The new Netflix series “Making a Murderer” has documented the real-life case of a man named Stephen Avery, who many people feel was framed by the police and the US justice system. Oddly enough, this show is forcing many people to take a hard look at the US justice system and the many cases that slip through the cracks.
Innocent people are put in jail every day in the US. According to a recent report from the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School, 125 falsely accused prisoners were exonerated in 2014. This is actually a record number of exonerations for one year’s time and is an increase of one-third since 2012. These figures represent the few lucky people who are actually able to get their cases overturned, but there are likely millions in the same position who are not able to get their cases thrown out.
The Stephen Avery case is very involved and complex, but below are some of the basic facts of the case:
1. Avery was exonerated after spending 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In 1985, Avery was convicted of rape because the victim testified against him and DNA evidence was allegedly linked to him. However, testing later revealed that the DNA actually belonged to someone else, a convicted felon who happened to look like Avery. Eventually, there was enough evidence to exonerate Avery and release him from prison.
2. Avery’s 1986 arrest came after a number of run-ins with the law. It seems that officers in Manitowoc County had a personal vendetta against Avery because he got in an altercation with a person who was related to a local police officer. Avery had made himself a target for local cops, and when a serious crime was committed in the area, he was one of the first suspects they chose.
3.After Avery was released he filed a $36 million lawsuit against the city and the police for wrongful incarceration. Avery was released in 2003 quickly filed suit against Manitowoc County for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. He eventually settled the lawsuit for $400,000.
4. Two years after settling the lawsuit, Avery was arrested yet again and this time for murder. Avery was charged with the death of car photographer Teresa Halbach, a murder victim whose car ended up in Avery’s family’s junkyard. On October 31, 2005, Halbach was scheduled to meet with Avery at his home on the grounds of Avery’s Auto Salvage to photograph a minivan for Auto Trader Magazine. She went missing the same day.
Avery’s then-16-year-old nephew confessed to the crime and implicated Avery, but many argue that the confession was coerced. Avery’s cousin later recanted his confession and Avery maintained his innocence the entire time.
5. Both Avery and his cousin have learning disabilities and low IQs. This means that it would be extremely easy for the police to coerce and manipulate them during the interrogation process, and it also means that they would not be so good at covering up their tracks if they did commit a crime.
6. Avery claimed that he was framed by local police who had a grudge against him because of his settlement. This explanation is actually extremely plausible considering that benefactors of police brutality and wrongful imprisonment lawsuits are often targetted for retribution by police.
7. One of the jurors in the case is now saying that they were pressured into convicting Avery.“Making a Murderer” filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos appeared on NBC’s Today recently and said that one of the jurors admitted the decision to convict Avery was made under duress.
“(The juror) told us that they believe Steven Avery was not proven guilty,” Ricciardi said. “They believe Steven was framed by law enforcement and that he deserves a new trial, and if he receives a new trial, in their opinion it should take place far away from Wisconsin.”
“They told us really that they. were afraid that if they held out for a mistrial that it would be easy to identify which juror had done that and that they were fearful for their own safety,” Demos recalled.
8. Some of the jurors were connected to the police department. In February 2007, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discovered that one of the jurors has a son who works for the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Office. Another juror’s wife was working at the Manitowoc County clerk’s office.
9. Avery had a history of crime and disturbing behavior prior to his first arrest. In 1981, he was convicted of burglary and then in 1982, he pleaded guilty to animal cruelty, actions that he said were carried out when he was “young and stupid.”
10. Over 125,000 have signed the petition demanding that Avery be pardoned, but the White House declined to do so, saying that a pardon, in this case, would have to come on the state level.