Since its release in December, Netflix’s true crime documentary Making a Murderer has become a full-on phenomenon. Dozens upon dozens of articles have been written about it. I have seen countless Facebook comments and tweets from friends who have otherwise shown no interest in criminal justice issues. The number of text messages and phone calls I have received from people asking my opinion number into the dozens. I suppose by virtue of what we do at Proclaim Justice, they wonder if I might have some insight into Steve Avery’s guilt or innocence, which I don’t. The short of it is I don’t know what happened in the case. What I do know, however, is wrongful convictions are not at all uncommon.
It could be that Avery is completely innocent. It could be that he is guilty. It is interesting to discuss among friends, but I learned a long time ago not to dig in too deeply or publicly without examining all the available transcripts, reports, exhibits, etc. That is as much to do with my position at Proclaim Justice as anything, so I am not criticizing those who freely weigh in without examining all of those things. No doubt there are some troubling circumstances depicted in the series that suggest Avery was framed by Manitowoc County police, working in concert with the prosecutors. However, since the release of the series, there have been several articles written about evidence left out of the series that possibly incriminates Avery. I will leave that to others to sort out.
Perhaps most troubling to me is the interrogation of Brendan Dassey. As a mentally challenged juvenile with no lawyer present, he was completely overmatched intellectually by the detectives questioning him. After that, he was betrayed by his own attorney and investigator. He’s truly a tragic figure in the whole case. However, I will be the first to admit that I have not watched the entirety of the interviews.It’s not that I’m uninterested in the plight of Dassey or Avery, but they now have a huge support base and are represented by outstanding attorneys. They are fortunate to have those people behind them, but there are thousands of innocents in prison who do not, so my casework time is spent on our own clients.
I am thrilled that Making a Murderer has brought the issue into further into the public consciousness. Wrongful convictions happen all over the country and for all kinds of reasons and each one is a tragedy. They often destroy the lives of not only the wrongly convicted, but their families and the loved ones of the victims. If you are troubled by what you saw in Making a Murderer and are outraged at the thought of an innocent person doing time for a crime s/he didn’t commit, my hope is that you will take that concern and turn it into action. There may not be much you can do for Steve Avery or Brendan Dassey (due to them being in capable hands), but there are things you can do for innocents in prison who the world has never heard of. You don’t have to be an investigator or attorney to advocate for victims of wrongful conviction. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join the fight
– John H.