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'Making a Murderer' misses the point
Steven Avery in Making a Murderer (2015) - photo by Eric Benson
Since around last December and into the New Year, the Netflix documentary series "Making a Murderer" (TV-14) has not only captivated the collective attention of the Internet-streaming nation, it has also created swarms of armchair detectives and legal analysts with an entirely new perspective and opinion about the fairness of the American criminal justice system.

While the series did its level best to portray Steven Avery, a defendant in a high-profile 2005 murder case in Wisconsin, as an innocent man abused by the system, I couldnt help but wonder why the show failed to tell us the whole story and left out so many crucial facts, evidence and viewpoints.

The filmmakers, who were graduate students from Columbia University in New York when they embarked on the ambitious 10-year endeavor, chronicled Averys tumultuous path from his wrongful conviction for assault in 1985 and being exonerated of that crime, and his arrest and trial in 2005 two years after his release in connection with the death a young woman who came to his auto salvage yard to take photographs of cars parked there.

If you were one of the millions who watched the show and if you were, you probably binged about four episodes nightly like I did you were likely convinced of Averys innocence by about the second episode and fairly certain that police offers and prosecutors from at least two counties in rural Wisconsin framed him. Listening to Averys easygoing and friendly interviews with filmmakers on the jailhouse phone proclaiming his innocence, along with the constant eloquent soliloquies about the pitfalls of the system from Averys lead defense attorney, Dean Strang, made it easy to get behind the guy.

Even worse, the lead prosecutor in the case dripped with such arrogance and condescension, it became even easier to wonder if he personally helped police plant evidence on Averys property before charging the case. So, naturally, the show led people to root for Avery and to despise the corrupt system he faced. As the series got moving, it was easy to hope for justice for this poor man.

Then however, a few more episodes in, the evidence against Avery starts to pile up. Averys property was the last place the victim visited before she went missing, her sport utility vehicle was found abandoned on the far reaches of the Avery salvage yard, his blood was smeared inside the car and the key to her vehicle was found in Averys bedroom with his DNA all over it. And, perhaps most convincingly, her bones chopped up into small pieces after being burned were found buried just steps from Averys trailer.

Despite all this, at trial Averys defense attorneys managed to vigorously defend their client, methodically constructing a theory that law enforcement officers planted evidence to frame Avery. Largely reprising the defense that worked so well for O.J. Simpson 20 years ago, Averys attorneys argued that someone else did it, hes still out there and instead of taking the time to find the real killer, police focused all of their efforts on framing an innocent man in order to clear their department from a civil lawsuit Avery had filed based on his previous wrongful conviction.

As the evidence mounted against him, I became less convinced of Averys innocence and more convinced of his attorneys skillfulness to the point that if I ever have a client in trouble in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, I know who Im calling.

My skepticism was further reinforced as I researched the case online and found that many crucial pieces of evidence were edited out of, or never made it into, the documentarys 10 hour-long episodes. These omissions included: that Averys sweat was found on a latch under the hood of the victims SUV, a bullet with the victims DNA was found in Averys garage and matched a rifle that hung over Averys bed, as well as evidence that the victim had come to Averys salvage yard many times prior to the day she went missing, where Avery had made a number of unwanted advances towards her including one instance where he approached her wearing nothing but a towel and invited her inside his trailer.

So if he did it, what drove him there? Was Avery just a violent monster all along who never should have been released after his first stint in prison? Or did serving 18 years for a crime he didnt commit make him that way? Did the instincts he learned in prison render him incapable of living a law-abiding life on the outside? More to the point, when the system fails like it did in Averys wrongful conviction, is it ultimately responsible for making a future murderer?

These questions, which truly could have presented a novel issue through the lens of this case, were barely asked and never answered. Instead, the filmmakers led us down the more predictable and often-traveled path of outlining yet another intricate conspiracy theory of the police framing an innocent man.

Avery is currently appealing his conviction.