Staff Editorial – 2/11
‘Making a Murderer’ reveals viewer’s missing knowledge
A trial is a just trial until we can watch it on Netflix.
Its latest documentary, Making a Murderer, has us glued to our devices, watching courtroom scenes we had only discussed in Law and Criminal Justice or read of in history textbooks.
We delve into the case of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin resident who served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault conviction before DNA evidence linking the crime to another man absolved him. Enter the lawsuit against Manitowoc County and its prior sheriff and district attorney: 36 million dollars were on the line when crime tainted Avery once more.
In 2005, he and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Given the lawsuit, Manitowoc County was not to oversee this investigation, but its involvement leaked into the protocol.
According to the New Yorker, evidence against Avery included a key to Halbach’s car and a bullet fragment, both of which could have been planted. Investigators also found that a vial of blood from Avery’s sexual assault case in 1985 had been compromised, which sewed doubts as to Avery’s guilt.
Evidence more difficult to falsify included sweat on the hood of Halbach’s car.
Is he guilty or innocent? The jury released a “guilty” verdict, but some of us insist he was framed. The case is not over yet: Kathleen Zellner, a Chicago attorney associated with the Midwest Innocence Project, will take Avery’s case in appeals.
The verdict, however, is not solely an indictment of Avery but an indictment of us—we should have been paying more attention.
Not all trials take place in our living room. If we had not seen the Netflix documentary, would we be convinced of his innocence? Would we even be aware of his case?
Though today Avery’s case is most prominent, he is not the only example of a barbed justice system. It may strive to protect us, but as Zellner’s fame comes from shedding light on 17 wrongful convictions, we see that no entity is perfect.
We can better it. We, after all, are the future lawyers. We will practice law to our best ability—but our knowledge and our natural skepticism cannot only be channeled at a television.
If we want reform, if we want better, we need to broaden our awareness and that of those around us. Even if we never work in law, we may be called for jury duty in which we have the responsibility to ourselves and to the Steven Averys of the world—wrongfully convicted or not—to finetune the system as best we can.
Because any trial is just a trial until we are the deciding vote.