by Sherif Badr
Nobody was a bigger fan of True Detective season 1 than me. I loved the quest for truth by Rust and Marty in finding the true criminals behind the mysterious sexual assaults, murders, and general satanic happenings popping up. After an arguably slow start, I was riveted. The story kept unraveling and things got darker and darker for our two heroes, with revelations of information and evidence being hidden, of cops and important individuals normally associated with upholding the law being dangerously implicated, and of something ultimately darker and more sinister than the detectives ever could have imagined unfolding. Rust and Marty remained steadfast though, nearly losing each other and themselves, but they succeed in looking deeply, perhaps closer than they might’ve liked, into an old-town secret cult involving families and authorities that had been there for a long, long time. The final showdown between the “yellow king” and our “little priest” left viewers shaken, but satisfied, at least in this one instance. It was a great fictional show. Unfortunately, for season 2, the recipe for what captivated audiences was convoluted. I believe that it is not the involvement of sex crimes and troubled cops that makes a detective story amazing, real or fictional, but the unraveling of the truth despite efforts and schemes of all those seeking to hide it. Ironically enough, the recipe for an entertaining detective story seems to have been done right in the new Netflix documentary Making A Murderer.
In contrast to True Detective, Making A Murderer chronicles the real life events, accusations, media coverage, incarcerations and exoneration of Steven Avery as well as the involvement and interaction with his family along the way. The first major crime he is inevitably named innocent of is crucial in showing the serious failings of the law in Manitowoc County, so that we might realize that at least in this county in the United States, law enforcers are not infallible nor free of guilt. We quickly learn that Steven Avery was imprisoned for being suspected in a sexual assault for a sentence that would only end after 18 long years. In the conversations that follow with family members and lawyers, Steven is unwavering in his claims of innocence.
Steven’s not perfect though. He’s robbed a tavern and had been involved in an instance of animal cruelty in his teens (he lit a cat on fire with his pals). At first, one may think that maybe he did attack Penny Beernsten on the beach that day in 1985, with reason: Steven has a record, the artist drew a sketch that matches his face from the victim’s description, the victim picks him out of a lineup of men as the man that attacked her, and despite 22 alibis that accounted for Steven’s whereabouts during the attack, the jury finds him guilty. The victim did think her attacker had brown eyes rather than blue, as Steven does, but it all happened so fast and she was so confident in her telling at the trial.
Now when Steven Avery was put into prison, DNA forensic tests weren’t advanced enough to either implicate or save him, though the usual evidence of an attack like fingernail scrapings and hair were saved and filed. Years later, it turns out that a single hair is literally what connects Penny Beernsten to her true attacker, Gregory Allen, who unfortunately had attacked other people while Steven Avery was wrongfully serving time for his crimes. Advances in science save the day this time, and it appears that certain officers may have wanted to put him behind bars for other, unclear reasons. Namely, Officer James Lenk and Andrew Colburn as well as the Sheriff at the time, Ken Peterson. The day after Steven Avery is released in 2003, Colburn feels the need to write a report for a call he received in 1995 that basically told them that they had the wrong man imprisoned - that’s 8 years prior to his release. If Avery wasn’t released would this call ever come to light? There’s not much silver lining to look for after serving 18 years in prison, but some compensation could help rebuild a life and that’s just what Steven Avery seeks from the County in a $36 million dollar lawsuit.
ACCUSATION II: Back so soon?
The second case made against Steven Avery is where things go simply wrong and you will question everything. Keep in mind the embarrassment of the county after putting a man away wrongfully for 18 years and now being charged for exorbitant amounts of money while officers involved have their entire careers called into question. Also consider how likely it is that Steven, after just 2 years, finds himself as the main suspect in not only a rape but a murder as well. The victim’s car is found on Steven’s lot, bone fragments of the victim are found in his fire pit, and to complicate matters, instead of 22 alibis he has only 1, Brendan Dassey, his nephew with learning disabilities and less than average cognitive abilities whom he was having a bonfire with during the suspected time of the crime (this is common in the United States, for Canadian readers who don’t have fires regularly).
What is striking and shocking throughout the rest of the Netflix series is how timely and quite frankly, perfect, certain events and circumstances occur to make Steven Avery out to be the criminal here. In this second trial you’ll also notice that the media plays a huge role in painting Steven as guilty before he even goes to trial. “MAN JUST RELEASED FROM PRISON AFTER 18 YEARS, MURDERS” - the media had a field day.
Brendan Dassey, Steven’s real only hope here, is painful to watch. I found myself getting worked up watching him coerced in the intense interrogations/forced confession sessions with Fassbender and Wiegart. It’s clear that the investigators weren’t looking for Brendan’s honest answers. The investigators developed a theme of how important it is to be “honest” and after asking questions, when they didn’t get the answers they were looking for, that Steven Avery did this heinous thing, they would berate him, “now be honest Brendan.” To put Brendan’s lack of awareness of the consequences of his actions into perspective, he thought it would be fine to just admit to rape and murder and then make it back in time to finish his project before class.
If our trust in people hadn’t been tried enough, when you see the same officers involved in falsely convicting Steven the first time intimately involve themselves in this second case despite Manitowoc county being removed from the case because of conflict of interest, it is even more troubling. The key to the new victim’s car found in Steven's room and the bloody bullet in his garage are both found by Lenk. It is so suspicious because areas were searched numerous times before with no incriminating evidence found, then, at a later date Lenk just happens to do a second sweep and find the most important piece of incriminating evidence.
The list of my unanswered questions is long.
Why did the roommate of Teresa Halbach, the victim in the second trial, take 4 days to report her missing? How was only the search party that found Teresa’s car in Avery’s lot the only group given a camcorder? Why wasn’t the ex-boyfriend investigated as a suspect? How did Colburn know that Teresa's license plate was for a 99 Toyota if he hadn’t seen the vehicle and only found the plate as he claimed? How could the brother of the victim not recall deleting messages on the phone of his missing sister? How did Brendan’s first attorney let Brendan get interrogated in his absence (unheard of)? Why is Halloween not a factor for Teresa's murder on October 31st?
You might be wondering “Hey Sherif, you’re suggesting that cops and/or authorities may have framed an innocent person - why would they do that?” Making a lawsuit of $36 million for wrongfully imprisoning someone go away is a lot of motivation.
What’s more troubling is that if Avery was framed and didn’t murder Teresa Halbach, who did?