Making a Murderer: Did Steven Avery Actually Do It?

“What do you think about Making a Murderer?”  By the end of December I had to answer that question several times a week.  The answer was, of course, “I don’t know.”  I hadn’t really planned to watch another criminal trial documentary.

I don’t own the remote, though. I bought the remote. Paid for it with my own money, even.  I don’t get to touch it in any substantive way other than passing it over to The Boss, though.

Now I’ve seen the whole series. People are still asking me what I think about it. I still don’t know if he is “really innocent” or guilty.  I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.

“But I know he’s guilty/innocent because…”

Would you be willing to bet your life on either his guilt or innocence?  Seriously. Are you that convinced of either one?  Based on the Making A Murderer series and the subsequent internet discussion, can you really know?

Sure, his DNA was in the car. Her DNA was on a bullet. Her bones were on his property.  That all screams guilt.  In a vacuum it’s enough to convict, for sure.

On the other hand the lab tech broke protocol to go out of her way and say it was Avery’s DNA.  She admit it was contaminated (with her own DNA).  The key, the blood, the bones… there were weird things about all of it.  How reliable is the evidence, really?  There are enough questions to find him not guilty.

Maybe he was framed. But, just because he was framed doesn’t mean he’s innocent, right?

If you are absolutely convinced of one verdict without any reservation you’re not taking an objective look at all of the evidence. Here’s the thing, though: that doesn’t even matter. That’s not the major takeaway from the movie.  It doesn’t matter if Steven Avery is actually guilty or not.

The system isn’t designed to figure that out. It doesn’t even try. Trials don’t revolve around “truth” or “actual innocence.” They revolve around things like “reasonable doubt” and “hearsay exceptions.”

This isn’t the system you want…

Shocking as the documentary may make it seem, there wasn’t a whole lot in there that was out of the ordinary. Witnesses taking the stand and saying things that weren’t in the police reports? Pretty standard.  Cops “missing” major evidence only to “discover” it later? Not unusual.  “Accomplice” of questionable intellectual capacity (or, just as often, a former cell mate) popping up late in the game to nail the coffin shut? Standard practice.

Did I ever tell you about the time an officer in one of my cases wrote a report two years after the offense (and one week before trial) to directly combat pre-trial motions I’d filed? Or the time an evidence tech claimed he couldn’t find one fingerprint of anybody anywhere on a 15 year old car, but could find DNA of my client? Or the time, years after the offense, the victim “remembered” things at trial that weren’t in any of her previous statements (including the recorded ones)? Or the time a video was inadmissible hearsay when we wanted it in but an “admission” when they wanted it in?

The Making a Murderer series is a window in to the skewed, ugly, tilted world of the criminal justice system. What you are seeing isn’t out of the ordinary. What you are seeing is the system working exactly as designed.

…It’s the system you deserve.

This is the system that condemned Rolondo Cruz  and Gary Gauger to death on our behalf.  It’s a system that looked like this decades ago (when there weren’t cameras everywhere) and will likely still work like this decades from now.  It’s the system the people want even if they won’t admit it.  If it wasn’t, it would have changed long ago.  There is nothing new here.

That’s why it doesn’t matter of Steven Avery is guilty. What matters is whether or not you’re willing to let Steven Avery off even if he is guilty. If you can’t stomach that- if you’re not willing to let somebody subject to this process free no matter their guilt- then you don’t really want another process.

If you’re not going to let Steven Avery go so that factually innocent people aren’t dealing with the same mess, then what you see in Making A Murderer is the process you endorse.  Can you live with that?

Generally speaking, I already know the answer.  We’ve seen the system under the microscope plenty of times in the past. We’ve been outraged by “confessions” from people with low IQ’s and upset with questionable police investigations.  By and large, nothing in the process has changed.

Are you willing to let Steven Avery walk even if he’s actually guilty, or are you content with the current state of the justice system?

It can’t be both.

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.

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