The Evidence that Did Make a Murderer

Vernon Ray Leach Jr., KLJ Staff Editor[1]

As is becoming more and more frequent in our culture, a new television show has captivated a substantial portion of the population. Netflix’s “Making a Murderer,” in less than ten full hours of television, turned law students into lawyers, laymen into police officers, and caused viewers that fell into neither of those categories to question the adequacy of the American criminal justice system. Can someone like Brendan Dassey fall through the cracks and admit to a brutal murder if he had nothing to do with it? Can Steven Avery really be convicted of a murder due largely to evidence discovered outside the bounds of criminal procedural law? Can a judge overlook obvious professional misconduct and irresponsibility on the part of public defenders? These are the questions “Making a Murderer” attempted to answer.

By and large, the answers to the above questions were uncomfortable and were answered in the affirmative. Since the release of the Netflix documentary, viewers and law enforcement alike have taken issue with the omission of substantial portions of the State’s case against the two Manitowoc residents. In defense of the documentary’s producers, Jerome Buting, a defense attorney for Steven Avery said:

Mr. Kratz [who prosecuted the state’s case against Steven Avery] has complained that big portions of the state’s case were left out of the documentary. First of all, that’s not true; the majority of [the state’s] arguments were presented. But there are also defense arguments and defense evidence that wasn’t covered. Not to any fault of the filmmakers, but we’re talking about a six-week trial. They had five or six hundred hours of tape that they had to condense into 10, so certain decisions have to be made.[2]

On the other hand, the prosecution would have the viewer believe that a substantial amount of evidence for the State was omitted from the documentary.[3]

But beyond the criticism of a biased documentary and claims of a design to cause the American public to hate the Sheriff’s department in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, is there any hard evidence pointing to a conviction for Steven Avery? The answer, while it may disappoint us, is a resounding “yes.” There was additional DNA evidence pointing towards Avery’s guilt that was not shown in the documentary.[4] In the form of sweat, police found conclusive evidence showing that Steven Avery’s hand was under the hood of the car when he absolutely insists that it was not.[5] While the documentary shows a vial of Avery’s blood to which the police had access, it seems far less likely that they had access to Avery’s sweat.[6] Secondly, Teresa Halbach’s (the victim) belongings were found on Avery’s property, something the documentary mentions but spends little time discussing.[7] Third, there is evidence that Avery and Halbach knew each other, and that Halbach reported being “creeped out” by Avery, who specifically requested that Halbach be the representative from AutoTrader sent to his property to photograph vehicles.[8] Lastly, and perhaps most revealing, Steven Avery called Teresa Halbach’s office, but gave her secretary a different name and number than his own, allegedly to avoid both suspicion and further “creeping out” Ms. Halbach.[9]

Did Steven Avery, potentially with the help of Brendan Dassey, brutally murder Teresa Halbach, despite what the filmmakers of Netflix’s hottest new documentary would have you believe? Unfortunately, it seems doubtful that viewers will ever know the truth of Teresa Halbach’s demise, the potential role of the Manitowoc Country Sheriff’s Department in her murder, or Steven Avery’s innocence or guilt. But there are several things to be taken away from the documentary that are free from dispute. First, when watching documentaries that center around the efficiency and accuracy of the criminal justice system, it is important to look at all the evidence from all perspectives. Second, perhaps even law enforcement officers, while generally good for our country, inherently place personal prejudice over individual justice at times. And finally, nothing on a television or computer screen is totally free from the grasp of bias.

[1] J.D. expected May 2016.
[2] Tessa Stuart, ‘Making a Murderer’: Steven Avery’s Lawyer on the Evidence Left OutRolling Stone (Jan. 15, 2016), http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/making-a-murderer-steven-averys-lawyer-on-the-evidence-left-out-20160115.
[3] Id.
[4] Sam Grossman, Here’s What was Left Out of Making a Murderer, Time (Jan. 5, 2016), http://time.com/4167699/netflix-making-a-murderer-evidence-left-out/.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Ignacio Torres, ‘Making a Murderer’ Filmmakers, Prosecutor Respond to Claims of Evidence Left Out of Netflix Documentary, ABCNews (Jan 19. 2016, 6:18PM), http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/making-murderer-filmmakers-prosecutor-respond-claims-evidence-left/story?id=36378583.