“According to the information obtained and presented by Netflix, we the jury find the defendant Steven A. Avery… not guilty.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or your Netflix payment information needs to be updated, you’ve most likely seen or at least heard of the Netflix original series Making a Murderer which has received over 900,000 views since its release on December 18, 2015. The docu-series chronicles the story of Steven Avery – a man who spent eighteen years in prison for a vicious sexual assault crime he did not commit, only to be charged again – this time for murder – after spending only a few months as a free man. The series documents the defense’s attempt to cast the Manitowoc County Police Department as a crooked regime who intentionally and desperately framed Avery. They make the case that there was bad blood between Avery and Manitowoc County stemming back to his first conviction; that was only exacerbated by Avery filing a thirty-six-million-dollar wrongful conviction lawsuit against the same folks who railroaded him the first time.
Is Steven Avery guilty of the murder of Teresa Halbach beyond a reasonable doubt? Hell no! Well… according to information portrayed by a certain entertaining documentary. But according to the court, he was, in fact, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt – so guilty, actually, that the jurors stated they slept soundly the night of the verdict knowing confidently that they put this cold-blooded, sociopathic murderer behind bars. The judge followed the verdict with this statement regarding Avery: “You (Steven Avery) are probably the most dangerous person to ever step foot in this courtroom.” I’m not here to discuss new so-called evidence or to raise any more conspiracy theories. If that’s what you’re after, Google is flooded with that stuff. I’m not here to say whether or not Steven Avery is guilty. I’m here to discuss the disparity of opinions and the all-of-a-sudden cult-following phenomena this story has manifested into, and to provide an alternative viewpoint as to why.
There are different levels of belief on the subject. Some folks think Avery may have committed the crime but is innocent beyond a reasonable doubt according to court law simply because there was too much conflicting evidence or mistakes made by the investigators. Some people believe he was framed by the Manitowoc County Police Department, but the county truly thought he was guilty and were only trying to strengthen their case against him to ensure his conviction and imprisonment. Some people think the police murdered Halbach and staged the entire thing because of the raging wrongful conviction lawsuit and/or their personal dislike of Avery. Others speak of him almost like a hero of sorts. You can gather these views by simply reading the text from various social media sites where everyone is weighing in and providing their opinions and expertise on the matter.
Petitions with upwards of 160,000 signatures have been filed asking for Steven A. Avery’s release. Why? Because of a TV series. Read this next statement aloud to yourself, slowly: Steven Avery, a convicted murderer, who was found confidently guilty beyond a reasonable doubt should be released because of questions raised by a TV series. Now say this aloud: I know more about this case than the jurors did, based on information I learned watching a TV series.
Now, if you can truly buy into these statements, then my point will not come across no matter how I articulate it. But if you can agree that there may be, at least, some issue with these statements, then we may be able to find that ever-elusive common ground.
Here are a few comments circulating online. I didn’t cherry-pick these; these five comments were back to back:
Jovanda Duhe—I’m enraged that the system could be so blind and so cruel to an innocent man God bless him and I will def follow this case
A.Y—such a brave and strong man, incredible guy
maxxamillion1400—The greatest miscarriage of justice iv’e ever seen…
Myron & Susan Gray—fucking the whole town was in on it. just sad. I pray for Steve and Brendan
My favorite of these is this one:
Dirk Diggler—There’s a special place in hell for these corrupt motherfuckers
This guy Dirk Diggler was angry – I mean, real angry – invoking a fiery torturous Hell on the police and the very system that put Avery behind bars. And we’re not talking just your run-of-the-mill Hell, but a ‘special place’ in Hell, which I can only assume means a much more horrific and painful version of the fire and brimstone we’ve all come to know and love. If this guy is a man of faith who truly believes in a Hell, then he has just damned these people for all eternity to burn in the most horrible place imaginable. No punishment compares. This guy – Dirk Diggler – as pissed off as he was in his comment, wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the courtroom. He wasn’t on the jury. He wasn’t a family member or even friend of the Averys or Halbachs. Yet he just wished a ‘special’ Hell upon the Manitowoc County Police Department while being totally convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Avery was innocent and framed by everyone involved. These comments aren’t rhetoric; they’re real. These beliefs are real.
Netflix did something right with this series: they made ten hours of television we simply could not pull ourselves from. My wife and I binge-watched the entire thing in the span of two days, losing out on precious sleep hours, time we could’ve spent eating, dreaming of beach-front vacations, or possibly having sex – who knows? The series was that good to warrant our valuable time. Speaking to other folks, it was the same. Making a Murderer owned the term ‘binge-watched’ over the past few months; the phrase was used frequently and loosely by anyone who happened to click Watch.
How did Netflix do it? How did they make a docu-series so enthralling, we were simply unable to walk away from it? So moving that coalitions of advocates for Avery were formed immediately upon watching? So poignant and eye-opening that petitions with upwards of 160,000 signatures were mailed to the White House, demanding for this convicted murderers release? Murder makes for already good television. But with just the right amount of controversy and corruption, this already good television can become great and captivate the world. The makers of the series – Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi – knew exactly what they were doing. They set out to do exactly what they did – entertain millions and stir up publicity to keep the series talked about long after it had been watched. There really was only one way to take this story and series to that level of involvement. They had to aggrandize the controversy and turn this one-victim case into a two-victim show. If Avery truly is just a cold-blooded imbecilic murderer who pretty much incriminated himself with all the evidence and lazy covering up, the story loses steam quickly, as it would be bundled right in with the countless other stories out there like this. It would be just another show on Investigation Discovery. By omitting key pieces of testimony and/or evidence and by embellishing certain facts while eradicating others, the film-makers were able to accomplish what they set out to – Steven A. Avery was now the innocent victim of a corrupt police investigation, and Making a Murderer became the forefront in crime television.
Again, I’m not here to give you any new evidence or even discuss the evidence that was presented in court which was omitted by the film-makers for the sake of controversy. I am here to present a more rational point of view on the case. I, like you, while watching the series wanted to believe Avery was innocent, at least not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. When they read the guilty verdict, my wife and I were in utter shock. We simply could not believe the injustice this man was handed. But if you know some things regarding psychology, Avery does possess the traits many serial killers before him have carried – loving fire, torturing animals. I don’t know for certain if he suffered any head trauma, but one can only assume. He quickly passed blame onto his family for not getting him out of jail soon enough, using suicide as a threat. It was clear to me, this guy objectified everyone around him, much like your standard sociopath-turned-psychopath, so him being a murderer isn’t so far-fetched. As much as we hate to believe it, because believing it kills the magnitude of the impact of the series, Steven. A. Avery fits the bill of a murderer.
Belief is a powerful thing; sometimes a dangerous thing. If you are an Avery advocate, no matter what evidence I give you, you’ll find a way to either twist it to your favor or discredit it. If you are unable to discredit it for any reason, you’ll simply choose to ignore it altogether. This is called confirmation bias. We do it unknowingly, all the time. I cheer for my favorite NFL team every Sunday, and I always think this will be the week they beat the better team, despite all evidence to the contrary. I want them to be good, therefore I believe they are good. When they lose, I find myself making excuses for why they lost, oftentimes blaming the officiating. Making a Murderer tapped into our confirmation biases by creating this underdog victim-of-the-system character. We want him to be innocent and therefore, we believe him to be. With social media now being an extension of who we are, people are more ready to fight for social injustices than ever before. When there aren’t enough real things to fight for, we make some up. The Avery case fell on us at just at the right time. We want this helpless underdog with all odds against him to succeed, and we’ll fight and fight to bring him justice; it’s only natural. Without this character, and this play, there is no series, and we’re only left with rational thinking.
I give props to the filmmakers for doing what they needed to do to create this captivating series that has held hostage over 900,000 of the world’s minds and hearts – our minds and hearts. But I do feel they got one piece wrong. I feel they trivialized Teresa Halbach’s part in this, and they shouldn’t have. She was a beautiful, young, intelligent woman who didn’t make it to her twenty-sixth birthday; abruptly taken from this world way before her time. SHE is the true victim of the story, followed by her family who had to face this horrible tragedy. I can only imagine their thoughts regarding the recent turn of events and groups calling for the release of the man who was confidently found guilty of the brutal murder and dismemberment of their daughter, their sister, their niece – her bones and flesh thrown away like garbage, parts of her burned to charred ash. Putting the real victim – her grieving family first – is it safe to say that we should, at least, consider the possibility that Avery is exactly where he should be: behind bars?
The Making a Murderer series has left all of us thinking, sometimes rationally with our minds, and sometimes irrationally with our hearts. We – the audience – are still fascinated by the story, posting on social media outlets, writing articles, advocating one way or the other. Through all the hazy turmoil and debate, only three things are certain: 1) Steven A. Avery was found guilty of the murder of Teresa Halbach. 2) Teresa Halbach is dead, her family still grieving, their lives turned forever upside down. 3) You can’t base your decision solely on the evidence presented by a television series, no matter how entertaining said television series is. After all, I think we can agree, that simply wouldn’t be rational.