“The truth always comes out sooner or later.”
Those are the final words we hear from Steven Avery in the first season of “Making a Murderer,” the gripping Netflix docuseries that examined the Wisconsin native’s 2007 murder conviction and the bizarre events that preceded it. The series returns Friday, nearly three years after it made the streaming giant a major player on the true-crime circuit. Ten new episodes follow Avery’s efforts to get his conviction overturned.
Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos spent a decade filming the first installment of “Making A Murderer,” which received largely favorable reviews. But some critics felt the docuseries omitted crucial details about the case, which was closely watched in Avery’s hometown in Manitowoc County. Here’s what you need to need to know about “Making a Murderer” — and what has happened in the years since the show brought Avery to national prominence.
In November 2005, Avery was arrested and charged with the grisly murder of a young photographer named Teresa Halbach. Avery had been released from prison two years earlier after serving 18 years for a violent sexual assault that DNA evidence later proved he did not commit.
At the time of his 2005 arrest, Avery had launched a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction. That became a linchpin for Avery’s defense team, who argued that police had planted evidence to frame him for Halbach’s killing. On March 18, 2007, a jury found Avery guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and of being a felon in possession of a firearm. In June of that year, he was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
But Avery wasn’t the only person charged in Halbach’s death. In March 2006, his 16-year-old nephew Brendan Dassey was arrested after implicating himself during a controversial police interrogation that became a focal point of the first season of the docuseries. Dassey was charged with being a party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilating a corpse and second-degree sexual assault; in April 2007, he was convicted on all three charges. He was sentenced to life in prison, with the earliest possibility for parole set for 2048. “Making a Murderer: Part 2” premieres on Dassey’s 29th birthday.
The documentary’s impact
“Making a Murderer,” which was released on the heels of the “Serial” podcast and HBO’s “The Jinx,” quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Netflix has stayed characteristically mum about how many people watched the series, but the streaming network did somewhat acknowledge the fandom around it in 2016 when it released in-house research about the episodes that led viewers to complete the first season of popular shows.
Both Avery and Dassey gained supporters who were convinced of their innocence. In 2016, USA Today Network-Wisconsin obtained more than 1,900 pages of emails from prison officials months after requesting them under the state’s open records laws. One revelation was that Avery and Dassey had received an unidentified number of wire transfers ranging from $10 to $50 from viewers around the world. “They had a card with it telling him to keep his chin up and good luck with his appeal,” one prison staffer wrote in an email about a $10 transfer Dassey had received, according to USA Today Network-Wisconsin.
But others felt the documentary failed to present important details about the case and appeared to support the view that Avery is innocent. In a 2016 interview with Deadline, Ricciardi said the intention was not to take sides or argue evidence. “It was about let’s take the state’s best evidence and the defense’s best arguments and include those,” she said.
Ricciardi also hit back at criticism that the documentary was biased in Avery’s favor. “Some of our most vocal critics are people who chose not to participate in the series,” she told Deadline. “So it’s a little difficult now to hear them complaining about objectivity or bias when they had the opportunity to speak then and chose not to.” The New York Times reports that Part 2′s credits include a screen displaying the names of people who declined interviews with the filmmakers, or didn’t respond to their requests.
One especially vocal critic is Michael Griesbach, a veteran Wisconsin prosecutor who helped Avery get exonerated in 2003, and examined his wrongful conviction and subsequent murder trial in the 2014 book “The Innocent Killer.”
Following the documentary, Griesbach took an extensive look at the Halbach case and came to the conclusion that Avery was guilty — the basis of his 2016 book “Indefensible: The Missing Truth about Steven Avery, Teresa Halbach and ‘Making a Murderer.'"
“If I knew no more about the Avery case than what ‘Making a Murderer’ fed to its viewers. I too would be outraged by its conclusions,” Griesbach wrote in a 2016 op-ed for the Wisconsin State Journal.
Part 2 of “Making a Murderer” revolves heavily around ongoing efforts to overturn the convictions of Avery and Dassey. The series introduces a new player: Avery’s powerhouse defense attorney, Kathleen Zellner, who specializes in wrongful convictions. “I have one goal, and that’s to overturn the conviction of Steven Avery,” Zellner says in the trailer.
Since taking over Avery’s appeals in 2016, Zellner has filed motions (chronicled in exhaustive detail by the Appleton Post-Crescent) aimed at getting his conviction overturned.
Most recently, Zellner sought to get a CD that Avery’s legal team argued contained “exculpatory, material evidence” added to the record. Zellner said the defense had only learned of the disc in April and argued that the state had violated Avery’s right to a fair trial in not providing it earlier. According to the Post-Crescent, the motion was denied last month by a Sheboygan County Circuit Court judge, who ruled that Avery’s attorneys failed to prove that prosecutors had suppressed evidence.
Dassey’s path to appeal seems even bleaker. His legal team, which includes attorneys from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, has long argued that Dassey’s confession was coerced. A federal magistrate judge ruled as much in August 2016, ordering Dassey released from prison, prompting Wisconsin officials to appeal. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit agreed in a 2-1 decision that Dassey’s confession had been coerced.
But the full appeals court overturned that decision in December, ruling 4-3 to uphold Dassey’s conviction. The three dissenting justices wrote that the ruling was a “profound miscarriage of justice."
In June, the Supreme Court declined to hear Dassey’s case. “We will continue to fight to free Brendan Dassey,” his attorney, Laura Nirider, said at the time. “Brendan was a 16-year-old with intellectual and social disabilities when he confessed to a crime he did not commit.”
“Making a Murderer: Part 2” is now streaming on Netflix.