They are absolutely correct when they call it “one-sided,” however it clearly was not made to be a perfectly balanced view of the events. The access to the Avery family and Steven Avery’s defence team is almost unprecedented, and there is no such access to the Halbach family or the law enforcement/prosecution team. Whether this was because said access was denied, or never requested, is not abundantly clear.
In any case, the documentary focuses on Steven Avery, a poor and slow-witted Wisconsin man imprisoned for 18 years on a rape and attempted murder that he did not commit. When DNA evidence proved his innocence beyond doubt, he commenced a civil suit against the county for pressing the case against him despite evidence that pointed to someone else.
The same month that his $36 million civil suit was deposing the officers in question, a young woman disappears after being on the Avery property. What happened that day is unclear, but in the events that followed, Steven Avery was arrested and charged with her murder. Her vehicle is found on his property with his blood in it. They car key shows up in his trailer. Her burned bones are found in a burn pit 50 feet from his garage. And worst of all, his borderline mentally retarded nephew confesses to helping him rape and murder the woman.
But all is not as it appears to be. The vehicle was found on his property, but the property was an auto salvage lot with a car-crusher…why would he not have used that to dispose of the vehicle? His blood was found in the vehicle, but where did the blood come from? One of the officers deposed in his civil suit had knowledge of a vial of his blood in the county clerk’s office and there was substantial evidence to show that vial was tampered with. The car key was found in his trailer with his DNA on it, but why was it found on the 7th search when it was supposedly in clear view? And why was it found only by two officers deposed in his civil suit a few weeks before? And why did it have none of Halbach’s DNA on it if it was a key she used regularly? Her burned bones were found outside his garage, but was that where the body was originally disposed? There were three locations on the property where her bones were found, and no one could say for sure which one was the burn site. Why was not one person who knew Teresa ever considered a suspect, and why was no one else on the Avery property that day looked at despite some suspicious behaviours?
And finally, his nephew, Brendan Dassey, at the time a 16-year old with no criminal record who by even the most generous descriptions was extremely slow, intellectually. His “confession,” elicited by professional investigators without an attorney present, revealed that he and Avery raped and murdered her in his trailer and garage, yet not a single piece of physical evidence confirmed her presence in either location. (Brendan is currently serving a life sentence as well for this crime). Was Steven Avery brilliant enough to clean these two locations of blood evidence to a professional standard and then not bothered to even give her car a cursory wipe-down?
At its heart, Making A Murderer is a cautionary tale. It is a warning that the American justice system is imperfect and frequently subject to the darker sides of human nature, despite the precautions in place to prevent that. Is the presumption of innocence possible in cases that are heavily publicised before they go to trial? Does law enforcement engage in duplicitous behaviour in the search for a suspect on occasion? Do they have a false sense of certainty when it comes to who they “like” for committing a crime? Does this occasionally lead to “tunnel vision,” or the failure to follow promising leads if they don’t point to a favoured suspect? And when and if law enforcers do stray into the illegal to secure a conviction of a desired suspect, is there anything resembling oversight in place to correct any wrongs done? And most importantly, does our jury system function the way it’s supposed to? Do jurors really convict only when they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or do they convict when they feel that it might be more likely than not that a person has committed the crime?
The Avery case is a perfect case to focus on to pose these questions to a broad audience. It seems clear that what took place on October 31, 2005 was not what the State attempted to (and did) prove. And so, guilty of the murder or not, Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey will likely sit in prison until they die despite all the unanswered questions.