Issues regarding police injustice as well as racial discrimination are calling for large amounts of attention in the current society, for there seem to be clear evidences that white policemen take advantage of their positions and abuse their authorities against black people. However, we must realize that police injustice often does take place despite the victim’s skin color being the same as that of the police; and Steven Avery is not an exception.
On December 18th 2015, Netflix released a documentary series titled Making a Murderer, in which the producers follow a man convicted of Teresa Halbach’s murder: Steven Avery. Teresa Halbach was a photographer who had visited him to take pictures of his vehicle for Auto Trader, a website used to sell automobiles. With this conviction, Avery was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 due to such a conviction. However, why is it that this murder case is suddenly gaining attention a decade later? Here’s why: not only did Netflix release the first episode of the ten-part documentary series for free on their youtube channel (which was something they had never done before), but also, it seems to do with the rawness and the thrill that comes with watching the show. Indeed, Making a Murderer is not simply a crime investigation documentary like the many other that exist. Rather, as the name suggests, it follows of and tries to expose a potential “miscarriage of justice”: Steven Avery may have been framed.
Let us go all the way back to 1985. In 1985, Steven Avery was falsely accused of beating and sexually assaulting Penny Beerntsen, a rape victim who was attacked along the beach in Wisconsin. He was convicted of the crime and sent to jail, and eighteen years later; only then did he finally clear his name due to a DNA test. He was freed from custody in 2003, and two years later, began to start a claim for 36 million dollars in damages. However, Steven Avery was once again, charged for a crime. However this time, not of rape; but of murder. Evidences that clearly put Avery in the fault, such as his blood found inside Halbach’s vehicle, Avery’s DNA discovered from the sweat under the bonnet of Halbach’s vehicle, and a bullet with Halbach’s DNA found in his garage, were all more than enough to convict him of the crime. Avery was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Yet, the documentary explains and indicates that those “evidences” could have all been planted. Avery’s defense attorneys argue that the Manitowoc County Sheriffs had planted evidence to frame him, and that they had coerced confessions regarding the crime. Additionally, there has been claims supporting the fact that the authorities involved in this case were clearly biased, supported by the multiple appeals filed by Avery. He explains that the searches performed on him during the investigation were both improper and biased, and that any evidence collected from that search should not be used during trials. However, this statement was quickly refuted by Sheriff Robert Hermann, of Manitowoc County, who strictly believes the investigation had been properly performed.
Hermann is not alone in denying police malpractice. All of Manitowoc County authorities have denied claims that state they potentially framed Avery, despite certain questionable points regarding this incident. Initially, Halbach’s car was not sealed with tamper-proof tape, which would have made it less likely that one planted evidences within the car. Secondly, it’s quite contradictory for the victim’s car to have only moved after “the pitch black of night” without any security tape, as stated by Avery’s defense attorney, Kathleen T. Zellner. It’s too good to be true; with no security tape, one could have easily planted evidence inside the car whenever they wished to do so. And yet, the division still exists between those who believe the correct man is behind the bars, and those who believe Avery has been falsely accused of. Having said that, certain groups of people have taken action.
Regardless of what the opposition insists on, there has already been steps taken by the millions of viewers of the documentary who believe in his innocence. Over 275,000 viewers of Making a Murderer have all signed a petition, directed at Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, demanding a pardon for Steven Avery. The petition states “Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon, and the Manitowoc County officials complicit in his two false imprisonments should be held accountable to the highest extent of the US criminal and civil justice systems.” Despite the overwhelming amount of signatures, Walker denied granting a pardon for Avery.
To look at the bigger picture, it is clear that this documentary is not simply attacking the authorities simply for Steven Avery. Rather, it is more about police injustice as a whole. Whether or not criminal justice is truly “just” is an extremely controversial topic, linked with others such as police brutality and racial discrimination (such as the shooting of Michael Brown). As the world is what it is today, it is important to shed light upon this issue of Steven Avery. Police injustice is not something strictly race oriented. Only recently has this issue of the police’s mistreatment of Avery been focused upon; there must be hundreds of others, who could have potentially been framed for a crime the have not committed. Will the United States of America and the world finally begin to truly investigate the matter of justice only after a hundred more of these documentaries, and a hundred more false convictions? As of now, justice certainly has not been served.
– Leona Maruyama (‘17)
Featured Image: PBS NewsHour