Warning: There are potential spoilers in this post.
By now, if you haven’t heard of Netflix’s documentary series, Making a Murderer, you’re either dead or in a cult. The story of the convictions of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey was trending for days after its release on Netflix. This fact alone makes this documentary groundbreaking… I’ve been studying wrongful convictions for over a decade and nothing has gotten the world to take notice more than this. Literally every person I’ve encountered in the last week or so has been talking about it. I truly hope, for the sake of the American people, that our focus on this case leads to real change.
My reaction was fury, as it usually is with every new possible wrongful conviction case I read about. I was chatting with @NancyDrewPI about the series who also experienced the anger but quickly reminded me that we are skeptics as well. She led me to this thread on Reddit, which definitely makes the case a little less cut and dry:
While it is important to keep a skeptical mind about what the documentary filmmakers chose to show us, it is most important to stay skeptical about the guilty claim, because if you’re wrong, the consequences are potentially dire.
In this thread, the majority of the information about Steven Avery that was left out of the film was character-based. This sort of information does wonders for turning juries against defendents but has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the defendant is guilty of that particular crime. As I said to Nancy, he could have tortured a herd of cats… that act still has no bearing on whether or not Avery killed Teresa Halbach. All it does is prove he’s a dick.
The one thing that must be kept in mind here, is not that we need to have someone to blame for Teresa’s murder… it’s that Teresa was killed by someone, and no amount of twisting the evidence is going to change who that person was. If you put the wrong person away for it, even if that person is a dick and probably should be behind bars anyway, the real perpetrator is likely free and could kill again. Convicting the wrong people could cause more innocent men and women to lose their lives to a killer.
What exists, in this case, is reasonable doubt. There is no doubt Avery has done some weird things in his lifetime. There is no doubt Avery is uneducated, simple and lives a very different life from you and I. But what there is doubt for, is whether or not he and his nephew, Brendan, killed Teresa Halbach.
By the letter of the law, the jury should have found both defendants not guilty because neither case was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The most unfortunate thing about this case though, is that so many people across the globe are infuriated by the appearance of misconduct in law enforcement in this case. Few people, however, seem to grasp how disturbingly often this happens.
At any given moment, the Innocence Project claims to be investigating upwards of 8,000 cases. Eight thousand. One study says that there are 10,000 innocent people convicted of crimes each year in the USA, while another study suggests 4% of death row inmates are on death row for a crime they did not commit. 1 out of every 4 people wrongfully convicted, falsely confessed or incriminated themselves, and of those people, the majority are either minors or had a below-normal IQ.
Brendan Dassey was both a minor and had a below-normal IQ when he confessed to the murder of Teresa Halbach and implicated his uncle, Steven Avery.
If you want to learn more about wrongful convictions and just how common they are, please read my series, Reasonable Doubt.
If you want to help free the wrongfully convicted, including Steven Avery who was just picked up by great new lawyers thanks to the Innocence Project, please consider donating to the Innocence Project by clicking here.
If there is one thing I could make atheists just as skeptical about as the god claim, it’s that law enforcement, DA offices and the courts in the United States of America are honest and only want to get real perpetrators off the street. I wish I could make people see just how political the process of convicting people has become, and how overpowering the pressure to lock people up is.
In every single case, not just the case of Steven Avery.
I have been saying this for over a decade, and I will say it again. Wrongful convictions are a very real epidemic in the United States, and they lead to more victims of crime, more murder, more rape and violence. If you truly, truly want to be tough on crime, you must be tough on wrongful convictions.
Watch this documentary, Making a Murderer, if you have not already. Then care about this issue.