Making A Murderer, A Response To Josh Kendrick
Jan. 11, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — “Making a Murderer” has the nation outraged over the criminal justice system’s treatment of Stephen Avery and Brendan Dassey. The ten hour documentary led my Fault Lines colleague Josh Kendrick to hope the next time a viewer of the show steps into a jury box they will hold the government more accountable to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required to convict. I don’t hold that hope, because pop culture and history keep reminding me the only change affected by these stories is an increase in the bank accounts and celebrity of those who take up a convicted person’s cause. Just ask Adnan Syed.
Oh, excuse me. The name doesn’t strike a chord? Allow me to help. Adnan Syed was a high school student convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 2000 based on numerous reports from other students, inconsistencies in his statements to police, bad evidence later recanted, and more. Syed is currently serving a life sentence for allegedly killing Lee, and no one would even remember his name unless an intrepid NPR reporter named Sarah Koenig decided to take up Syed’s cause and launch a podcast called “Serial.”
“Serial’ season one became a hit in the eyes of the public who were finally beginning to see just how crazy the complex quagmire the criminal justice system really is. It hit over 80 million downloads, which is a insane number for a podcast devoted to an old criminal case. It got people thinking about what happens when someone is convicted by a jury to spend life in prison. So much attention was focused on Adnan Syed’s case, thanks to Sarah Koenig, that a judge in Baltimore allowed Syed’s attorneys to present new evidence in his case.
Despite Sarah Koenig’s best investigative work, the end of “Serial” reached critical mass in Season One with the finale, “What We Know.” In that episode, Koenig reaches the arching conclusion of…we still don’t know what happened, and we don’t know a way to fix the broken justice system that sent a teenager to life plus thirty.
All we’re left with is, Jay knew where the car was. That’s it. That all by itself, that is not a story. It’s a beginning but it’s not a story. It’s not enough, to me, to send anyone to prison for life, never mind a seventeen-year-old kid. Because you, me, the State of Maryland, based on the information we have before us, I don’t believe any of us can say what really happened to Hae. As a juror I vote to acquit Adnan Syed. I have to acquit. Even if in my heart of hearts I think Adnan killed Hae, I still have to acquit. That’s what the law requires of jurors. But I’m not a juror, so just as a human being walking down the street next week, what do I think? If you ask me to swear that Adnan Syed is innocent, I couldn’t do it. I nurse doubt. I don’t like that I do, but I do.
Adnan Syed still sits in prison.
Which leads us to the present day story of Stephen Avery and Brendan Dassey. The similarities to “Making a Murderer” and “Serial” Season One are striking. A murder happened. There are questionable circumstances surrounding the arrest and conviction of the parties charged with the offense. There’s a clear thread of law enforcement and prosecutors deciding to convict before a defendant ever hit a court of law. Bad evidence is used, and questionable tactics are employed by prosecutors. There’s an element of ineffective assistance of counsel. And creators Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi have reached the same conclusions Koenig did with Syed.
“What I learned from making this series is the humility to accept that I don’t know, and I may never know,” Demos told The Daily Beast over the holiday break that she and Ricciardi properly hijacked, filling newsfeeds and social media streams with the shocked, angry, and outraged reactions of viewers making their way through Making a Murderer.
“That was one of the things we learned doing this: Just because you have questions doesn’t mean that you’re going to get an answer,” she said. “If you’re so committed to finding the truth and finding the answer, it’s very hard to be comfortable with ambiguity and you’ll often settle, just for some finality.”
Demos and Ricciardi got a Today show interview and a nice bump in their bank accounts. A juror from the original trial has since come forward under conditions of anonymity saying they now believe Avery was framed and he should get a new trial. The public has the flaws of our justice system in their eyes, exposed over ten hours available for binge watching.
And then there’s the petition, which proves “Serial,” “Making a Murderer,” and anything following it will never effect meaningful change.
Enough people got angry about “Making a Murderer” to sign a petition asking President Obama pardon Stephen Avery and Brendan Dassey because
Based on the evidence in the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer”, the justice system embarrassingly failed both men, completely ruining their entire lives.
There is clear evidence that the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department used improper methods to convict both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.
This is a black mark on the justice system as a whole, and should be recognized as such, while also giving these men the ability to live as normal a life as possible.
The petition got over 100,000 signatures in the thirty-day time frame required, which prompted the White House staffers who work on the website to explain the President’s clemency power only works for Federal cases.
Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities.
“Serial” caused a kerfuffle amongst my Fault Lines colleagues Ken Womble and Scott Greenfield. Ken opined that it actually got people thinking about the justice system and its flaws, and that was a good thing. Scott took a different tack.
My view was that information, without understanding and context, was overrated. People would believe they understood the system, but they would be wrong. Worse, they would believe so strongly that they couldn’t be told otherwise. They would be both ignorant and certain, a toxic combination.
And that petition, created with good intent, puts “Making a Murderer” in the same camp as “Serial,” and makes me respectfully dissent with Josh Kendrick on the impact “Making a Murderer” will have. People will see and hear the stories of Adnan Syed, Stephen Avery, Brendan Dassey, and more in the days to come. Because these stories are broadcast by well meaning journalists and documentarians, public outrage erupts and people want to do something about it. But that information, without understanding and context, won’t help create anything but more public outrage and more prestige for those who bring these stories to light.
Meanwhile, Adnan Syed, Stephen Avery, and Brendan Dassey sit in prison.
There’s no word on whether Netflix has optioned “Making a Murderer: Season 2.”