Making a Murderer is a spectacular example of the power of television to elicit thought provoking and stimulating conversations. Because beyond just the debate over whether or not Dean or Jerry is “your boo” (Dean is mine), even more important debates are happening amongst our communities, friends, and families.
For those of you who haven’t watched the documentary series released on Netflix nearly a month ago, first of all I need to ask, “Why haven’t you?” I’ll lend you my Netflix username and password. (Email: amybiggart@…. wait a second. I probably shouldn’t give this out online.) If you haven’t watched the series, you should stop whatever you are doing right now and watch it. I’ll give you a minute (or more accurately 11 hours).
Good, so we’re all up to date.
Making a Murderer has successfully begun a conversation nationwide over our criminal justice system, a conversation that has permeated our lives. You can’t open your Facebook or Twitter without finding article after article about this documentary series. It has also divided Americans into three categories: those who believe Steven Avery is innocent; those who believe Steven Avery is guilty; and those who have no fucking clue what happened. For the record, I am firmly a member of the third group.
As I watched this documentary series I went through a perfect storm of emotions. One moment I was infuriated, screaming at my computer trying to give advice to 16 year-old Brendan Dassey as he was interviewed by the cops. The next moment I was despondent as I watched juries hand down verdicts that felt undeserved. Despite this roller coaster of emotions, the emotion that I feel most strongly now that I have finished the series in its entirety is dissatisfaction.
The series didn’t satisfy me. Don’t get me wrong, I found all ten hours of Making a Murderer to be some of the most captivating television I’ve seen in a long time. But the reason Making a Murderer is so unsatisfying, so frustrating and so maddening for me, is that so much of the day the murder occurred is cloaked in mystery. As I watched I hoped to find evidence that swayed me one way or the other, but what I found, and what I suspect the jury found, was pieces of evidence that didn’t fit with any one narrative that I could imagine.
I found myself asking, episode after episode, “What the hell happened?”
There are some things about the show that I felt sure of. I feel sure that the police force of Manitowoc County planted evidence. With no blood spatter to be found in Steven Avery’s house, I couldn’t buy into the prosecution’s theory that Steven Avery had murdered her or restrained her in his home. And a car key mysteriously appears on the floor of Steven Avery’s room four months into the investigation?
And that is only the tip of the iceberg, as the key had none of Teresa’s DNA on it.
And yet, despite my sincere desire to, I couldn’t wholly believe in Steven’s innocence. The surest way to clear someone of a crime is to present a compelling alternate theory. And I couldn’t come up with one. Could the cops have killed Teresa and planted the evidence? This didn’t seem possible. Could someone else have done it? Who else could have? I wracked my brain for a while in an attempt to come up with a theory that would clear Steven Avery of the crime in its entirety, and I couldn’t come up with one. That doesn’t mean that I think he’s guilty. I just couldn’t come up with an intelligent theory in which he wasn’t involved in the crime at all.
Many of you, I’m sure, are of the camp that believes wholly in Steven Avery’s innocence. You may have come up with a theory that fits, that would clear Steven Avery and that would disprove all of the non-believers that argue in favor of his guilt. And I applaud you for this. I personally couldn’t think of one.
In spite of this, I firmly believe that Steven Avery, and to an even greater extent Brendan Dassey, should not be in prison right now. For many people, the reigning emotion post-binge-watch is not dissatisfaction, but outrage. And I respect that and, to a certain degree, I feel the same outrage. Because while the evening of October 31st, 2005, is mysterious, and most of the evidence conflicting, what I found to be most prevalent in this case was reasonable doubt. Because, lurking in the cracks of the garage cement, in the ridges of Teresa’s car key, and underneath the scorch marks on Teresa’s skull, was reasonable doubt. It was everywhere.
Reasonable doubt should be the silver bullet in our criminal justice system. Reasonable doubt should have freed Steven Avery, and it should have freed Brendan Dassey.
So why didn’t it? That, I fear, is a question for people more intelligent, more qualified and more dedicated than me. I am the exact type of person who sees a problem like the problems with our criminal justice system, writes a blog post, discusses it for a few months and inevitably moves on, distracted by other daunting or trivial problems in my own life.
But for those of you out there that are better people than me, for those of you out there with stronger voices, with an outrage in your heart that won’t allow you to sit still, I look forward to the things you will do to help fix this problem. I am a classic follower and as such I’ll be behind you all the way.
Having spent three straight days watching this series, I feel more confused and unsure than ever about the events of October 31st, 2005. As I mentioned earlier, I have no fucking clue what happened. But I think that if there is one fact that we can all get behind, one thing that we can be sure of, regardless of our beliefs in his innocence or guilt, it is this: the criminal justice system failed Steven Avery.