“Making a Murderer” Makes Me Mad

I’m guilty: I binge-watched all 10 hours of Netflix’s new documentary series “Making a Murderer” in less than 24 hours.

I have joined the millions of people around the world who are guilty of the same docu-gluttony.

But in my defense, I’m from Manitowoc, Wis.–the small town in Wisconsin where the true story of “Making a Murder” occurred–and Netflix’s new documentary compels people–especially those of us from Manitowoc–to consume the show in its entirety as fast as humanly possible.

So I did.

Steven Avery’s Story

The story of Steven Avery unfolds through a riveting, 10-part documentary. In 1985, at the age of 22, Avery was convicted of a heinous crime–a brutal rape and assault of a woman in the city of Manitowoc. Avery was arrested, tried, and convicted despite having a reasonable alibi supported by multiple people that meant he couldn’t have committed the crime. He was imprisoned in Wisconsin, and for 18 years, he maintained that he was innocent of the crime, and he fought to have his conviction overturned. For 18 years! During that time, his wife left him, his two children grew up without him, and his parents never gave up on him. A person can’t help but admire his resolve to prove his innocence.
2003: Steven Avery is released after spending 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit
In 2003, DNA testing had improved to the point that it could be used to prove his innocence. One tiny piece of evidence–a single hair–remained in the 1985 evidence kit from Avery’s legal case, and DNA testing on that hair ultimately proved Avery’s innocence; the DNA testing also matched the person who confessed to committing the rape in 1985, a man from Manitowoc named Gregory Allen. After 18 years spent in prison for a crime he did not commit, Steven Avery, now 40 years old, was freed from prison. Somewhat surprisingly, he returned to live in Manitowoc county, the community in which law enforcement and the justice system had arguably ruined his life. Now, that story would be fodder for a whole documentary in itself, except that’s only the start of the truly shocking part of Steven Avery’s story.
2005: Avery files lawsuit but is then arrested for murder
In 2005, Avery was in the process of filing a lawsuit against two key Manitowoc county officials that had conducted his 1985 arrest and conviction: Sheriff Tom Kocourek and District Attorney Denis Vogel. Avery was seeking compensation for the time he spent in prison to the tune of $36 million. (Hey, don’t you think $2 million per year is fair compensation after losing 18 years of your freedom?) Well, what happened next is tragic, bewildering, truly terrifying. On October 31, 2005, a woman named Teresa Halbach visited Avery’s home to take photos of a van that he wanted to sell. Her visit to Avery’s house is the last time Teresa Halbach was seen alive. Halbach was reported missing shortly after Oct. 31, and shortly afterward, her burned remains were found in a bonfire pit just outside of Steven Avery’s bedroom window. Now, the details and twists and turns in this story are too many to enumerate in this brief article, but you can watch the documentary or do further research online if you want to know more. To make a long story short, Steven Avery faced another conviction for a brutal crime, and he maintained that he was innocent of this crime. Ultimately, he was convicted, with much evidence pointing both to his possible innocence or his possible guilt. To this day, Avery remains in prison in Wisconsin for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, and he staunchly defends his innocence, claiming that he was framed for this crime.

Top 10 Reasons this Story Makes Me Mad

10. People in this story continuously profess 100 percent certainty.
The certainty professed by officers and prosecutors throughout the various trials is exasperating. Seemingly at every turn, the story involves people in authority professing 100 percent certainty that investigations were conducted appropriately and that they apprehended and convicted the correct individual. And almost every time, the film exposes this “certainty” as anything but certainty. It’s frustrating to keep hearing people express their certainty when it is plain that they should humbly acknowledge their uncertainty.
9. My hometown, Manitowoc, is earning a bad reputation.
In my humble opinion, as a result of the popularity of this recently-released documentary on Netflix, Manitowoc has gained an unfair amount of worldwide notoriety, and in this age of viral topics, who knows how long this notoriety will last and what impact it will have? I don’t mean to suggest that Manitowoc is idyllic. I just think that it has been placed under a microscope, and unscrupulous people will make unfair judgments about this one small town in Wisconsin without considering how similar so many other communities really are. For example, I have read about how some people in the Manitowoc sheriff’s department have received death threats since the release of the show on Netflix on December 18, 2015. Making death threats is the kind of unthinking, reactionary behavior that gets us humans into whole heaps of trouble. I understand how people might feel enraged when they perceive injustice. But it is precisely at those times that we must strive to be our better selves.
8. This story is full of injustices.
At the end of “Making a Murderer” I am left pondering an absurd question: “What is the most significant injustice in this story?” The murder of Teresa Halbach? The 18 years of life Steven Avery spent wrongly imprisoned? The fact that Gregory Allen, the man guilty of committing the 1985 rape and another rape later on, was allowed to continue living as a free man while Avery sat in prison? The possibility that Brendan Dassey’s confession was coerced and an innocent 17-year-old was sentenced to decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit? The possible corrupt actions by various officers in the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office? The list goes on … Making a Murderer is a tragedy of errors.
7. There is no closure ... only questions and speculation.
This story leaves you wondering, “Who truly committed the murder of Teresa Halbach?” If you think that 10 episodes in a documentary must lead to some kind of closure, think again. No sooner will the Netflix series end and you will turn to Google for alternative theories about who really killed Teresa Halbach. You might Google Avery’s Auto Salvage, the family business owned by Steven Avery’s parents, and read the 650+ reviews, most of which have been written recently and which offer statements of support instead of reviews of their business. You might find yourself wondering about the person Teresa Halbach: who was she? How is it possible that she is not the single focus of this whole phenomenon, but instead the focus is a seemingly perverse fascination with the commission of her murder?
6. The Manitowoc sheriff’s department looks very corrupt.
Due to the popularity of the provocative documentary (which took nearly 10 years to create), the Manitowoc sheriff’s department has recently received a barrage of threats and just plain nasty emails and phone messages. It’s awful that the truly good members of the Manitowoc law enforcement community are now suffering due to the sheriff’s department’s portrayal in the film.
5. The filmmakers haven’t told the whole story.
Even after almost 10 hours, the filmmakers haven’t told the whole story. Several conversations I have had with people about “Making a Murderer” have left me wondering about so many aspects of the story, I just can’t find a sense of satisfaction knowing that the story has been told. In essence, the story is upsetting. Apparently, the resolution is that Steven Avery’s story–and the murder of Teresa Halbach–remains unresolved.
4. People lie.
Probably all people lie. But when people in power lie–especially people entrusted with the duty to keep the public safe–the negative consequences seem to multiply. Making a Murderer takes this simple truth and reveals its profound consequences. Whether it’s investigators apparently prompting an unsuspecting teenager to falsely answer incriminating questions, or it’s testimony that is clearly contradictory and perhaps false, there seems to be a whole lot of lying going on in this documentary. It makes me lose faith in people.
3. This story is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
This one story makes me think of how often this exact kind of corruption and deceit must occur, and that makes me depressed. How many times in human history have people been wrongly arrested?–wrongly imprisoned?–wrongly beaten and tortured?–wrongly executed? The numbers of people who have unjustly suffered at the hands of their fellow humans must be astronomical. Too often humans fail each other, and I don’t know how this fact could ever change.
2. We can never know the truth.
Frustratingly, we will never know the truth about the events that are portrayed and explored in this documentary. People’s claims conflict with each, the evidence is unreliable, missing, or tampered with, and the justice system seems dangerously flawed and hopeless. I have no idea how I would have handled being part of the jury Teresa Halbach’s murder case.
1. Gregory Allen assaulted another woman after 1985.
This is absolutely unconscionable. The willful, corrupt actions of the Manitowoc sheriff’s department resulted in the assault of another woman. Those whose aim should be to protect and serve the public–a noble and exceedingly difficult aim–chose to knowingly convict an innocent man, Steven Avery, in 1985. Consequently, the actual offender, Gregory Allen, was allowed to go on living freely and ultimately assault at least one other victim.