As millions of Americans undoubtedly know by now, there is no shortage of upsetting moments in Netflix's true crime series Making A Murderer . But perhaps the most chilling moment in all 10 hours of the gripping docuseries is a throwaway comment from a peripheral player in the investigation into Teresa Halbach's murder. I'm referring to Kenneth Petersen's quote that it would have been "easier just to kill" Steven Avery than to frame him, which he said during a 2006 interview with Fox News 11 that was featured in the Netflix series. Petersen has not returned Bustle's request for comment on the interview at this time.
Petersen was the Sheriff of Manitowoc County at the time of Steven Avery's trial — during which Avery directly accused the Sheriff's Department of framing him as retaliation for a $36 million lawsuit he filed against them after he served 18 years on a wrongful conviction. The Manitowoc Police Department adamantly denies any wrongdoing. Sheriff Petersen, who is now retired, replaced former Sheriff Tom Kocourek, who had been directly named in Avery's suit.
The aforementioned quote came during a 2006 interview with reporter Lauren Cook of Fox News 11. Here's a transcript of their conversation, which is featured in Making A Murderer's fourth episode, "Indefensible":
Cook: Avery's family believes police planted evidence in and around the salvage yard.
Petersen: They're free to say what they want. The fact is they have to prove it. And I don't think they could.
Cook (aside): Sheriff Ken Petersen says his detectives worked by the book. He's been here 31 years and says he knows the Averys and what he calls "Steven's colorful past."
Cook: You say he'll kill again. Why do you say that?
Petersen: I think that's his personality.
Cook (aside): And Petersen says framing Steven Avery would be much too difficult.
Petersen: If we wanted to, um, eliminate Steve, it would've been a whole lot easier to eliminate Steve than it would be to frame Steve. Hell... But—
Cook: What do you mean by "eliminate"?
Petersen: If we wanted him out of the picture, like in prison, or if you wanted him, uh, killed... you know, it would've been much easier just to kill him.
This exchange is obviously disturbing for a number of reasons. But the fact that Petersen says it would simply be "easier" for the Sheriff's Department to hypothetically kill someone than to frame them is shocking. With this quote, a sheriff is openly contemplating the relative ease of someone committing murder during an interview with a local news affiliate. There is no overstating how inappropriate this is.
Petersen seems to realize this and immediately tries to backpedal; as soon as he says the word "eliminate," he starts to hesitate, mutters, and tries to change the subject. But Cook doesn't let him off the hook, swiftly interrupting his next sentence and asking him to clarify what he means by "eliminate." At this point, Petersen openly states what he meant.
While this exchange in no way suggests that Petersen or any member of the police department actually wanted Avery killed, his remarks illustrate a callous disregard for human life. But let's remember that yes, Kenneth Petersen said something regrettable, but he's still human. An article in The Compass, the "Official Newspaper for the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WI" from earlier this year reports that Petersen — who has since retired from the Sheriff's Department — has dedicated himself to helping the homeless. Four years ago, he joined the board of directors for the first men's homeless shelter in Manitowoc County.
"It’s really rewarding when you work with someone and they end up being self-sufficient — you know you’ve accomplished something," he told the newspaper. "You can see the results in this type of place. It’s very fulfilling. I haven’t run into anyone in this building who isn’t respectful and thankful."
Petersen is a real person with both strengths and flaws. But in a way, that makes what he said all those years ago even more chilling: all of us are susceptible to hateful thoughts.