Making a Murderer
by Soleil Devonish on Friday, January 22nd, 2016
Over winter break, Netflix released another binge-worthy show—Making a Murderer—to keep us busy during the holidays. Similar in genre to the podcast Serial and the documentary series The Jinx, Making a Murderer impresses viewers with its gripping and addictive storyline.
The show chronicles the case of how a man spent 18 years imprisoned after being falsely accused of rape. The documentary opens in rural Wisconsin as Steven Avery arrives back home following his release from prison. Avery, the real life subject of the documentary series, was born and raised in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. He worked in his family’s auto salvage yard after finishing high school in the early 1980s. During this time period, he was no stranger to law enforcement. Frequently causing trouble with his friends, Avery already had a string of charges on his criminal record by 1985. After serving time, paying restitution, and starting a family, he was hopefully onto a better, moral track.
However, within that same year a local woman, Penny Beerntsen, was brutally raped, and Avery became the number one suspect and within a few weeks was charged and convicted of first degree attempted sexual assault, first degree attempted murder, and false imprisonment of Beerntsen. Throughout the trial and his imprisonment, Avery maintained that he was innocent. After losing multiple appeals, DNA evidence proved he was not the attacker, and Avery was exonerated. But just as Avery began to acclimate to freedom after 18 years of imprisonment, in November 2005 he and his nephew were charged with the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. In 2007, they were both convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The documentary series, which was produced and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, focuses on Avery’s initial unwarranted incarceration in its first episode, but then shifts its attention to the case that now keeps Avery imprisoned. To gather material and footage for the film, Demos and Ricciardi utilized previously taped confessions, taped phone calls, and their own phone calls with Avery. According to Demos, in terms of what they chose to include, the directors looked to the prosecution for the “cornerstones of their case against Steven Avery” Despite the producer’s statements, former District Attorney Ken Kratz claims the series “presents misinformation” in an interview.
Despite this statement, allegations of inaccuracies are only a small portion of the total controversy this documentary has garnered. The wrongful incarceration of an innocent man, the indications of corruption within the legal system, and the importance of status in a small town suggest something all too sinister to be real. Making a Murderer is a painfully blunt documentation of the faults in America’s legal system.
There is no doubt Steven Avery’s story has left a deep impression on those who have watched it. On December 20th supporters of Steven Avery created a petition on petitions.whitehouse.gov. Although the President of the United States does not have the power to pardon a state criminal offense, the petition gained over 100,000 signatures before it was closed. Additionally, many people continue to write open letters with the hashtag “#FreeStevenAvery” to urge current governor, Scott Walker, to pardon the documentary subject.
While the series has inspired many to aid Avery, the producers/directors claim their intent was never to choose a side. In an interview, Moira Demos reveals their job was not to reveal “whether he did it or not.” Both Demos and Ricciardi stand by their approach in exposing the realities of the American criminal justice system, or what they call “all of the ingredients that it takes to make a murderer”. George Luo (III) agrees “the point is to demonstrate a flawed judicial system in the U.S.” It is certain the documentary’s release is compatible with the issues that headline today, such as police brutality. With an increase of media attention on our legal system, Dorsey Glew (III) believes “Making a Murderer’s relevance is immeasurable as it explores themes that will always be universal, such as judging based on appearance.”
Decide for yourself whether or not you think Avery is innocent and join the many who watch the show. The first episode of this new compelling exposé is available on YouTube, but if you want to watch the other nine parts of this documentary, it can only be streamed on Netflix.
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