Call Today or Enroll Online!

What "Making a Murderer" Means for Crime Scene Investigators

Posted By CSI Academy of Florida || 13-Jan-2016

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 Other Evidence?

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 a verdict.

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.

Categories: News, Forensic Science