Spoilers of course.
I just wanted to make this point clear. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a law student. I have no formal study in the law at all. However, I know enough about what the ideals of the American justice system and they are:
- innocent until proven guilt
- due process
- a fair trial by the accused party’s peers
- guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
When watching Netflix’s ten-part documentary, Making a Murderer, we need to remember the above. The documentary’s film-makers, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, who followed the case since 2005, said in a Vulture interview that they didn’t even wonder about Avery’s guilt or innocence.
They were sparked by a New York Times article on the case and the conflict of interest between Manitowoc county being sued by Avery for $36 million and the latest charge against him (the murder of Teresa Halbach).
So, they set up shop and started filming and what was supposed to be maybe a 1.5 year production at most turned into 10 years.
But anyhow, here’s the crucial part courtesy of Vulture:
How much was the question of Stephen’s guilt or innocence on your minds while you were shooting?
Ricciardi: When we first started we didn’t have an opinion as to his guilt or innocence. What drew us to this story was Steven’s status as an accused. In this country, people being accused of heinous crimes is unfortunately not that rare an event, but the fact that Stephen had been wronged by the system, and was in the process of trying to reform the system and hold people accountable just raised so many questions. Could somebody who had those motivations possibly do something like this? Or did somebody trying to change the system see the system come back down on top of them? Either way, there was a story.
There’s two important takeaways from Ricciardi’s answer here: a.) the question isn’t his guilt or his innocence, but whether the system in which Avery was operating in and in which had harmed him before (the 1985 conviction) was fair and just, i.e., whether he was getting a fair shake as an accused person in the United States and b.) there’s a story within the aforementioned and in connecting the dots to the 1985 case and telling that story doesn’t require getting at whether Avery is actually guilty or innocent.
On what they want viewers to take away from watching Making a Murderer, Demos said:
One of the experiences we hope will come across is what it’s like to be accused in this country, what it’s like to go through this system. The hope is that with firsthand experience, people will think differently about the criminal justice system: what is working and what is not working, and the role each one of us plays in that.
And again, watching Making a Murderer doesn’t require one to side with whether Avery is guilty or not to get this above experience of what it’s like to go through the American criminal justices system and it’s myriad twists and turns.
In conclusion, the point isn’t whether Avery is guilty or not, the point is, did Avery receive a fair trial or not? And if you can watch this 10-part documentary and walk away thinking he (and most importantly, Brendan Dassey, since his was more of a farce even than Avery’s) received a fair trial, then I’d really love to hear your reasoning.