Justice, Shmustice

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Title: Making a Murderer

Rating: 5 Stars

Wow. I just spent the past couple of days powering through this. It’s a 10 part mini-series about what appears to be a tragic miscarriage of justice. Steve Avery just might be the hardest luck case of all time.

The Avery’s are clearly the white trash of the area. They’re not all that smart and certainly not educated.

Steve has some run-ins with the law and apparently pisses off people connected to the police force. A leading citizen of the town is sexually assaulted. It appears to be the case that one of the officers artificially created a police sketch based upon Steve’s profile and got the victim to agree to that description. They then ran the photo array with Steve’s mugshot, which naturally enough the victim picked out. They then put Steven in a police line-up, and again, naturally enough, the victim picked him out. That’s all she wrote. He’s convicted and off to jail

Ten years into the sentence, the real rapist is caught in another county. The arresting detective calls another officer in that county to let him know that they might have the wrong guy. Absolutely nothing happens. Several years after that, an innocence project gets involved and with improved DNA technology, they conduct a test that not only proves that Steven is not the rapist, but the man that the detective from a different county had called about actually was the rapist.

Amidst much hoopla, Steve is freed. After about two years of freedom, he files a civil suit against the county. His lawyers begin to depose the officers involved, and it does not look good for the county. Three weeks after that, a woman goes missing. Her car ends up in Steve’s junkyard.

A couple of months after that, there is a shocking press conference where the prosecutor announces that Steve’s nephew has confessed and has also implicated Steve. In the ensuing days, a key is found belonging to the victim’s car in Steve’s bedroom, her charred bones are found in a burn pit outside his house, the bullet with her DNA on it is found in his garage, and his blood is found in her car. That’s all she wrote.

But is it? Steve has no money, but he does have the large civil suit pending. The county agrees to a $400,000 settlement. He promptly hires the two best lawyers that he can.

And they discover:

  • Brendan’s confession is horribly coerced. He’s clearly eager to please and has limited intelligence. The big held back fact (that the victim was shot in the head) was fed to him by a detective. Brendan’s first lawyer is only interested in getting a confession so that he can work with the prosecutor to get Steve convicted. It’s shockingly obvious that the confession is stage managed.
  • The car key is found out the open in Steve’s bedroom after the room has been searched / videotaped seven or eight times. It’s found by one of the detectives that was depositioned in Steve’s lawsuit.
  • The bullet is found in the garage after the crime scene team has thoroughly gone over it. Again, the detective that was depositioned was in the garage at the time it was found.
  • From his earlier case, Steve’s blood samples were drawn. On video, that sample was retrieved. The evidence seal of the evidence container was broken. There appears to be an obvious hypodermic hole in the blood vial which clearly indicates that it was at least tampered with and strongly suggests that the blood was removed from it.

Obviously, being a compressed documentary of a situation that covers months and years, not everything is shown. There is an obvious slant. However, a very strong case of reasonable doubt is shown.

Shockingly enough, Steve is convicted. Although Brendan’s confession is knowingly wrong / obviously coerced, Brendan is convicted. As of this writing, both are still in jail. Steve will probably die in jail. Brendan will be in jail until his 50’s.

The larger point here isn’t so much the actual guilt of Steve or Brendan (although clearly it is to them). To me, the larger point is the absolutely asymmetric power relationship between the state and the defendant. If Steve did not have funds, he would have been convicted without a trace and we would have never known of it. How many poor people have been railroaded into a conviction? How many innocent people have knowingly plead guilty to crimes that they did not commit to get a lesser sentence just to avoid getting completely railroaded?

The fact that this happened in some small county in Wisconsin just makes it that much more obvious how stacked the judicial system is against those without means.

As one of the defense lawyers say, you can try never to commit a crime, but what can you do to prevent from being accused of a crime?

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