I Think Steven Avery Probably Did It. Here’s Why That Does And Doesn’t Matter.
Regarding Making a Murderer, a fine feat of documentary and advocacy journalism combined: let’s give some attention to backstory for just a moment. And let’s be clear here that I speak as an avid watcher, an admirer of the defense attorneys, a fan of the filmmakers, and as someone with zero experience in law enforcement. I’m a comedian. Even clowns get to have opinions, and on occasion, we make a little bit of sense.
One of the first things we learn about Steven Avery in the documentary itself is that he doused a cat in oil and threw it into a bonfire. It’s pretty common knowledge that animal cruelty is a fairly classic indicator of later or coincident violent behavior. It indicates a lack of empathy and a certain delight/pleasure in causing pain. This isn’t my animal-loving side saying this; it’s saying it based not only on seeing this time and time again in crime reports and stats but also on anecdotes and stories I’ve heard over the course of many years from friends and family and strangers.
Now granted, torturing and burning a cat to death doesn’t automatically mean you’re guilty of a murder years later. That’s nuts and not what I’m saying. Nor does having committed one crime and admitted to it indicate one will ever commit any other crime in one’s lifetime. Nor does admitting to the crime even mean one actually committed said crime (as becomes all too clear when we watch the railroading of young Brendan Dassey.) But in light of that and based on what I’ve seen and read (and I’ve only seen and read what you’ve been able to see and read, as I’m an outsider and a watcher just like you), I think Steven Avery probably did it and the prosecution lied and planted evidence because they were so goddamn gleeful they were gonna get him this time after he embarrassed them the first time. This is just my opinion and it don’t amount to a hill of beans as far as whether or not it actually happened. Trust me, I know. But I get to have an opinion, and the glory of the Internet allows me to publish said opinion, which for some folks lends it legitimacy and for some folks damns it as ridiculous.
I’m fine with that. I just like to write what I think. You know, like you do.
What we didn’t hear in the documentary was pretty important, I think. Some pretty creepy behavior by Avery towards Halbach. Again, creepy doesn’t mean criminal. And I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of this. I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of it, and unless you’re Steven Avery or Brendan Dassey, neither can you.
As for Brendan Dassey, I think Avery probably abused him, coerced him, and forced him to do anything he did. I don’t think Brendan was necessarily capable of consent if he in fact did participate in any way — and I don’t know that he did. And the cops and the system fucked Brendan over even more, because not only was he poor white trash in their eyes, he was a kid, and not only was he a poor white trash kid, he was developmentally disabled and an easy mark for anybody. Folks with disabilities of any kind are more likely to be targets of abuse, and abuse isn’t just physical. Thanks to our collective prejudices and the failure of the system created by our citizens, poor people with disabilities are often, to put it in legal terms, royally fucked.
If we’re picking victims here, the victim is Teresa Halbach primarily (as well as her family and loved ones) and Brendan Dassey secondarily.
I do think Steve Avery’s defense lawyers are great and I do think they were correct in pointing out the amazing failures of the justice system. I do think they genuinely believed there was reasonable doubt and that this should, if not exonerate their client completely, call for greater investigation not just into Avery’s case but into the handling of said case.
And yes, Ken Kratz sucks. He sexually harassed a domestic violence survivor whose case he was prosecuting. But again, having committed and admitted to one crime doesn’t damn everything you’ve ever done. It certainly calls your character into question. But it doesn’t mean this guy, as sleazy as he may seem and as much as we don’t like him, was completely wrong about Avery. I’d like to throw tomatoes at him too, and I would kick him out of bed for eating crackers and/or simply for being anywhere near me, but the fact that Ken Kratz sucks doesn’t mean that Steve Avery is innocent.
I will say that I have no kind words at all for Len Kachinsky, Brendan Dassey’s one-time defense attorney. Because fuck that guy.
Also, the prosecution folks in the Avery and Dassey cases are now annoyed because they didn’t participate in the documentary being made by two young lesbian NYU grad students, which they probably assumed would go nowhere with these out-of-town big city weirdos, and then Netflix was invented and now here we are. So they fucked themselves by not participating in the doc, and that’s why it appears biased. You run with what you’re given whether you’re a reporter, a documentarian, whatever. And the filmmakers say in interviews today they don’t know if Avery did it or not. They also caution folks against going after any of the other “characters” in the show, because they’re not characters; they’re human beings. It’s fine and dandy to decide in your living room that Teresa’s ex-boyfriend has a weird haircut, but that doesn’t mean he committed a murder.
And again, the fact that Steve Avery tortured and burned a cat alive doesn’t mean he committed a murder. I’m just a viewer like you. I’m just here on the sidelines eating popcorn while very real humans (and other creatures) suffer and die, and I watch it on a reasonably-priced subscription service just like you do. And I access the impassioned articles online just like you do. And I form my own opinion, just like you do. It’s based not on a comprehensive understanding of the case but on the pieces I’ve seen here and there, all filtered through someone else’s lens (whether literal or metaphorical.) And then I put all those ideas in my own mind and let them rattle around with my own prejudices and background and I make a decision that isn’t really relevant at all, except that it feels real to me, just as your decision feels real to you.
The unfortunate fact is that even the most impartial judge or jury goes through some of the same process I describe. Yes, the case is presented to them in a different way than it’s been presented to us. It isn’t presented to them as entertainment. But in the end, their emotions motivate their choices, too. And those choices and decisions change lives.
It’s fine and fun for us to be horny for two crusading criminal defense attorneys, but the other stuff is troubling. Every thinking person knows that our justice system is fucked up. I would argue that the power of Making a Murderer is NOT that Steve Avery is a nice white man who is a sympathetic figure (I don’t think he’s particularly sympathetic or nice, though he’s certainly white as hell) but the work of these two documentarians in painstakingly going over a case and presenting the evidence in the most digestible possible format. It’s kinda like Serial in that sense. The day to day banalities of cruelty in the justice system are easy to ignore unless they affect you directly…and through the medium of television, one gets to participate in the illusion that a case DOES affect one directly. It’s in one’s home, on one’s laptop, etc.
When you make something entertaining, people give a shit about it. And that’s why people give a shit about this case and not the myriad other cases that haven’t been investigated and documented in an entertaining fashion.
In the end we’re still knitting and laughing and gossiping before the guillotine while heads roll. The executioners just aren’t masked now.