Is 'Making A Murderer' Biased? The Steven Avery Documentarians Have Defended Their Depiction Of The Case
Any documentary can face scrutiny over whether or not it is one-sided. Even the popular Netflix series Making a Murderer has been accused of bias over its portrayal of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey's 2007 murder trial. As seen in the series, Avery was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1985 and served 18 years in prison before being exonerated in 2003. Then, in 2005, he was arrested and charged with the murder of AutoTrader magazine photographer Teresa Halbach. In 2006, Avery's nephew was arrested in connection with her murder. Both were convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. The docuseries closely follows the two trials using courtroom footage and interviews with Avery and Dassey's family to fill in the blanks. According to many viewers, it makes a compelling case for the innocence of Avery and Dassey, which the two have maintained since their convictions.
Even with the title, filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi are seemingly showing some bias since the phrase "Making a Murderer" seems to suggest that Avery was "made" to be a murderer in some way. As viewers know, Avery claims he was framed by Manitowoc County officials, but the Manitowoc County Undersheriff denied these accusations in the docuseries when he said, "It's not realistic. It's impossible ... it's so far fetched it's impractical."
As far as the accusations that the filmmakers showed bias towards the defense, filmmaker Ricciardi told Vulture in December 2015 that she and Demos did not begin making the documentary with the idea that Avery was innocent.
When we first started we didn't have an opinion as to his guilt or innocence. What drew us to this story was Steven's status as an accused ... the fact that Stephen had been wronged by the system, and was in the process of trying to reform the system and hold people accountable just raised so many questions.
The prosecutor in the two murder trials, Ken Kratz, has been the most vocal opponent of the Netflix documentary since its release, claiming that it left out key evidence that allegedly proved Avery's guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. "You don't want to muddy up a perfectly good conspiracy movie with what actually happened," he told People magazine after the series' release, "and certainly not provide the audience with the evidence the jury considered to reject that claim."
In response to similar accusations, filmmaker Ricciardi told Buzzfeed, "I would say that Ken Kratz is entitled to his opinion, but he’s not entitled to his own facts."
Here are a few details of the case that the documentary has been called out on — and the counterpoints from the filmmakers.
Steven Avery's Past Crimes
Kratz criticized the filmmakers supposedly downplaying Avery's abuse of his cat that occurred before his 1985 wrongful rape conviction. "Avery’s past incident with a cat was not 'goofing around.' He soaked his cat in gasoline or oil, and put it on a fire to watch it suffer," Katz said in an email statement to TheWrap. The documentary does include this incident, but told the story in Avery's own words:
Another mistake I did... I had a bunch of friends over, and we were fooling around with the cat... and, I don't know, they were kind of negging it on and... I tossed him over the fire... and he lit up. You know, it was the family cat. I was young and stupid and hanging around with the wrong people.
The filmmakers further addressed this incident in their interview with BuzzFeed. "[Avery's] priors, the thing that happened at the bonfire with the cat … not smart things to do," Demos said. "It was really important to us to make sure we didn’t leave those things out."
The People Who Were Interviewed
Avery's family was most prominently featured in Making a Murderer when it came to exclusive interviews with the filmmakers, which could appear to give the film some bias, as some have claimed. But, Demos and Ricciardi told BuzzFeed in the aforementioned interview that they had reached out to other people involved in the case.
"We wanted to speak to lawyers, we wanted to speak to judges, we wanted to speak to law enforcement, we invited the Halbachs to sit down with us, we had coffee with Mike [Halbach], and ultimately, people could decide for themselves whether they wanted to participate," Ricciardi said. She also claimed to BuzzFeed that they asked Kratz to participate in the documentary in September 2006. Kratz told People Demos and Ricciardi did contact him but he "declined to be interviewed for the series."
Since the release of the documentary, Kratz has claimed the series doesn't show all the evidence presented in the Avery murder trial. In an interview with The New York Times on Jan. 4, Kratz claimed the docuseries "really presents misinformation" and accused the filmmakers of allegedly withholding information that seemingly proved Avery's guilt to the jury. Ricciardi's response, according to the Times, was, "Our opinion is that we included the state's most compelling evidence." Avery's defense lawyer Dean Strang agreed with Ricciardi. "No one's going to watch a 600-hour movie of gavel-to-gavel, unedited coverage of a trial," he told the Times.
Avery's Relationship With Halbach
It seems possible that Avery did have more of a relationship with Halbach than was revealed in the series. A Milwaukee Magazine article from 2006 reported that Avery had requested Halbach to be the one to take the photographs of his car on Oct. 31 (the day she went missing). Kratz further elaborated on their relationship in his email to TheWrap.
Avery targeted Teresa. On Oct 31 (8:12 am) he called AutoTrader magazine and asked them to send “that same girl who was here last time.” On Oct 10, Teresa had been to the Avery property when Steve answered the door just wearing a towel. She said she would not go back because she was scared of him (obviously). Avery used a fake name and fake # (his sister’s) giving those to the AutoTrader receptionist, to trick Teresa into coming ... Phone records show 3 calls from Avery to Teresa’s cell phone on Oct 31. One at 2:24, and one at 2:35–both calls Avery uses the *67 feature so Teresa doesn’t know it him…both placed before she arrives. Then one last call at 4:35 pm, without the *67 feature. Avery first believes he can simply say she never showed up (his original defense), so tries to establish the alibi call after she’s already been there, hence the 4:35 call. She will never answer of course, so he doesn’t need the *67 feature for that last call.
So, is Making a Murderer biased? Only a few people on this earth may ever know.
Images: Netflix (7)