The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which was filmed over the course of ten years, follows Stephen Avery’s original prison sentence and exoneration in its first episode, and his second major arrest and trial in the remaining nine episodes.
The documentary is the story of a troubled man, convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985, before being exonerated in 2003 after DNA evidence (made available through developments in DNA testing) found him innocent. a story of a man who tried to rebuild his life after spending 18 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, but only two years later, being arrested for murder.
On Halloween of 2005, Teresa Halbach, a photographer for Auto Trader magazine was allegedly raped, stabbed and finally shot in the head, before the remains of her body were burnt down to the bone. The last place she was reported seen was on the Avery property, and an extensive amount of the evidence pointed toward Steven Avery being the culprit, including her car being found within the depths of his family’s salvage yard with traces of Stephen’s blood inside, and the key to the car being found on her bedroom floor.
However, a significant amount of evidence also suggested that he was not involved in the murder. For instance, the key that was found in Stephen’s bedroom was found in plain sight the 7th time investigators searched his room, so if it had been so visible, why had it taken so long to notice? The key also only had Stephen’s DNA on it but none of Teresa’s, which is confusing if she used the key day-to-day, which led Avery and his lawyers to believe that the police had planted it there.
At 18 years old Stephen was arrested for the burglary of a bar with his friends, stealing items including money, alcohol, and sandwiches for which he spent ten months in prison. When he was twenty, he and a friend were convicted of animal cruelty after covering a cat in gasoline and throwing it on a fire, for which he later disclosed his regret. Just before his mistaken arrest for sexual assault and attempted murder, Stephen was also convicted of running his cousin off the road, and pointing an (unloaded) gun at her.
While much of the public and the jury sympathised with Stephen for all the time he spent in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, it was hard to dismiss his former criminal activity which made his murder trial extremely subjective, especially due to his entire past being in the public eye. However, if you want to find out exactly what happened, I’d read up on it or watch Making a Murderer to find out how his trial played out, and well as the trial for his nephew, Brendan Dassey, concerning the same crime.
Personally, after binge-watching all ten hour-long episodes, I still haven’t been able to figure out whether Stephen Avery really did murder Teresa Halbach. But this poses another question: why am I so desperate to find out? Why, once I finished watching, could I not just close the tab and move on with my life? And why are thousands of internet users creating their own theories as to what actually happened?
This is down to the fact that Making a Murderer is considerably biased in favour of Stephen’s innocence making us sympathise with him and hope he was once again acquitted. While further reading into the case made me believe that perhaps he could be guilty, I still feel a need to know for sure.
Since the conviction was made and officially the case was closed, why do we still think there is more to know? Is there a reason that individuals become so invested in solving real-life crimes? Do we all have a complex within us that makes us want to be a hero and bring justice by finding the actual person(s) that murdered Teresa Halbach? Could it be a form of escapism and we consume ourselves in the lives of others to forget our own, even if just for a minute (or ten hours)?
While I don’t quite know how to answer any of these questions, I do know that Making a Murderer is definitely worth watching, as is reading further to not succumb to the bias of the documentary.