Given our recent obsession with true crime, it’s no surprise Netflix’s latest documentary Making a Murderer has been such a runaway success.
Podcast Serial led the way in 2013, before HBO mini-series The Jinx fascinated audiences last year with its take on the unstable New York heir and alleged serial killer Robert Durst.
Making a Murderer sets out to prove a gross miscarriage of justice has occurred.
In the case of Steven Avery, a modest (crueller viewers may say ‘hick’) scrapyard dealer from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, that does seem to be the case. And it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened to Avery.
In 2003, DNA evidence proved Avery was innocent of a rape he had spent 18 years in jail for, and he was set free.
Two years later, just as he was in the process of suing the local sheriff’s department for US$36 million, Avery suddenly found himself the main suspect in a grisly local murder – one he says he didn’t commit.
If we are to believe the show’s creators, who deftly weave 10 years of footage into 10 hours of compelling television, the Manitowoc County Police Department has it in for Avery – and is crazy enough to frame him for murder.
Regardless of whether you think the cops have done it, Making a Murderer is one of the more disturbing true crime stories we’ve seen in recent years.
Watching the show, it’s immediately obvious that the Avery family is not full of criminal masterminds, but simple, scrapyard operators who eschew city life and keep to themselves.
Steven Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey, who also becomes implicated in the murder, is a slow 16-year-old with a learning disability.
Although only a secondary character, Dassey’s story is the show’s most haunting.
Clearly incapable of understanding what’s going on, he is repeatedly interviewed without a lawyer present and possibly even tricked into confessing to participating in the murder.
In one scene, Dassey calls his mother from jail to discuss the possibility of prosecutors throwing out his statements because of “inconsistencies”.
“What does inconsistent mean?” he asks his mother.
“I don’t know exactly,” she replies.
Like many true crime shows, some of the more shocking information has emerged after it aired, such as one juror’s confession this week that she believed Avery had been framed, and that jury members were coerced into delivering a guilty verdict.
The show has won Avery a tide of sympathy from viewers, resulting in a petition to the White House with 120,000 signatures – enough to require an official White House response.
Celebrities such as Alex Baldwin and Mindy Kaling have further fuelled the obsession on Twitter, while Ricky Gervais decided the filmmakers deserved a Nobel Prize for their efforts.
The Internet has also gone mad for unlikely sex symbol Dean Strang – one half of the whiz-bang defence team Avery was able to afford by settling his suit for a measly $400K.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, co-creator Laura Ricciardi (who has a background in law) said the show portrayed a justice system “in peril”.
“The system had clearly failed Steven in 1985,” she said of Avery’s rape conviction.
“He had 16 or more alibi witnesses, not all family members.
“Why aren’t there more safeguards in our system to protect against someone who had been wrongly convicted?”
Making a Murderer can currently be viewed on Netflix.