Since the December release of Making a Murderer, there’s been a growing popularity surrounding the Steven Avery murder trial.
The 10 episode documentary outlines Avery’s complicated and lengthy legal battles.
In 1985, Avery was falsely convicted of sexual assault, for which he served 18 years. He was exonerated and released from prison in 2003, just to be charged, convicted and sentenced to life in prison, for the 2005 death of Theresa Halbach.
The focus of the documentary is the doubt surrounding Avery’s involvement in Halbach’s death. The possibility of evidence being tampered with and what some call questionable actions by Wisconsin law enforcement, are some of the main topics of focus.
Was Making a Murderer Bias?
After the documentary was released, the crown tried to claim that key pieces of evidence were left out, and many stated that the Netflix show was biased and one sided. However, one of Avery’s defense lawyers at the time, Jerry Buting says this isn’t the case.
“Yes, it shows the behind the scenes brainstorming from the defense, in that sense it’s probably more one sided for the defense. But on the other hand, the prosecution had that same opportunity, and chose not to [tell their side.]” says Buting.
Though the prosecution did choose not to give an in depth look into their side, Buting points out the sort of indirect “interviews” the filmmakers included in the show: “they included a lot of the questions from the reporters to the prosecution.”
He adds that the complaints about importance evidence being left out, are also untrue, “the things that they left out in the prosecutions case, they also left out the defense’s response to those.”
One piece of evidence the prosecution claims was left out, was the “sweat DNA” found on the hood of the car. District Attorney at the time, Ken Kratz claimed this to be a “very important piece of evidence,” but Buting points out that Kratz actually spent very little time talking about this DNA in his closing argument, “it was maybe half a page, out of hundreds. So that’s an indication that it really wasn’t that important.”
He adds that the documentary really focused on the major issues of facts and evidence that both sides were fighting about, including the bones, the blood in the car, and Theresa Halbach’s car key, which was found in Avery’s trailer.
Buting says it’s unfortunate that the crown chose not to share their side, as he feels it would have been very educational for viewers to see.
As for the documentary itself, it’s success reached heights both Buting and others involved never thought it would, “I think people were just really struck with the kind of things that they saw that were going on he court room and in the investigation and the prosecution. It’s very eyeopening. Those witnesses said what they said, you heard it come right out of their mouth. And the things done and the thing not done during the investigation are really very shocking.”
After being apart of such a high profile case, Buting says him and Dean Strang (Avery’s other prior defense lawyer), are hoping to carry on the conversation about justice, and hoping that people take on a bit more ownership in their local courthouses.
He adds that the use of video cameras inside courtrooms can really allow the public to see a lot of what was seen in this documentary, which he says is really not unique to this particular case, “we’ve been seeing it for years, and now people can too. Hopefully that’s gunna provoke some change.”
In regards to this particular case, accusations have been constant, that Manitowoc County law enforcement had it out for Steven Avery. While Buting didn’t say it in so many words, he did address a number of circumstances, which Manitowoc police officers, inserted themselves into the situation where it wasn’t necessary.
He says, “the public is told that Manitowoc has gotten off the case because of a possible conflict of interest, which really anyone would notice… but instead, those two officers volunteer, not to just go search some out building or some other vehicles on the auto salvage, but they raise their hand say we’ll go search Avery’s trailer, his residence, and his garage. You just have to wonder about that, and why they, of all people, volunteered to do that.”
Another difficulty comes with he Manitowoc’s police lack of care in certain areas, “the bones that were found in the burn pit… nobody took any pictures, nobody laid out a grid to show how they were distributed before they started digging them up and sifting through them.
Though the trial didn’t allow for any other suspects to be presented, Buting admits he does have theories of who was actually behind Theresa Halbach’s death. He says presenting that possibility is up to Avery’s new attorney, Kathleen Zellner.
Buting says the documentary has given Strang and him an opportunity, “we have been talking about a lot of the same problems that you see in this documentary, for years. Nobody has really listened. But for the first time in a long time, we’re hearing the words “criminal justice reform” uttered as part of the presidential debate.”
He adds that there’s been talk about mass incarceration, which he describes as “unfair” – as well as talk about cell phone videos, that record police-citizen encounters, that prove to be much more shocking and disappointing in some instances than others.
He says “people are really waking up to what’s going on in criminal justice in their communities,” and that Strang and him need to use this opportunity while people are listening, to talk to them more in depth.
Buting and Strang are currently touring across the United States and Canada talking to people about “what’s wrong with the system” and what we as citizens can do to correct it, and prevent it from happening in the future.
This is also the premise of Buting’s book. He says it’s due out next year and will discuss the Avery case, and other cases that share similarities.