Netflix documentary reveals the murky details and rampant misconduct in the murder case of Steven Avery in Wisconsin.
Steven Avery in a lineup for a 1985 sexual assault he was wrongly convicted for.
As a Wisconsin resident, the case of Steven Avery has been difficult to ignore. In 1985, Avery was incarcerated for a crime he claimed he didn’t do. In 2003, he was finally exonerated by DNA evidence that proved another man had committed the sexual assault he spent 18 years in prison for.
Then, two years later, just weeks after the officers involved in his wrongful conviction were deposed in his $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Avery became the only suspect in the murder and dismemberment of a local woman whose remains were discovered on his property.
It was around this time that filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos read about the case. They spent the next ten years documenting the Avery family’s struggle for justice, through trials, convictions, and appeals. The result is Making a Murderer, a comprehensive 10-part series highlighting the horrific flaws in the criminal justice system that lead to Steven Avery, as well as his 16-year-old nephew Brendan Dassey, receiving life sentences for a murder with nothing more than a few highly questionable pieces of evidence.
The Murder of Teresa Halbach
On October 31st, 2005 photographer Teresa Halbach arrived at the family-owned Avery’s Auto Salvage in rural Two Rivers, Wisconsin to take photos of a van for Auto Trader Magazine. Though she had been there many times previously, this would be her last.
Halbach was reported missing after a few days. Friends and family formed a search party, which focused on the last place she was known to have been: the Avery compound. It wasn’t long before Teresa’s Toyota Rav4 was found hidden amongst other vehicles in the yard. Splotches of blood inside were a match for Steven Avery.
Officers from Manitowoc and Calumet counties quickly descended upon the property. An exhaustive 8-day search uncovered charred bone fragments in a burn pit, and the key to Teresa’s Rav4 inside Avery’s mobile home. Not long after being freed, the man who had become the poster child for wrongful conviction found himself in police custody once again.
But the evidence was sketchy at best.
Police testimony (and photos) showed that the first time through Avery’s home, the key was not present in the location where it was later found. It was discovered only after two Manitowoc officers involved in Steven’s previous conviction had been inside the home.
As the documentary reveals, one of those officers also had access to a vial of Avery’s blood, which was used in the DNA test that freed him. When the vial was inspected, it was found to have a hole in the lid the size of a hypodermic needle.
Also, there was reason to believe the bone fragments may have been moved from a different burn location and placed in Avery’s pit.
Brendan Dassey Confesses
Months into the investigation, with no new evidence, police questioned a young member of the Avery family who stated that Brendan Dassey, Steven’s nephew, had been acting strange. She claimed he had lost a lot of weight, was often seen crying, and claimed to have witnessed body parts in a bonfire he attended with Steven the night Halbach went missing.
Dassey was taken from school for questioning, resulting in a grueling 3+ hour interrogation. Throughout the taped session, Dassey, clearly of below average intelligence and comprehension, is continuously lead and coerced into telling a story of his participation in the brutal rape, murder, and disposal of Teresa Halbach in Steven’s home and garage.
At the end, Dassey asks when he can go back to school as he is concerned about a project he had due. He seems to have no understanding of the weight and consequences of the words that were just wrenched out of him.
Furthermore, the supposed scene of the crime is devoid of hair, blood or any other forensic evidence to substantiate the claims.
But that was apparently enough to convict.
Throughout the ten hour binge-watching session, my opinion of Avery’s guilt continuously wavered. At times I was positive by his tone and demeanor that he did it, while other times I was enraged by the obvious police misconduct and lack of evidence.
The one thing Making a Murderer makes quite clear throughout? Hope you are never accused of a crime. It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not you actually did it.
What do you think? Are Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey guilty of the murder of Teresa Halbach, or are they the victims of a malicious conspiracy and a flawed system?
Read this: Evidence ‘Making a Murderer’ Didn’t Present
Share your opinions in the comments below.