Sheriff :’Making a Murderer’ is not a documentary
Making a Murderer, a 10-part documentary released Dec. 18 on Netflix, follows the case of Steven Avery, a Manitowoc County, Wis., man convicted of killing a freelance photographer two years after being exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit.
The filmmakers soon bring up the idea that local law enforcement had it out for Avery.
Manitowoc County Sheriff Robert Hermann said law enforcement would have no reason to frame an innocent man and wouldn’t call it a documentary.
“A documentary puts things in chronological order and tells the story as it is. … I’ve heard things are skewed,” said Hermann, who hasn’t seen the series but has been discussing it with the department. “They’ve taken things out of context and taken them out of the order in which they occurred, which can lead people to a different opinion or conclusion.”
Avery was cleared of a 1985 rape conviction — after serving 18 years in prison — following the discovery of new evidence that linked the crime to another man. A couple years later, Avery and his teenage nephew, Brendan Dassey, were accused of killing 25-year-old Teresa Halbach.
Halbach was photographing vehicles for Auto Trader magazine on Halloween in 2005. Her third and final stop was supposed to be Avery’s Auto Salvage near Mishicot. This was the day she was last seen.
A few days later, Halbach’s parents reported her missing. Two days after their report, search volunteers found what they believed to be Halbach’s Toyota RAV4 at the Averys’ salvage yard. On Nov. 10, a day after Avery was arrested, then-Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel announced Halbach had been killed on the property and her body burned.
The documentary alleges law enforcement and the court system mishandled the case and also questions whether evidence may have been planted to frame Avery.
“Show me the evidence he was framed. There is not going to be any. It didn’t happen,” said Hermann, who joined the department in 1985. “I don’t know why anybody in law enforcement would want to get him, that makes no sense.”
“They relate it to the previous lawsuit. That has nothing to do with law enforcement. The lawsuit was against the county and … while we don’t like to have lawsuits against your county or your city or whatever, really to the individual law enforcement officer, that doesn’t mean a lot because it just doesn’t affect them,” Hermann added.
Avery had been attempting to sue the county for $36 million over the wrongful conviction at the time of his arrest.
Hermann said Manitowoc County turned the case over to Calumet County Sheriff’s Department — which led the investigation efforts and determined what charges to present — almost immediately.
“Because of the previous case, we thought it would be best. That was right from the get-go we had the other agency involved and taking the lead on it,” he said. “Anytime there is a serious incident, if you have a suspect, it’s best to get that arrest made, but you can only do that when you have enough probable cause. And anytime you have a serious case like this, you’re working with the courts, the DA’s office, other law enforcement.”
Avery was sentenced in 2007 to life in prison without parole on first-degree intentional homicide as a party to a crime, and possession of a firearm as a felon.
Dassey was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, mutilating a corpse and second-degree sexual assault, all as a party to a crime, according to court records. He is eligible for parole with extended supervision on Nov. 1, 2048, but has taken his case into the federal court system in hopes of being released.
Former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz, who prosecuted the cases, criticized the series on Netflix as more of a “defense advocacy piece” than a documentary, adding that there is “only one conclusion that the viewer can come to and that is that Avery and Dassey are innocent and that they were perhaps set up.”
Jerome Buting, one of the attorneys representing Avery at the homicide trial, called the series “a very accurate portrayal of a lot of facts that really the general public wasn’t aware of.”
He said he thinks that the series lets people see a side of the case that they would not have without following the trial carefully.
Since its release, area residents and viewers from as far as Australia have taken to social media to express their thoughts on the story.
“This case make me sick,” one person wrote on the Post-Crescent Facebook page. “The injustice is appalling. I have no doubt in my mind that (Avery and Dassey) are innocent. It’s with a heavy heart when I say that you can’t even trust law (enforcement). They prey on the poor and uneducated. What is this world is coming to when you can’t even rely on the people that are put in place to protect and serve.”
Hermann said the department has received numerous negative phone calls and emails — some from other states — and is discussing whether any steps to further address the accusations made in Making a Murderer should be taken.
“It is frustrating. Not sure what we can do about it other than asking people to keep an open mind about what they see in the movies, because that’s what this is, a movie, (which) doesn’t always present all the facts in the appropriate light,” he said. “We had a lot of good officers out there and obviously other agencies involved.”