Making a Murderer
|Making a Murderer|
|Theme music composer||Gustavo Santaolalla|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||10|
Adam Del Deo
|Location(s)||Manitowoc County, Wisconsin|
|Running time||47–66 minutes|
|Picture format||Digital (HDTV)|
|Original release||December 18, 2015 – present|
Making a Murderer is an American documentary television series that premiered on Netflix on December 18, 2015. The ten-episode first season, written and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, explores the story of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who served 18 years in prison for the wrongful conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen, before being fully exonerated in 2003 by DNA evidence. He filed a suit against the county on this case. In 2005, Avery was arrested on charges of murdering Teresa Halbach, a local photographer, and convicted in 2007. The series also covers the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was also charged in the murder, largely based on his confession under interrogation.
The series was filmed over the course of ten years, with the filmmakers moving back and forth from New York City to Wisconsin during filming. To promote the series, Netflix released the first episode concurrently on YouTube and on Netflix, which it had not done for any other original programming. In July 2016, Netflix announced that it was filming a second season, to explore the aftermath of Dassey's conviction and the numerous appeals that have taken place.
As a production, the series was favorably compared to the HBO series The Jinx and the podcast Serial. Making a Murderer was widely viewed and it has generated considerable controversy, both in Manitowoc County, the setting of events, and nationwide. A petition to the White House to pardon Avery garnered more than 500,000 signatures. President Barack Obama noted that he had no authority to act in a state case.
On August 12, 2016, Avery's nephew Brendan Dassey, who was also found guilty, had his conviction overturned by a federal judge on the grounds that he was unconstitutionally coerced by the police into confessing to the murder, and this was the only substantial evidence in his case. On November 14, 2016, Federal Judge William Duffin ordered Dassey's release from prison within 90 days, if Wisconsin prosecutors do not move forward with a retrial. On November 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit blocked Dassey's release while the appeal is being heard.
Making a Murderer details the life of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man whose family owned an auto salvage yard in Manitowoc County. In 1985, Avery was arrested and convicted of the sexual assault of Penny Beerntsen, despite having an alibi. After serving 18 years in prison, Avery was exonerated with the aid of the Innocence Project, when the DNA in the case was matched to another man. After Avery was released from prison in 2003, he filed a $36 million civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County and several county officials associated with his arrest and conviction.
Two years later, Avery was re-arrested and charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach, a photographer who disappeared after she was known to have photographed a vehicle at Avery's salvage yard. The handling of the Halbach murder case was highly controversial. Steven Avery and his lawyers argued that he had once again been “set up” by his judicial adversaries. Bloodstains recovered from the interior of Halbach's car matched Avery's DNA. Avery maintained that the murder charge was a frameup, promulgated to discredit his pending civil case. His attorneys accused Manitowoc officials of evidence tampering after a vial of Avery's blood, stored in an evidence locker since the 1985 trial, was found with broken container seals and a puncture hole in the stopper, suggesting that blood from the vial could have been used to plant incriminating evidence in the victim's vehicle. The Avery tube contained ethylenediamine-tetraacetic acid (EDTA), which prevents blood coagulation and degradation. EDTA is not naturally present in human blood, and the defense argued that if EDTA was found in the crime scene blood, it would prove the blood was planted. While the tampering charge was never substantiated, accusations of prosecutorial misconduct have persisted.
Making a Murderer explores issues and procedures in the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department that led to Avery's original conviction, and suggests that the department had a conflict of interest in investigating Halbach's murder. Brendan Dassey, Avery's nephew, was also accused and convicted as an accessory in the murder. The series depicts his trial as well, along with subsequent accusations of coercion and attorney ineptitude.
In other media
The story of the initial crime for which Avery was charged and imprisoned was featured in the Radiolab episode, "Are You Sure?" (airdate March 26, 2013), in the segment "Reasonable Doubt". The show featured an interview with Penny Beerntsen, the subject of the attack for which Avery was wrongfully convicted.
- Steven Avery – Defendant, convicted of Halbach's killing. Wrongfully convicted of a sexual assault, for which he served an 18-year sentence
- Allan Avery – Steven Avery's father
- Dolores Avery – Steven Avery's mother
- Chuck Avery – Steven Avery's brother
- Brendan Dassey – Defendant, Avery's nephew, convicted of assisting Avery in Halbach's murder
- Bobby Dassey – Brendan Dassey's brother
- Barb Dassey – Steven Avery's sister, mother of Brendan and Bobby Dassey
- Scott Tadych – married Barb Dassey (before the trials), stepfather of her children
- Kayla Avery – Brendan's cousin
- Kim Ducat – Steven's cousin
- Carla Chase - Steven's niece, Brendan's cousin
- Penny Beerntsen – Victim of a sexual assault in and attempted murder in 1985 for which Steven Avery was wrongfully convicted
- Teresa Halbach – Murder victim in 2005
- Dean Strang – for Steven Avery
- Jerome Buting – for Steven Avery
- Robert Henak – post-conviction attorney for Steven Avery
- Stephen Glynn – Civil rights lawyer for Steven Avery
- Len Kachinsky – Brendan Dassey's first appointed lawyer
- Mark Fremgen – for Brendan Dassey, appointed lawyer (second lawyer)
- Ray Edelstein – for Brendan Dassey, appointed lawyer (second lawyer)
- Steven Drizin – post-conviction attorney for Brendan Dassey
- Robert Dvorak – post-conviction attorney for Brendan Dassey
- Laura Nirider – post-conviction attorney for Brendan Dassey
Prosecution and judges
- Denis Vogel – Manitowoc County District Attorney, prosecuted Avery's 1985 sexual assault case
- Ken Kratz – Special prosecutor, district attorney of Calumet County, Wisconsin, prosecuted Halbach murder case
- Patrick Willis – Manitowoc County Circuit Court Judge, presided over Steven Avery's trial
- Norm Gahn – Special prosecutor, assistant district attorney of Milwaukee County
- Jerome Fox – Manitowoc County Circuit Court Judge, presided over Brendan Dassey's trial
- Tom Kocourek – Manitowoc County Sheriff (1979–2001)
- Kenneth Petersen – Manitowoc County Sheriff (2001–07)
- Gene Kusche – Manitowoc County Chief Deputy Sheriff at time of Avery's 1985 trial
- James Lenk – Lieutenant, Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department
- Andrew Colborn – Sergeant, Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department
- Judy Dvorak – Deputy, Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department
- Tom Fassbender – Investigator, Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation, lead investigator in Halbach murder trial
- Mark Wiegert – Sergeant, Calumet County Sheriff's Department
The series was written and directed by filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. They met as graduate students in Columbia University's film program. The two learned about Avery after reading a 2005 article in The New York Times about his 2003 exoneration and 2005 arrest for murder. Both thought that his case could be an interesting subject for a documentary.
Before meeting with Netflix, Demos and Ricciardi met with executives at PBS and HBO, but neither network was interested in the project. Netflix originally planned an eight-episode first season, but later expanded its order to ten.
The series alternately received praise and criticism from critics. Some praised its comprehensive nature, and the series has an approval rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 35 reviews, with an average rating of 8.6/10. The site's critical consensus describes Making a Murderer as "a spellbinding slow burn that effectively utilizes the documentary format to tell a twisty mystery." On Metacritic, the series has a weighted average score of 84 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Lenika Cruz, writing for The Atlantic, commended the series for its "sense of total immersion". Mike Hale, for The New York Times, described it as giving an:
almost Dickensian account of the tragedy of the Averys. The uniformly stoic family members shift allegiances over the years, while Mr. Avery's parents, as movingly bewildered and terrified as any fictional creations, steadfastly believe in their son's innocence, even as their long battle takes down their business and any sense they may have had of belonging to a community.
Making a Murderer has been compared to The Jinx, a miniseries on HBO, and Serial, a podcast. All three series investigate criminal cases: The Jinx detailed murders allegedly committed by Robert Durst. The first season of Serial dealt with the murder of Hae Min Lee.
For the 32nd TCA Awards, Making a Murderer won Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming and was nominated for Program of the Year. For the 68th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, Making a Murderer received six nominations with four wins. It won Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series, Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming, Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming and Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. It received nominations for Outstanding Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-Camera) and Outstanding Sound Mixing for Nonfiction Programming.
A petition to the White House that requested pardons for Avery and Dassey garnered more than 128,000 signatures. The White House responded that, as the convictions were made in state court, the President had no authority to pardon either defendant. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he would not consider a pardon.
Dassey is being represented by the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University. Appeals within the state courts failed, but his conviction was overturned in federal district court on August 12, 2016, by a Magistrate Judge, based on the unconstitutional coercion of his confession. His defense team had petitioned the court to hear his case on habeas corpus grounds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit granted a stay of the release on November 17, 2016, pending resolution of the appeal.
As of January 9, 2016, Avery is being represented by Kathleen Zellner, a noted Chicago-area attorney, and Tricia Bushnell, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project.
Local reporters' comments
Local reporter Angenette Levy was interviewed after the series and said: "I did notice there were some parts of the state's theory, and some other things that weren't discussed in the documentary," but she also noted that it was six-week trial with much evidence reviewed in court. She said she was surprised that the trial, which she found compelling on many levels, had not received more national attention when it was being conducted. She found Dassey's conviction "tragic," as was Avery's wrongful conviction in 1985 but did not comment on the conviction in the Halbach case. TV reporter Diana Alvear wrote on her blog that she believed Halbach's life and character deserved more coverage in the series. Other local reporters said that the case still weighed on them nearly a decade after the trial.
Law enforcement comments
In an interview with the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, Sheriff Robert Hermann criticized the series, calling it "skewed" and not objective, but he admitted that he had not watched it.
According to FOX local news, Ken Kratz, the former Calumet County district attorney who prosecuted Avery, said that he had not been able to give his side of the story. In another interview, he said that in 2013 Demos and Ricciardi denied him an opportunity for an interview. The documentary makers said this statement was false, as it was Kratz who refused an interview.
In an interview with People magazine, Kratz has said that the Netflix documentary left out key pieces of evidence against Steven Avery. He said that Avery used a fake name when requesting Halbach as a photographer, and that he had placed three calls to her cell phone on October 31. Kratz said Halbach's cellphone, camera and PDA were found near Avery's trailer. He noted other physical evidence that was found in the firepit on Avery’s property, and that Avery’s DNA was found on the hood latch of the victim’s car. A ballistics report indicated that the bullet found in the garage was fired by Avery’s rifle. In email sent to The Wrap, Kratz alleged that, while in prison for the rape conviction, Avery told another inmate of his intent to build a "torture chamber" to use for young women when he was released.
The filmmakers have said that they gave prosecutors an opportunity to answer questions, but that Kratz refused invitations to be interviewed for the series. Demos and Ricciardi said they believed the documentary was fair and included the most significant evidence of the six-week trial, including much of the state's key evidence. Demos said that Kratz "is going on television and lodging accusations against us. Much of what he says, simply his facts are not true. It's not about 'do we include it, do we not include it', they simply are not facts." The filmmakers maintain that their documentary was thorough, accurate, and fair.
Dean Strang, one of Avery's attorneys for the Halbach trial, stated the filmmakers did "a good editorial job" with the documentary. Strang noted that the trial lasted for six weeks and featured approximately 200 to 240 hours of evidence. Strang believes that showing the full trial would have been too long for audiences and that only the most significant points on both sides could be shown. He disagreed that significant evidence was left out.
Comments by other involved parties
Jodi Stachowski, a former fiancée of Avery's, defended him in the documentary. But, during an interview on HLN's Nancy Grace in January 2016, she was asked whether she believes Avery killed Halbach. She said, "Yes, I do, because he threatened to kill me and my family and a friend of mine." Stachowski also said that Avery forced her to lie to Netflix producers, threatening that otherwise she would "pay for it." She quoted other alleged hearsay comments by him.
The Halbach family stated they were "saddened to learn that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and to seek profit from their loss." In a People article, Kay Giordana, Halbach's aunt, was quoted as saying that the documentary was "terrible" and "unfortunate," and
"not even close to what really happened. Everybody has their own side of a story. That is the Avery family's side of the story. I wouldn't expect it to be different. They think he is innocent. I am not surprised. I am surprised that someone would put that together in that way and have it [be] one-sided." She added that Avery is "100 percent guilty. No doubt about it."
Beerntsen, whose testimony contributed to the wrongful conviction of Avery for rape, declined to be interviewed for Making a Murderer. After the series was released, she said that she believed that the filmmakers had decided that Avery was innocent of the murder charge and were not amenable to evidence presented in court. Though deeply remorseful for mistakenly identifying Avery as her rapist, she is not convinced that he is innocent of the murder of Halbach.
|No.||Title||Length (minutes)||Original release date|
|1||"Eighteen Years Lost"||64:00||December 18, 2015|
|2||"Turning the Tables"||57:00||December 18, 2015|
|3||"Plight of the Accused"||63:00||December 18, 2015|
|4||"Indefensible"||66:00||December 18, 2015|
|5||"The Last Person to See Teresa Alive"||59:00||December 18, 2015|
|6||"Testing the Evidence"||59:00||December 18, 2015|
|7||"Framing Defense"||63:00||December 18, 2015|
|8||"The Great Burden"||47:00||December 18, 2015|
|9||"Lack of Humility"||66:00||December 18, 2015|
|10||"Fighting for Their Lives"||63:00||December 18, 2015|
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- Making a Murderer on Netflix
- Making a Murderer at the Internet Movie Database
- Making a Murderer – Episode 1 on YouTube
- Avery juror volunteered for Manitowoc Sheriff's Dept. during trial
- A detailed timeline of events as presented in the Netflix series