A recent 10-part true crime docudrama entitled “Making a Murderer”
is sparking conversations about the state of our nation’s criminal
justice system in kitchens, offices, and coffee shops across the United
States. Produced by Netflix, the film series—which premiered December
18, 2015—raises grave questions about issues such as tampered crime
scene evidence and DNA evidence, as it examines a series of events that
occurred in Wisconsin.
If you haven’t watched the hit series, here is as quick breakdown:
In 2003, efforts by the Wisconsin Innocence Project resulted in the exoneration
and release from prison of a man named Steven Avery, who had served 18
years for sexual assault until DNA evidence proved he did not commit the
crime. Backed by a skilled legal team, Mr. Avery went on to pursue $36
million in damages against Manitowoc County after his release. The state’s
governor even prepared to sign a justice reform bill named for him.
But then Mr. Avery was arrested again, less than two years after his release.
This time, he faced charges for the murder of Teresa Halbach, a photographer
who went missing on October 31, 2005.
The bizarre and troubling case caught the attention of filmmakers Laura
Ricciardi and Moira Demos, who recognized that the case and its many implications
could have a lot to say about how criminal cases are handled in the United
States, as well as the positions faced by underprivileged members of our society.
Should Steven Avery Be in Prison?
For some, Mr. Avery’s second arrest proved that the justice system
had been right all along. His second arrest and conviction proved that
Mr. Avery was not innocent. The justice system was not broken and it had
not failed society. His murder conviction proved that Mr. Avery was always
a dangerous person, a menace.
But for “Making a Murderer” filmmakers and many viewers of
the series, a different possibility presented itself. What if local law
enforcement members in Manitowoc County framed Mr. Avery for the murder
of Teresa Halbach, both to cover up their embarrassment for the previous
miscarriage of justice in the public eye and out of a reluctance to pay
the enormously high damages demanded in Mr. Avery’s civil suit—damages
that would have nearly bankrupted the department?
What Does the Evidence Tell Us?
The documentary demonstrates this alarming possibility, showing how evidence
in the case could have been planted or tampered with by investigators.
For example, one of the damning pieces of evidence against Mr. Avery in
the murder case was a small amount of his blood found in Ms. Halbach’s
vehicle. Steven Avery’s defense lawyer believes that the blood was
taken from the defendant’s file and planted on the scene. Closer
examination by the filmmakers revealed that Mr. Avery’s blood sample,
which had been on file with the county, has been unsealed, and there is
evidence that it has been drawn using a syringe.
Even more troubling is the quickly recanted confession of Brendan Dassey,
a teenager with learning disabilities and Mr. Avery’s nephew. This
confession resulted in Mr. Avery’s arrest, however, the lengthy
questioning that led to this statement was conducted without Mr. Dassey’s
assigned attorney present. There is also very little evidence to correlate
the story Brendan told to investigators (which repeatedly changed). He
also later claimed that officers “got in [his] head.”
Petition Organized for Avery & Dassey
After watching the documentary series, many Americans were moved to take
action. Steven Avery, who was sentenced to life in prison, is currently
working on an appeal. Now, a petition on Change.Org for his release has
been signed more than 300,000 times, while 100,000 people signed a petition
requesting President Obama (which was recently denied by the President)
to pardon Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who is also serving
life in prison for his alleged role in Ms. Halbach’s murder.
What About the
Most people who watch the series feel compassion for Mr. Avery and a desire
to help. However, the story may not be quite as simple as it seems. Many
people believe the filmmakers were one-sided and bias-driven in developing
the series, and point to damning evidence against Mr. Avery that was not
cited in the docudrama.
For example, the filmmakers did not discuss the sweat allegedly found by
investigators that came from under the hood of the Toyota Rav4 owned by
Ms. Halbach—sweat that could be traced to Steven Avery. Other evidence
includes Mr. Avery’s alleged expression of intent to kill young
women when he was released from prison, as well as transcripts of phone
conversations between Brendan Dassey and his mother, add to the body of
evidence that collectively casts doubt on Mr. Avery’s innocence.
Mr. Avery’s behavior toward Ms. Halbach was also troubling. Over
the months prior to her death, Steven Avery allegedly called Auto Trader
magazine, where Ms. Halbach worked, multiple times and specifically requested
to speak with Ms. Halbach or that she be sent to his auto yard to take
photos. Phone records indicate that he called Ms. Halbach’s personal
cell phones three times that day, using *67 to block his number on her
caller ID for two of those calls.
Why the Role of Forensic Scientists Is So Important
For forensic scientists and crime scene investigators—including our
team here at the CSI Academy of Florida—this case serves as a reminder
of the importance of the work we do. We’re reminded of how vital
the ideals of integrity and objectivity are to this profession.
It is also increasingly important that forensic scientists and crime scene
investigators maintain up-to-date practices and implement advanced technology
and procedures when possible to produce the most accurate results. Straying
from procedure, failing to follow regulations, or even a lack of recent
training can all lead to seemingly minor mistakes or concerns over accuracy—concerns
that in the Avery / Dassey cases are clearly life-changing.
Regardless of whether the verdicts (guilty) in the Avery and Dassey cases
were correct or not, the collection and testing of evidence has come under
serious fire. As crime scene investigators and forensic scientists, this
can serve as a great reminder of how important excellence is in our field.
When performing an investigation, there must be little to no room for
error. Evidence should be safeguarded and treated with extreme care—not
just to avoid public and media scrutiny, but to protect the validity of
CSI Academy of Florida is proud to hold crime scene investigators to highest
standards in handling investigations. Our cutting-edge courses are designed
to prepare you to find answers and hard evidence.
Interested in learning more?
Check out our courses or call (888) 518-2832.