The hubub surrounding the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” is justified. The docu-series is about Steven Avery, his nephew Brendan Dassey and their convinction in the murder of Teresa Halbach.
Somewhere around the end of the series it dawned on me that as fascinating as this case is, and it’s fascinating, it really highlights the way the justice system treats the under priviged and people of color. There are scenes in the series that will truly leave your mouth agape.
Without saying too much, I’ll just say it’s a flucked up story…all around. Provided you have one scintilla of empathy in you, you will indeed question a lot.
I think there is enough there to raise some questions about the efficacy of the trial. Was justiced served? I don’t know.
It seems that much like everything else (hookers, jobs, democracy…you know, the usual stuff) these days justice is driven by money and has a price tag. In other words, had Steven Avery not come from the “wrong side of the tracks” and his family not perceived as “white trash”, I’m comfortable saying there is no way he or his nephew Brendan would have been arrested, let alone tried and convicted.
More than that, I’ve also seen first hand how money can purchase and pervert justice.
Many many moons ago, I was a self centered and self indulgent asshole. One night in an act of sheer hubris I decided to drive home after having one too many (I was drunk). Not surprisingly, I was pulled over (ironically in perhaps the only dry town in Connecticut). Now while I could probably turn this into some snarky yarn about the whole night, I’d rather just own it and admit I’m truly blessed and thankful that I didn’t hurt anyone.
So I got pinched.
At this point in my life, 3am phone calls from authorities had occurred one too many times but to my astonishment my folks always answered the call. This night was no different, my long-suffering parents came down and bailed me out.
The next morning we went to our family lawyer. I told him what had happened (the aforementioned getting pinched) and he asked if I had taken the breathalyzer test and I said “No”. He replied “Good.”
“Good?” I asked.
“Yes. Without evidence the state can’t charge you with DWI or DUI so you probably won’t see an impact in your insurance or suffer any strikes on your license.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“I suppose in the long-term, yea. But in the short-term, you’ll be charged with impaired driving and you will have to complete court ordered outpatient rehab at a facility they choose and you’ll have your license suspended for one year.”
“Fuck. How am I supposed to get around?” I asked rhetorically. “Is there any way I can get out of this?”
“Well, if the policeman doesn’t show up when we go to court I can probably get the case thrown out, but that seems unlikely.”
Our lawyer wasn’t some ambulance chaser or hack whose number we got off a billboard or late night commercial: he was a straight-laced, no-nonsense, by the book guy. He leaned back in his big leather chair and said “Well, no. If you have $20,000 I can definitely get the charges dismissed.”
Incredulous, I asked “How?”
He shrugged and said “I’d just tie the prosecution up with paperwork and delays until they eventually give up.”
“Well, that’s fucked up.”
“Yes, it is.”
Considering I didn’t even have the $600 he was charging for this, I didn’t have a lot of options.
Suffice it to say, the gavel came down exactly as he said it would. The cop showed up, I lost my license for a year and had to go to outpatient rehab (that we had to pay for) once a week for six months (someday I’ll write about that experience…a racket if there ever was one.)
This was my rude awakening to American jurisprudence.
If you are a person of color or you’re poor, you’re fucked.
If you have money, you’re not.
So when I read about dick’s like Ethan Couch who was “…illegally driving on a restricted license and speeding, lost control, plowed into a group of people standing near a disabled SUV and struck a parked vehicle, which was there to assist. Four people were killed in the collision; two passengers in Couch’s truck suffered serious bodily injury and a total of nine people were injured” and getting probation after his lawyers dreamt up some ridiculous disorder called “affluenza” (a rich people illness not recognized by the AMA and with no discernible symptoms other than being a rich asshole).
We like to think our justice system is blind…but it can still see the color of money.
As Laura Ricciardi, one of the filmmakers of “Making a Murderer” (Moira Demos is her co-director) said in this Rolling Stone interview “The takeaway is that the American criminal justice system is in peril. We as American people should have concerns about that system.”
I would hardly put my experience in the same category as Steven Avery (thankfully), but make no mistake, it is representative.
Is Steven Avery innocent? I dunno. I can tell you that if I were on the jury that convicted him (or the one that convicted his nephew Brendan Dassey) and I had to decide based on the evidence I saw, I couldn’t in good conscience convict either of them.
To be clear, that doesn’t indicate their innocence or their guilt.