Making a Murderer: Who are the real criminals?

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Making a Murderer: Who are the real criminals?

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Unless you have been detoxing from your social media platforms, have thrown out all of your Internet-accessible devices or have refrained from talking to anyone with a Netflix account, it is nearly impossible to escape the buzz surrounding the new series “Making a Murderer.”  On Dec. 18, Netflix began streaming the new documentary crime show, and people have been hooked ever since.

The show follows Steven Avery, a simple man from a poor family in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Avery first spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Thanks to DNA testing, Avery was exonerated in 2003 and was able to return to his normal life. Happily ever after, right? However, in 2007, Avery was convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach and sentenced to life in prison without parole, sending him right back into the nightmare he thought he escaped just a few years earlier.

“Making a Murderer” suggests that, like Avery’s 1985 wrongful conviction, he is also innocent of the murder of Halbach. Avery’s potential innocence has sparked national attention. Two online petitions are calling for the President to pardon Avery.

As people supporting Avery are making their voice heard, so are those who believe Avery is indeed guilty, and “Making a Murderer” leaves out many important facts that led the jury to convict him.

Regardless of what side you support, there is one key takeaway from the series: The mistakes that law enforcement made regarding both of Avery’s notable cases are to blame for many of the problems addressed in the show. The unethical actions that Manitowoc County Police Department took in Avery’s 1985 case led to the complicated mess that unraveled when Avery was charged for murder in 2005.

Avery was held in jail for 18 years for the rape of Penny Beerntsen. “Making a Murderer” highlights several instances that suggest that the Manitowoc County Police Department manipulated Beerntsen into identifying Avery as the rapist and that they neglected information that could have potentially released Avery more than a decade earlier. When Chief Deputy Eugene Kusche drew a sketch of Beerntsen’s attacker, the man in the picture looked identical to a mug shot of Avery that the department had on file. So, when Beerntsen was asked to pick out her attacker in a photo lineup, she picked Avery. It is hard to ignore that a strong reason for this could be the police had already planted his image into her head with the sketch drawing.

To make matters worse, in 1995, Sergeant Andrew Colborn received a call from a detective from the neighboring Brown County saying that they had someone in custody who said he had committed an assault in Manitowoc, an assault in which somebody was currently in prison for.  It is not until 2003, the day after Avery was released, that Colborn, with the help of his superior officer James Lenk, makes an official report of the phone call. The fact that Colborn did not report this until nine years later is absurd. That is not the type of information that should slip through the cracks. This was something should have been taken seriously with a further investigation. Yet in the eyes of the Manitowoc County Police Department, and even before his conviction, Avery was the only perpetrator of this crime, and Manitowoc would stick to their guns.

The mishandling of this case consequently leads to the questioning of corruption of the Manitowoc County Police Department during Avery’s murder investigation in 2005. Colborn and Lenk were both deposed when Avery decided to sue Manitowoc County for his wrongful imprisonment. However, even when the case was handed over to another county in order to prevent bias due to Avery’s lawsuit, Manitowoc County officials were still involved in the investigation, including James Lenk. Lenk was at multiple searches of the Avery property. In fact, Lenk was the one who found the key to Halbach’s SUV, used to convict Avery, inside Avery’s home.

If Steven Avery’s 1985 rape trial had been handled in the proper way, then Avery’s guilty verdict would be far more black and white. There is no hard proof that Avery is innocent. The only element to hang on to is the hope that Manitowoc County officials framed Avery and planted the evidence used to convict him.

Avery’s two important cases prove the devastating consequences that result when law enforcement decide to abide by their own rules. Because there are holes in their handling of Avery’s 1985 conviction, we are lead to question if Avery is again being wrongfully imprisoned— this time for the rest of his life. The image that the potentially innocent Avery will spend the rest of his days in a tiny cell, unable to be with his loved ones, is almost unbearable. And for that, I blame Manitowoc County Police Department.

We should be able to trust our law enforcement. However, this is a reality that is growing continuously harder to face, particularly given Avery’s recent case and other stories of cops stepping out of bounds in unethical ways. These terrible cases put the thousands of law enforcement officers that do their job lawfully under the veil of suspicion due to the bad acts of a few.

So, to the law enforcement officials who decide to play by their own rules, you are spreading the image that you are no more than a bunch of high school bullies scapegoating the people you believe to be criminals.  You must abide by the law to restore your national reputation of being evenhanded and treating every single person with the respect you expect to get in return. Not encompassing these crucial and fundamental traits leads to injustices just like the ones that resulted in Avery’s case, and that is the biggest crime of all.