It took a long time, but over the course of a Friday night in September and most of today, I was able to plow through all 10 addicting, spellbinding episodes of Netflix’s hit documentary, “Making A Murderer.”
When it was released in December 2015, I remember being intrigued from the get-go. It sounded like a fascinating story.
Fascinating, well, is just one word.
The story of Steven Avery, intertwined with the stories of Teresa Halbach and Brendan Dassey, takes you deep into the community of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, bordering Lake Michigan.
With this post, I’ll try to summarize the entangled network of the cases, the intrigue, the mystery, and the questions.
The Averys are a family that have never been liked or been highly regarded by local law enforcement. They run a huge salvage yard in the county that spans for acres and acres.
Steven was the most well-known of the family to the police. As a teenager, he was charged with a few petty crimes – Burglary, petty theft, and cruelty to animals.
In 1985, Steven was arrested for the sexual assault of a woman. Despite his insistence of his innocence, he was convicted, and sent to prison for 32 years.
In 2003, Steven was exonerated after 18 years. He was released from prison, thanks to help from the Innocence Project. Their tireless work was amazing to see.
Steven was arrested again, in 2005, and charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach. Teresa was a photographer for Auto Trader magazine, and was at the Avery’s salvage yard to take photos of a minivan that Steven wanted to sell. After that, Teresa disappeared.
The sheriff’s department and volunteers find Teresa’s Toyota RAV-4 on the Avery property. Blood is found in the vehicle. Areas of the property are excavated to discover burned bones, all fragments. The key to Teresa’s vehicle is found in Steven’s bedroom.
After Steven’s arrest, he claimed officials framed him, since he had filed a $36 million civil lawsuit against the county and several county officials after his exoneration. In 2005, it was still pending.
As the case heads toward trial, there are accusations of evidence tampering, and significant conflict of interest with the county investigating the case.
Simultaneously, Steven’s nephew, Brendan, was accused of being an accessory to Teresa’s alleged sexual assault and murder on the Avery property. He was sixteen at the time. He was known to have lower cognitive function, being enrolled in some special education classes in school and reading on a fourth-grade level.
Two investigators interview Brendan multiple times, even going to his high school to talk to him during school hours. Even though he was a minor at the time, his mother was never present for any of the interviews.
In the videotapes, it appears that Brendan is being coerced into eventually confessing to his involvement. The investigators appear to ask questions that force Brendan to admit his involvement in raping Teresa and witnessing his uncle Steven murdering her. On tape, he appears to admit that he helped stab her with a knife, and then the police indicate that Teresa was also shot.
However, Brendan later writes out a full timeline of the day in question. According to the written statement, Brendan came home from school, played video games, and ate dinner. In his own words, he states that he did not go over to his uncle Steve’s house, at all.
As the episodes flow, almost seamlessly, we see the roads up to their trials.
I won’t reveal the outcomes of their trials here, but I will say that the results were not what I expected.
It was fascinating to see both trials play out in a series of one-hour episodes. It was addicting. It was gut-wrenching. It was difficult to hear the account of what this man and this teenager allegedly did to this young woman, over and over.
Seeing the media coverage and their involvement made me realize how tough that work ethic is. The press conferences appeared to never end. The blending of the lawyers and attorneys for both sides was almost intoxicating.
Personally, I thought the filmmakers did an excellent job of showcasing both the prosecution and the defense. It was amazing to see all the work and research and presentations that were put into Steven’s and Brendan’s trials.
As a paralegal student, I was excited to see the potential work that I could be doing unfolding in front of my eyes. Besides excited, I felt a mix of emotions – Preparing for a trial, any trial, is complicated and stressful. The work that I will do one day can literally make or break a case for the client.
Overall, this series grabbed me by the collar and never let go. I wanted to marathon it all at once. Once the end credits started rolling, I wanted to click “Next” and not stop.
I feel terrible that the Averys were targeted by county officials for years. It appears that Steven always had a target on his back. He was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 long years. He, unfortunately, was not innocent until proven guilty.
However, with that said, the twists and turns of this series has left me unsettled.
Is there still justice in this world?
Is anyone still innocent until proven guilty?
Do we need to pay closer attention to law enforcement in terms of conflict of interest, bias, evidence tampering, and so on?
I feel it’s worth mentioning here that Steven and Brendan are, and Teresa was, white. Almost all of the main players / characters involved in this story are white. While watching, I wondered if it would have been a different story if a different race, or races, was involved in these cases. I say all of this carefully, considering the hotbed of emotions that has surrounded race relations and police involvement.
As stated in the series, we may never know what truly happened to Teresa Halbach.
However, the stories of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey continue.
In July, Netflix announced that a second season was being produced.
As recently as August 12, new developments in one of their cases have made national news.
It was another twist in a long, winding road that’s lasted over 10 years now.
I’m eagerly looking forward to what Netflix releases as the second season. I’m also watching the news more closely these days, interested in any shred of information on the case in question.
This series was a different, addicting spin on a true-crime story that spans multiple families, law enforcement agencies, and zeroes in on a small Wisconsin community. Like much of the nation, I’m on the edge of my seat now, where I can hardly wait to see what happens next.
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂