Seldom does a piece of cinema, or in this case Netflix, provoke such a profound reaction upon its viewers. Making a Murderer has managed to do that. The ten episode series encapsulates an entrancing murder mystery in small town America. This true documentary takes place in Manitiwoc County in Wisconsin and focuses the blue collar Avery family who owns a sprawling automobile salvage yard in the town. Allegedly the Avery family had always been trouble-makers in the area, and a young Steve Avery was no exception.
Steven Avery was no angel. He had several convictions and jail time belt for burglary and animal cruelty. He also wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he functioned at a below average level in school with a subpar IQ of around 70. It seemed somewhat normal in his criminal progression that he would continue down his self-destructive path. There was no surprise in the community when they learned that Avery had been arrested again. It was a surprise when they learned that he had alleged brutally kidnapped and raped the wife of a standout business man in the community.
He was charged and convicted of attempted first-degree sexual assault, attempted first-degree murder, and false imprisonment and served 18 years until advanced forensics proved his innocence, which he maintained throughout his trial and sentence. He then proceeded to accuse the police officers of bias and misconduct throughout the trial and sentencing and sought a $36 million lawsuit. As a result of his story Wisconsin state legislature passed sweeping criminal justice reform bills. Avery truly believed that the county tried to lock him up for life while they knew he was innocent.
Just when one would think that his run-ins with Manitowoc County were over, in 2005 a woman was last seen alive on the Avery property. He was immediately the prime, and only, suspect in the investigation and he steadfastly maintained his innocence. After very questionable and suspicious methods were used by the same department that initially wrongly convicted him to gather evidence he was convicted and given a life sentence. The film series mainly takes the viewpoint of his defense that ultimately leads the viewer to strongly reconsider the practices of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Making a Murderer calls all to remove bias in order to make a just decision. It calls us to reconsider what we consider to be the fairest prosecution process in history, the trial by jury. And finally it calls us to look deep ourselves to ask ourselves to what extent can we put our faith in our public servants and to summon feelings of empathy and respect.