A year ago, Netflix debuted its documentary series, Making a Murderer. The show very quickly became compelling viewing, the epitome of binge watching TV, and pretty much the sole topic of water cooler conversation until everyone had seen it. Making a Murderer had been ten years in the making, created by Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardo, and the ten-episode series brought the names Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey to global attention.
In 2005, Avery, from Wisconsin, was able to successfully sue Manitwoc County for wrongful imprisonment, after they falsely convicted him of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985. Avery served 18 years behind bars before advances in DNA research exonerated him of all charges, and he was released in 2003. After filing a $36 million lawsuit against the county, Avery was then arrested on suspicion of the murder of Teresa Halbach, a photographer who went missing after visiting Avery’s property to photograph a vehicle he wanted to sell. Shortly after, Avery’s then-16 year old nephew, Dassey, was also arrested. Despite Avery’s protestations of innocence, Dassey did confess to the crime, and, after evidence was discovered (namely Avery’s blood inside of Halbach’s car and her keys in his house), both men were charged and ultimately convicted of murder.
After serving a decade of his murder sentence, Making a Murderer looked into whether Avery really did commit the crime, or whether he was framed by the same Law Department that had wrongfully put him behind bars back in 1985. Since the documentary made its debut a year ago, a lot has changed.
Everybody Loves Dean and Jerry
Avery’s legal team, the aforementioned Buting and Strang, won the public’s favor for their earnest efforts in proving their client’s innocence. For both, their involvement with the case extended far beyond just showing up to work and getting paid. They had a heart and a real passion to fight for justice. Sadly, after Avery was sentenced, he could no longer afford to pay his own legal costs, and so Buting and Strang moved on... On tour, that is. In 2016, the pair toured the U.S. with “Conversation on Justice,” where they gave an insight into the legal system, how it is stacked against economic inequality, interrogation techniques used and whether those confessions should stand up as evidence in a court of law.
Public Scrutiny and Opinions
The whole point of Making a Murderer was to give the evidence from all sides, and leave it to the public to make up their own minds on whether Avery and Dassey were guilty, or framed. The public did just that and, while there are a variety of differing opinions out there, most would agree that not all the evidence adds up, and that there was definitely prejudice shown towards Avery from certain police persons working on the case.
Making a Murderer attracted far more viewers than anyone could have foreseen, and that in turn sparked a public outcry over Avery and Dassey’s convictions. Just 35 days after the show’s release, a petition on Change.org for the pair to be pardoned had reached the required 100,000 signatures to warrant a response from The White House. However, all those protesters were in for a disappointment - as the President can only pardon a federal crime, not one that has been tried by the state.
Avery Got Engaged From Behind Bars
During the ten years shown on screen in Making a Murderer season 1, Avery’s love life was not exactly smooth-sailing, but by the end of the show, we left Avery with a fiancée, Jodi Statchowski, who vowed to stand by her man. That wasn’t to be, though, and the engagement was broken off. Statchwoski’s five minutes of fame didn’t end there; in January 2016, she stated that she thought Avery was guilty of Halbach’s murder, and called him a monster.
During the course of this year, Avery ended his relationship with long-term girlfriend, Sandy Greenman (seen towards the end of Making a Murderer season 1 ), and instead became engaged to Lynn Hartmann. Avery claimed they had been dating for eight months, though they only met once. The engagement was announced in September, and called off by October.
Ken Kratz Remained Deeply Unpopular
Perhaps the biggest villain to emerge from Making a Murderer, was Ken Kratz. Okay, so his offenses were never brought against him as legal convictions, and neither were they near the same level as a brutal murder, but Kratz, who served as the District Attorney during the case of the Halbach murder, emerged as a deeply unlikable character and someone who was massively prejudiced against Avery. After the show aired, it emerged that Kratz had resigned from his position in 2010 when he was caught sending sexually explicit text messages to the victim of a domestic violence case. Two other women also came forward with similar accusations. After his initial accuser brought a federal case against him, Kratz settled out of court in 2013.
During 2016, shortly after Making a Murderer season 1 had debuted, Kratz announced he would be writing a tell-all book, which would be a tribute to Halbach. However, it also emerged that in 2015, Kratz had written to Avery behind bars, suggesting they write a book together.
Another unpopular personality to emerge from the show was Manitowoc County Sheriff Department officer Andrew Colborn. Many thought that he was the primary person responsible for framing Avery with murder. In January 2016, Colborn wrote a letter to USA today, continuing to argue that Avery was guilty. "A word of caution,” he writes. “Be careful what you wish for. If Steven Avery is ever freed, he may just become your neighbor, and he may want to bring his nephew with him."
Avery Gained a New Lawyer
By the end of Making a Murderer, Avery had used up his last right to appeal and had run out of money for legal costs. However, with the documentary attracting global attention, an offer of help was almost inevitable. That came in the form of Chicago defense lawyer Kathleen Zellner, who has, to date, exonerated 18 wrongfully convicted clients. In partnership with the Midwestern Innocence Project, Zellner has taken on Avery’s case, and is aiming for a full exoneration rather than just a retrial. On social media, Zellner has outright accused Manitwoc County of framing her client, and is hoping to use advances in scientific testing to prove this.
Zellner has also, it is rumored, been keeping a close eye on social media discussion, particularly on Reddit, where users have been compiling incredibly detailed defense cases which profess to prove Avery’s innocence. Indeed, Zellner sounds like quite the character, and it might not be all that long until we see her on screen.
Making a Murderer Season 2
Given that the show pulled enormous viewing figures from around the world, and sparked an interest in a true crime documentary, the like of which we have never seen before, Netflix unsurprisingly asked Demos and Ricciardo to make a second season of Making a Murderer. In May, the pair confirmed they were in talks with Zellner, and by July they had the Avery and Dassey families on board for a second season. This time, the show will document the post-conviction lives of Avery and Dassey - and while it might not contain ten years' worth of footage, it will still be packed full of happenings, mainly because of what has since taken place in the case of Brendan Dassey.
Dassey Set To Be Released… Or Is He?
The biggest news surrounding Making a Murderer undoubtedly came when it was announced that Brendan Dassey was set to be released. In August, Dassey’s defense team won a sudden victory to have his conviction for murder and sexual assault overturned. Part of the reason was that there was no physical evidence linking Dassey to the crime, but the main reason was that his confession - later retracted - was deemed to be unreliable. Viewers will recall how Dassey’s confession seemed to be coerced out of him by a police officer and an investigator supposedly working for Dassey’s defense. This coertion, coupled with Dassey’s age at the time and his limited intellectual capacity, meant that a judge decided Dassey’s confession was rendered involuntary under the fourth and fifth amendment.
Dassey’s release looked almost imminent, until prosecutors for the State of Wisconsin appealed, and said his confession should be deemed legal. Right now, Dassey is still being held while the outcome of the appeal is decided.
No doubt this coming year will also hold more revelations in the Halbach case. At the end of November, a judge granted Zellner permission to have new scientific testing methods used on the physical evidence in the case (notably the blood specs found). Zellner claims this will prove that Avery was framed by Manitwoc County Police. For Dassey, his appeal remains ongoing.
At the outside, we could see both men released, but it is more likely that their legal battles will rumble on. Maybe, by the time Making a Murderer season 2 comes to air, we will finally know, once and for all, who killed Teresa Halbach.