was found on the Avery property along with burned bone fragments that were later positively identified as belonging to the victim.

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One of the major controversies surrounding the case was the involvement of the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department in the investigation.

Despite being told they were to stay out of the case, officers found some of the most damning evidence on the property including Teresa’s car key. Months after his arrest, Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey came forward with a confession that he helped his uncle rape and murder Halbach. However, based on the videotaped confessions, it’s hard not to admit the confession seemed coerced. In 2007, Avery and Dassey were both found guilty of Teresa’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.

What the Police Got Wrong… After first watching the series, it’s easy to get caught up in the Free Steven Avery movement. You may be prone to sign a petition calling for his freedom or expounding on to anyone who will listen about the injustices found within our criminal justice system. And you would have a point. It’s terrible to imagine having your fate in the hands of a legal system that failed you once already.

Photo Credit: popskand.comPhoto Credit: popskand.com

Based on the documentary, it’s clear that Avery wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt once his name was linked to Teresa Halbach’s. Despite his overturned conviction, he was still considered a troublemaker by the residents and officials of Manitowoc County. And although the Sherriff’s Department was told to stay out of the investigation, they were combing the property and stumbling over evidence that had been missed during previous searches.

What are the chances that one of the deposed individuals in Avery’s multi-million dollar suit, Lieutenant Lenk, be the one to discover the key within Avery’s bedroom? And how unfathomable that when an old box of evidence from Avery’s 1985 conviction came to surface that a vial of his blood was found tampered with? Without a doubt, there’s compelling evidence that law enforcement had the opportunity and motive to plant evidence against Avery.

What the Documentary Didn’t Say…

Photo Credit: idigitaltimes.comPhoto Credit: idigitaltimes.comAvery spent 18 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. And despite his innocence, he wasn’t exactly a stand-up guy prior to his conviction. He had a criminal history that included dousing the family cat in oil and throwing it in an open fire and another charge of threatening a relative at gunpoint…

What if Both Steven Avery and the Manitowoc County Police are Guilty? 

The bottom line is, the Steven Avery case is not a black-and-white scenario. While most people either feel he is definitely guilty or are strongly convinced he is innocent, there’s a grey area that hasn’t been explored. There is a possibility that Avery did in fact murder Halbach and that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department also planted evidence against Avery.

While the documentary managed to feature many instances in which it seemed that Avery and Dassey must be innocent, there is some evidence that has been brought to light since the documentary aired that could suggest otherwise. Evidence that was not featured includes:

  • Avery had prior contact with Halbach. He had worked with Auto Trader previously, and she had come out to take photographs of the cars. He repeatedly requested her to take the photographs, and once he answered the door wearing nothing but a towel. At this point, Halbach told her employer she did not wish to photograph any more cars at the Avery Auto Salvage.
  • On the day of her disappearance, Avery called Halbach’s phone three times. Twice, he used the *67 code to conceal his number.
  • In his seemingly-coerced confession, Dassey notes that Halbach was trapped on the bed using leg irons and handcuffs. Avery did in fact purchase those tools three weeks prior to her disappearance, claiming that he wanted to use them with his girlfriend at the time, Jodi.
  • Dassey confesses at one point to helping his uncle move Halbach’s car into the junkyard, where Avery opened the hood of the car and removed the battery cable. Sweat DNA — virtually impossible to plant — was found on the hood of the car.
  • While serving his initial prison sentence for a crime he did not commit, Avery reportedly created plans for a torture chamber that would allow him to rape and kill young women after he was released.

Of course, reading this information point-blank makes you think again about Avery’s conviction in 2007. Obviously, the filmmakers knew that no one would be interested in watching a true crime murder series that included hundreds of hours of unending evidence that they would have to sift through in their minds. However, the case can be made that specific key pieces of evidence were left out of the series in order to convince the average viewer of his innocence.

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At the same time, the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department certainly could have had the motivation to frame him. Even if Avery did commit the crime he was accused of — they could make the trial simpler by planting evidence. Some of their motives may have been:

  • Avery was suing the county for $36 million, as he had been imprisoned for 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit. This was money that the county did not have, and could not afford to pay to Avery. It would have crippled Manitowoc County.
  • The law enforcement officers’ reputations were on the line. Many of them were being deposed in the lawsuit brought by Avery, and by planting the evidence they could increase the chances of a guilty verdict from the jury. The lawsuit disappears, and they can go back to business as usual.
  • The Avery family was not well-liked in Manitowoc County, and had long been considered a troublesome burden in the region. The officers may have just wanted to seal the deal once and for all by planting evidence — such as the car key in Avery’s bedroom — to paint a clearer picture for the jury.

The Role and Responsibility of the Docu-series

15-Making-a-Murderer15-Making-a-MurdererThe initial aftermath of “Making a Murderer” was outrage — and rightfully so. Clearly, the 10-hour film proves there are flaws in the criminal justice system that has to be addressed, but ultimately, most people finished the documentary utterly convinced that Avery and Dassey were both serving life sentences for a crime they did not commit. Now, people are questioning whether the journalists were responsible in their representation of the case and the evidence that they featured.

It should be noted that:

  • Halbach’s family did not participate in the making of the documentary. The family was only featured during clips of press conferences and interviews. Teresa Halbach was shown through photos and videos that were obtained by the journalists.
  • Penny Beernsten, who was the victim of the sexual assault that Steven Avery was wrongfully convicted of committing, opted out of the docu-series because she felt the filmmakers were already convinced that Avery was absolutely innocent.

Ultimately, it seems that there is a grey matter left behind when the documentary is complete. Viewers who may be left convinced of Avery’s innocence may want to take another look at the role that the docu-series played in this perception, the responsibility that the filmmakers had, the evidence that was feature and the motive the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department may have had in planting evidence.

There’s obviously no clear answer or solution to the Avery case — the truth must lie somewhere between Avery’s insisted innocence and his guilty conviction.

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About The Author
A former writer for CNN, Joan has a diverse background in Journalism. Joan is an active journalist in her home town where she helped to expose the truth about a public works scam and ended up saving the citizens in her city thousands in bogus fines.
As a broadcast journalism graduate at University of Michigan, Joan also enjoys radio broadcasting. Joan worked at her local college radio station where she encouraged her listeners to pursue their passions. She also writes sermons and poems on different political issues.
Joan loves Fox News but not for the journalism - for it's entertainment value. Joan's dog, Pete is a big fan of Sheppard Smith and barks maniacally every time he hears his voice.
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