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'Making a Murderer' Exposes Harsh Realities of Criminal Injustice

"Law enforcement despised Steven Avery. Steven Avery was a shining example of their inadequacies, their misconduct.”

After spending 18 years in a Wisconsin prison for attempted rape, Steven Avery became “the happiest man on earth” when new DNA evidence overturned his conviction in 2003. Freshly exonerated, Avery prepared to take down the courts with a $36 million lawsuit.

However, Avery’s victory was short-lived, as a murder charge was brought against him suddenly in 2005. Although the arrest appeared to be a vengeful tactic by local authorities, Avery was forced to undergo another contentious trial. Sentenced to life in prison in 2007, Avery now spends his days awaiting word from countless appeals.

Avery may have found a new source of hope, though, as the newest Netflix phenomenon is shedding light on his case. Making a Murderer draws viewers into the oft-accused man's many trials and tribulations of the past, present, and presumable future. After viewing the first installment (and without giving too many shocking details away), it is safe to say that the documentary makes a compelling argument of Avery’s innocence. Making a Murderer provides the context to understand why and how local authorities might have manipulated Avery’s case to ensure his conviction regardless of whether he was truly guilty.

Tainted with betrayal, framing, malpractice and more, Avery’s story seems as though it was written at the core of a particularly confusing, warped episode of Law & Order. However, audiences must remember that Avery’s life has been anything but a glamorous “the right guy will be put away” Hollywood cop-drama.

Rather than anxiously awaiting another "season," predicting future plot twists, and hypothetically casting actors for a movie adaption, it is vital to consider the topical questions Avery’s story raises. A documentary of this caliber—whose creation spanned a decade of collecting film, reading files and conducting interviews—is meant to do more than attract a high viewer count, after all.

This serialized documentary chronicles one man’s experience with the correctional system; it pulls the audience deep into a criminal investigation that leverages municipal power and public opinion rather than hard evidence. Making a Murderer does much more than the average crime show to remind us that the miscarriages of justice have real, life-altering consequences. And these ramifications are intensified for marginalized populations, such as the Avery family, who may lack the education or resources to properly defend themselves.

Some viewers are taking in this larger picture of the documentary. Over 250,000 viewers have signed a petition asking President Barack Obama to pardon the small town Wisconsin man. Though the petition is ineffectual—pardoning at the state level is beyond the President’s scope of power—the gesture carries larger significance. At an all time high of mistrust in authority, Making a Murderer reminds viewers that public action has the power to overcome abuses of power, even when they are on a personal level.

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Michelle LaConte