Friday, March 18, 2016

Weighing in on the Steven Avery case

One of my main reasons for desperately wanting to get Netflix was so that I could watch the Netflix original documentary series I'd been hearing so much about these past few months, Making A Murderer.  The 10-part series debuted in December 2015, and has had viewers in an uproar ever since.  I needed to know what the fuss was all about.

As most of you probably already know - either from watching Making A Murderer, or hearing about it in the news - the series is filmed over the course of 10 years, and follows the case of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin who spent 18 years in prison for a rape and attempted murder he did not commit. He always claimed his innocence, and he was eventually exonerated after further DNA testing proved he was not the man responsible for the crime.  Released from prison in 2003, Avery filed a $36 Million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, its sheriff, and its district attorney, but before that lawsuit could be settled, he was charged with the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach.  He finds himself back behind bars only two years after his celebrated release, along with his alleged accomplice, his 16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey.  Once again, Avery claims innocence, and insists that the Manitowoc County police department have framed him and Brendan.

I watched Making A Murderer with interest.  All I had heard since it's release was that people were horrified at the corruption in the police and legal systems in the United States, and a lot of certainty that an innocent man - or two innocent men, actually - had been put away for life.  I was expecting to be convinced of this as well.

But I wasn't convinced of this, at least not in Steven's case.  Not at all.  Yes, there were a lot of things presented in this case that didn't make a whole lot of sense.  There was a lot of evidence stacked against Steven Avery that just didn't quite add up.  I definitely had some doubts, and questions that were never answered, unfortunately.

But I also didn't walk away from this series convinced that the man was innocent, either.  I don't think Steven Avery is an angel.  He may not have been guilty of the rape and attempted murder he was charged with in 1985, and I certainly think it's a terrible injustice that he spent 18 years in prison for that.  But I gleaned from the early stages of the series, and from research I have done on my own, that this man wasn't exactly a fine, upstanding citizen either.  He isn't terribly smart, he and his brothers have a history of abuse against women, he once doused his cat in gasoline and threw it in a fire, he had been in jail several times before the rape and attempted murder charge... calling him "rough around the edges" would be putting it mildly, I think it's safe to say.  Could he be a murderer?  I can't say without a doubt that he is not.

The person I felt sorry for, and who I DO think is behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, is Steven's nephew, Brendan Dassey.  Brendan was 16 at the time of the murder, and as was stated clearly many times during the series, he is not the brightest crayon in the box.  I feel the investigators and police took advantage of that.  The footage of him being questioned by police left me feeling sick to my stomach.  The coercion that took place was despicable.  They interviewed Brendan without his parents' presence or permission on several occasions, demanded Brendan tell them the "truth" even though he insisted he was innocent and didn't know what happened, and then promised to stand by him if he told them what they wanted to hear.  "Tell us, Brendan.  Tell us what happened.  Don't lie to us, Brendan.  Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison?  Tell us the truth and we'll make sure that doesn't happen."  Then they'd drop hints of what they wanted him to confess to.  "What happened to her head, Brendan?  What did you to do her head?  Something happened to her head, Brendan.  What did you do?"  The kid was clearly guessing most of the time, trying to come up with the answers they wanted from him, just so he could get back to school.

What resulted from these forced confessions was several different stories over the course of several different interviews.  Brendan's story kept changing.  For starters, the timeline of events seemed to change frequently when he would relay what happened.  He told them they killed Teresa Halbach in the bedroom of Steven's trailer, then he switched it to the garage.  One scenario had them stabbing her and cutting her throat on Steven's bed, the other had Steven shooting her in the garage.  Sometimes he said they burned her body in the fire pit behind Steven's trailer, the next he would say he didn't know what happened to her body.  He was all over the map, and I do believe that it's because Brendan was lying to try and satisfy the police.  And because he lacks intelligence, he couldn't keep track of all of his lies.  But by the time he decided to take it all back and re-iterate his first statement that he had nothing to do with it, it was too late.

The other people I felt sorry for were Steven's parents, Brendan's grandparents, Dolores and Allan Avery.  In their interviews, they always struck me as being good people at the core.  Rough around the edges, for sure, but not bad people.  They ran a family business that appeared to do well, they kept their family close to them, and they tried to do what's right by all of them.  After fighting for their son's freedom for 18 years and finally having him back, I can't imagine how upset they would be at losing him again only two years later, and this time along with their grandson, too.  They clearly aren't young, and I think Steven's troubles with the law have taken a grave toll on them.  They are weathered.  They are angry.  They are sad.  And they are standing by their son and grandson no matter what.  I have respect for them, at least by what was portrayed of them in the series.

Last, but certainly not least, I felt sorry for the family of Teresa Halbach.  I can't even fathom what those people have been through.  I never want to know what it's like to lose someone you love in that way, and then to have it drag on in court proceedings for years.  To have to sit there, and hear over and over again about the horrible things that happened to her.  To finally have the case closed, only to have it re-opened, appealed again and again. And I don't know about them, but after the suspicions and questions that this documentary has brought forward, you must always wonder if the real murderer is, maybe, just maybe, still out there...

I'm a pretty innocent, gullible person.  I want to believe that the cops are the good guys.  I don't want to think of them as corrupt... I don't want to believe that they plant evidence, or coerce false admissions, or send innocent men to jail because they want to.  And truly, some of the police officers who took the stand and were grilled for doing just that... well, they didn't seem like slimey, slithery, corrupt people to me.  They really did seem like good guys who were horrified that their integrity was being called into question by the defence.  And I really do want to believe that they are good guys caught up in this mess.

But am I convinced of that?  No.  Sadly not.  Not one bit.

1 comment:

Stacie said...

I have heard that they may make a 2nd installment if he gets another new trial. I'm not 100% convinced of his innocence, but I'm not convinced that the police didn't have a part in framing him either. It was definitely intriguing.