Like the vast majority of the Netflix subscribing public, my partner & I have been utterly hooked on Making A Murderer for the past few weeks.
It was easily something I could have binge watched, but with a toddler who's trying to set some kind of world-record for longest amount of time spent not sleeping that sadly wasn't possible - but we finally got around to watching the final installment this week and now I'm just bursting to debate the topic!
For those unfamiliar with the documentary, it's filmed over a 10 year period and follows the story of Wisconsin man Steven Avery who was falsely imprisoned for 18 years for the rape and attempted murder of a local woman before being cleared by DNA evidence with updated technology not available at the time of his original trial. The new evidence cleared Avery of the crime beyond any doubt, and identified the actual rapist who was by then already in prison for another crime.
Upon his release, Avery launched a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County and county officials associated with his arrest.
Whilst the lawsuit was going through, local 25 year old photographer Theresa Halbach went missing - she was reportedly last seen at Avery's home having carried out a work assignment there before disappearing.
Avery was then arrested for Halbach's murder, along with his 16 year old nephew Brendan Dassey who confessed to Theresa's violent rape and murder.
When you read about the case, it sounds almost cut and dried - but what went on in this case is like nothing I've ever heard before.
After watching the series, I couldn't help myself - I spent hours and hours googling the story and reading every scrap of evidence I could find - The Manitowoc County Sheriffs Department have stated that the documentary is one sided and doesn't give a rounded view of events or all of the evidence, so I wanted to see for myself exactly what had been missed and to see if I could make up my own mind.
I've read hours of interrogation transcripts, sat through hours of police interview footage online, and read up on anything I can...and although yes, some parts were omitted from the documentary, I haven't seen a single thing to suggest that these two men are guilty BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT of this crime.
Yet they're both currently serving out life prison sentences for it.
I'll be writing this piece on the assumption that you've watched the series, so here are my biggest problems with the evidence:
*The Key - Steven Avery's small trailer property was searched over a period of, I believe, 8 days by the neighbouring county Sheriffs department after it was requested by the judge that Manitowoc county officials did not enter the property. Nothing was found during that time. Only after that, when Manitowoc County officials went against the request and DID enter the property - did they find the key.
How could that key to Theresa's car possibly have been missed in previous searches? And it just so happened that a Manitowoc county official, who wasn't even supposed to be there, was the one to find it?
Funnily enough the same thing happened with the bullet found in the garage containing Theresa's DNA - no sign of it until much later on, and even then it was discovered by a Manitowoc official rather than the investigating county officers.
*The "confessions" - These were the part of the documentary that bothered me the most to watch. I found myself in tears many times witnessing just how very unaware of his actions Brendan Dassey was when allowing crooked officers to put words in his mouth, instruct him on what to draw in his confessions, make him think that in order for them to help him he had to say he'd done what they thought he had...or else he'd be in trouble.
This was a 16 year old boy of extremely limited mental capacity - it is so painfully clear from his requests to go back to school after confessing to violent murder, asking when he'd be allowed to watch his wrestling show, talking about having the same favourite animal as his lawyer - this is not your typical 16 year old boy, this is someone intellectually much lower in age. I felt as though I was watching my toddler have those conversations.
And regardless of his mental capacity, why was a 16 year old boy repeatedly interrogated without a guardian or lawyer present? How were those "confessions" - so clearly coerced - ever allowed to be used as evidence? To send a mentally impaired minor to prison for 50+ years? It's beyond my comprehension.
*The lack of physical evidence - According to Dassey's coerced confessions, the rape and murder of Theresa was violent and bloody. Yet there was not a single trace of DNA evidence found to place her in the bedroom of the trailer or garage where these events supposedly happened?
There was no drop of blood despite her throat being cut in the bedroom and her body carried out, no blood in the garage despite there being a long crack in the floor which would have been almost impossible to clean, no semen, no sweat, no hair, no trace of Theresa ever having been there...how is that possible?
*The discovery of Theresa's car - An officer from Manitowoc County is heard calling in Theresa's license plate number and asking for details on its owner...he is told that its registered to missing person Theresa Halbach - yet he claims he was just checking the plate number, rather than having discovered it. If you were calling to check the plate number, would you not ask "Hey can you confirm that missing girls plate number for me?" rather than read it out and ask who it belongs to?
More so, as pointed out in a Youtube video, if you raise the volume of that call you can clearly his companion state in the background "We've found the car".
Yet nothing is reported...a few days later, a Manitowoc officer is heard on a phonecall requesting that the search team, made up of friends and family of Theresa Halbach, go specifically to the Avery property to look for her missing car.
Two women are sent there, they are the only members of the search team that day who are given a camera incase they find anything, and despite the salvage yard being over 40 acres and filled with hundreds and hundreds of cars - they stumble upon the exact location of the car within 30 minutes of arriving. That's some luck!
*The vial of blood - Some of the major evidence used to convict Steven Avery was the discovery of his blood in Theresa's car. However, a vial of his blood which had been stored at Manitowoc County offices since his earlier false conviction for rape was found to have been tampered with...with a syringe hole in the top. Why else would anyone have wanted to take some of his blood if not to plant it?!
Furthermore there is no trace of Steven's fingerprints in the car, so he must have worn gloves - yet still managed to bleed from the hand into the car?
*Ashes & Bone Fragments - Theresa's remains were found in the burn pit on the Avery property. But not all of them. There were also remains found in an offsite location. If Avery and Dassey killed Theresa on site as claimed, why are some of her remains found elsewhere? And why is her blood found in the trunk of her car indicating that it was used to transport her?
*THAT response - when being questioned on whether or not Manitowoc officials had framed Steven for the murder, Sheriff Kenneth Peterson stated on record "It would have been easier to kill him than to frame him"....
Forgive me if I don't have an ounce of faith in a police official who's mind even GOES to that place...how is that even something you would say?!
People question whether the police would really sacrifice the life of a young woman to save their jobs, their reputations and a few million dollars...quotes like that make me think perhaps it wouldn't be so foreign an idea to them!
Of course there are also arguments for the prosecution...but in my thinking, most of them are very flawed - arguments such as:
Steven had a criminal past including threatening women, violence toward partners and violence toward animals - Yes he did. And in most of our societies those things would be huge indicators of a very violent and dangerous man.
However, I do think you need to consider the people in question and their lifestyle - this will sound harsh and judgemental, but these people are not exactly the kinds of people your average joe British person is going to be used to - their culture and way of life is very different - I have known a few people thanks to the wonder of the internet who live similar lives in similar manners to the Averys in varying parts of the USA, and they are some of the only people I've ever heard use phrases like "My boyfriend tried to shoot me and my mama last night, but we're ok now...it's just coz he was all high at the time!" - I'm not even kidding. It's not THAT unusual in these areas, infact its more unusual when men aren't violent - that doesn't make it ok of course, but all I'm saying is that perhaps its not the huge indicator of immediate guilt as it might be over here or anywhere else with a different way of life.
Is he a super nice person that I'd trust to babysit my kids? Umm...no I don't think so! But does the evidence in this case suggest that, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, he murdered Theresa Halbach? Absolutely not! Therefore he should not be serving time for it.
Jodi Stachowski, Stevens former girlfriend, has since stated that he was violent and abusive and she thinks he was guilty - Again, my point made above, this makes him not a nice person but I do believe this kind of behaviour is sadly very common in these kinds of circles. And as an ex girlfriend, why would she not want to twist the knife and be paid for her opinions on the case? We already saw her state in the documentary that she thought he was innocent, are newspapers going to be interested in paying her for her time if those are still her views or is she going to get more out of saying she believes him guilty? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
So, at the end of it all, what do I think?
I am convinced beyond doubt of Brendan Dassey's innocence and I feel for him more than Steven in the case, as he is so clearly unequipped to deal with what was thrown at him - I do not understand how his confessions were allowed to stand up in court.
As for Steven Avery - is he guilty? I don't know. I wouldn't like to be the person in charge of deciding on that.
But was his guilt proved beyond a reasonable doubt?
Absolutely NOT. And so, by law, he should be a free man.
Did you watch the documentary series? What was your take on it all? Innocent or Guilty?
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