If you binge-listened to the Serial Podcast and have been tentatively waiting for a replacement, then the new Netflix documentary Making a Murderer will have you sleuthing and screaming at the television before long. Netflix has infiltrated the pop culture lexicon like no other streaming website, determining what we watch, what we talk about and now, what we care about. Making a Murderer, the story of the trial of Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach has fully infiltrated the consciousness of its audience, the first case since Graham Dwyer that has everyone in Ireland passionately debating the events in enraged tones. But unlike Dwyer’s case, the Steven Avery trial has attained its notoriety for another reason – the blatant disregard of the criminal justice system to assume innocence, until proven guilty.
The producers of Making a Murderer, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, just yesterday, announced via the Today Show , that a juror from Steven Avery’s 2005 trial had contacted them to say that he/she feared the repercussions of reaching a ‘not guilty’ verdict. This juror expressed fear of intimidation and violence from a third party, should any doubt be placed over the desired ‘guilty’ verdict and also expressed a willingness to testify, should Avery be granted a new trial. The overwhelming sense I had when watching the documentary, was that there was not enough physical, scientific evidence to incriminate Steven Avery or Brendan Dassey for the murder of Teresa Halbach. It seems very likely that the key of her car was planted in the Avery’s salvage yard. Yet, as we have seen, again and again, if you are of colour, poor or lacking in education, you are not afforded the same kind of justice that the middle-class white, educated male is. Steven Avery was poor, he lived in a trailer and possessed an IQ of 70 but criminal mastermind, capable of removing all traces of blood and DNA from his premises, he is not. Brendan Dassey had special educational needs, with the reading ability of a fourth grader at the age of 16. A confused, subdued, socially inept loner? Yes. A violent rapist, sadist and murder accomplice? Absolutely not.
Steven Avery,who was wrongly convicted of rape and assault in the 80s and was proven innocent after 18 years of prison time is “a shining example of their [police] inadequacies, their misconduct” says the voice-over in the Netflix Making a Murderer trailer. Avery, who sought $36 million in compensation from the Manitowoc county was not, in my opinion, given a fair trial. From the level of media scrutiny and sensationalism surrounding the case, the jury can’t have avoided the common assumption that Steven Avery was a deviant individual with a vendetta against the government. However, the documentary has created a huge call-to-action with two online petitions (you can sign the change.org petition here) being created with the purpose of exonerating Steven Avery. Will the Netflix documentary spark a change in the American criminal justice system? Only time will tell. Is itcompelling, mind-bending viewing? Hell, yes.