Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The To-Do Over "Making a Murderer"

Well this was interesting.

I'm not usually in to murder shows on the television like "Dateline" and the others. I find them vapid, manipulative, and ultimately all the same. But apparently audiences lap them up because they love their murder mysteries, oh yes they do. I'm told that Nancy Grace still has a following, too. Now there's a believable character...

But over the weekend, I read about a series that was being presented on Netflix called "Making a Murderer," which was described as something one "had to see!" It was "OMG! What the actual fuck!"  And on and on. Oh my. A man in Wisconsin was wrongly convicted of a crime he didn't commit, spent 18 years in prison for it, was exonerated on DNA evidence, was released and campaigned for justice reform, sued the principals and the county which had pursued injustice against him, and just as he was about to settle the lawsuit, he was arrested for murder most foul: the assault, murder, dismemberment and burning of a woman who had come to his property to photograph a van he wanted listed in Auto Trader Magazine.

We don't have cable (yay!) but we do have Netflix, so... Sunday I started watching the ten-part series, and I have to say it was mesmerizing and memorable, truly a "must watch" E-ticket ride for anyone interested in the issue of justice reform in this country.

It was a textbook case of police and prosecutorial misconduct from the get-go, and how they were able to get away with it was shocking. Judge and jury both went along with the prosecutors even in the face of extraordinary doubt raised by the defense. That didn't matter for some reason. All that seemed to matter to the police, prosecutor, judge(s) and juries was putting away these two people (a man, Steven Avery, and his nephew, Brandon Dassey) for.ever.

In other words, even though Steven Avery was wrongly convicted of sexual assault the first time and spent 18 years in prison for it, he was never truly exonerated in the eyes of the police and prosecutors -- indeed not in the eyes of much of his community as well -- and his subsequent prosecution and conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach was considered something of a trophy by the police, prosecutors, and judges... whether or not he did it.

This gets right to the heart of how the so-called "justice system" works, it seems to me. Truth does not matter, winning does. Police and prosecutors want numbers of victories, and courts are often happy to oblige -- regardless of fact or truth.

It's called "justice" because it's a process, it's the way things have been done for many a long year, and it's just too damn bad that sometimes the innocent are swept up in it... too.dam.bad.

In this case, Steven Avery and his nephew Brandon Dassey both went to trial for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Both were convicted, but the evidence against them was scant and/or bizarre to say the least. A conviction in both cases required an enormous amount of police and prosecutorial misconduct on the one hand, repeated instances of judicial "discretion" let's call it favoring the prosecution, and juries willing -- eager? -- to suspend their disbelief and set aside any reasonable doubt about the guilt of these two fellows to convict them.

There were strong indications that the police planted evidence; just a little bit to be sure -- a key, blood stains, and bits and pieces of other evidence -- but there were also strong indications that the accused had nothing to do with Teresa Halbach's murder, that someone else had done it and had essentially framed Avery for the crime -- and got away with it.

If so, that means a murderer is loose in that part of Wisconsin, just as a serial rapist was loose in that part of Wisconsin while Steven Avery was in prison for a crime he didn't commit. That rapist, by the way, committed two more rapes during the time Steven was in prison wrongly convicted.

Steven Avery's nephew Brandon Dassey made a series of obviously false confessions, sometimes coerced by the police, but in one case -- shockingly -- coerced by his own defense attorney's investigator, implicating himself and his uncle in the murder. He was obviously making shit up to satisfy his interrogators, and yet, somehow the "system" bought these confessions whole and treated them as if they were true and factual, when in fact they were anything but. Nevertheless, the prosecution relied on these false confessions for a good deal of their cases against Avery and Dassey. It didn't matter that the confessions were patently false. What mattered was the fact that there were confessions at all, on the premise that "innocent people don't confess to crimes they didn't commit," one of the most egregiously wrong notions in this whole sorry affair.

The truth is, I don't know who murdered Teresa Halbach but I'm pretty sure -- from what was presented in the documentary anyway -- that Steven Avery and Brandon Dassey didn't do it. They couldn't have. They certainly couldn't have done it the way Dassey described the murder in his repeated false confessions (that she was tied to the bed, sexually assaulted, she was strangled, her throat was cut and she was repeatedly shot -- for investigators found none of Teresa's blood anywhere on the premises of the Avery compound where both Avery and Dassey lived. Her DNA was only found on a bullet fragment discovered in a garage months after it had been repeatedly swept for evidence, strongly suggesting the bullet or the DNA had been planted. Or, even more likely, that Teresa's DNA was a test contaminant -- like that of the tester's -- and was not actually on the bullet fragment at all.

There was no uncompromised evidence that tied either Avery or Dassey to Halbach's murder. That alone should have raised a "reasonable doubt" in the minds of the jurors, but for some reason it didn't-- at least not enough of a doubt to acquit either one.

Why not?

That gets us to how the system really works. Avery was targeted as the culprit almost from the outset, when Teresa was reported missing. She had last been seen on Avery's property where she went to photograph a van he wanted to list for sale in Auto Trader magazine. Her car and what was left of her burned corpse were found on his property, her ashes mostly in a burn pit not twenty feet from his mobile home.

But her ashes also turned up in a quarry at the other end of a 400 acre property, and in a barrel found elsewhere on the property. This indicated that her body was burned in the quarry (a quarter mile or more from the mobile home where she was allegedly murdered) and her ashes were then transported in the barrel to the burn pit beside Avery's mobile home where they were later discovered.

None of her blood at all was found anywhere on the property, but her blood was found in the cargo section of her car. It appeared that she was transported while bleeding from a head wound, but where or why? Her car was found in a corner of the Avery compound, inexpertly covered with branches and debris. It was found almost immediately by a civilian searcher who was given permission to explore the property (on which the Averys had hundreds if not thousands of derelict vehicles -- they worked as auto dismantlers) by one of Avery's brothers.

The prosecution ultimately theorized that Teresa was sexually assaulted in Steven Avery's bedroom, then she was taken to the garage where she was shot and killed, and then her body was put in the back of her SUV for transport the couple of hundred feet to the burn pit beside Avery's mobile home where her body was burned in a bonfire that night.

Except there was no blood evidence anywhere except in her car.

She could not have been killed in the garage without her blood being essentially everywhere inside, and there was none, not a drop.

As many observers have said, the actual and objective evidence does not lead to either Avery or Dassey as her murderer. But she was clearly murdered. So who did it?

That's a question the police and prosecutors never examined.

That alone should be seen as malfeasance.

 But it wasn't and isn't. Wisconsinites seem to believe that both Dassey and Avery "got what was coming to them" -- pretty much regardless of their actual guilt. It literally doesn't seem to matter in the minds of many of their neighbors whether they did it or not. They have convicted these two in their own minds because "nobody liked the Averys" and their extended family, and they were nothing but trouble anyway, so it's just as well that these two are in prison for the rest of their lives. Because they were no good. Neither of them.

They may be punished for a crime they didn't commit, but so what? There were other things they did that made it appropriate to put them away. Justice may be served sideways, but it's served just the same. These people were and are scum. They can rot in prison forever as far as their neighbors are concerned.

Some of those who investigated the case called them "evil incarnate" -- not because they did the crime, but because of their reputation and their lifestyle, which was not approved of by the community apparently. And if you go against community norms, it would seem, you are literally taking your life in your hands. Tolerance, apparently, did not extend to the Averys and their large number of relatives.

They were dirty. They were not necessarily honest. They were slow-witted, sub-par IQ. They drank and smoked cigarettes. They were accused of inappropriate sexual behavior (ie: masturbating in public). They didn't raise their children right, and they were always getting into minor trouble with the law. Nobody liked them.

Nobody liked them.

That was apparently the key right there. "Nobody liked them."

Thus they could be accused, tried and convicted with nary a nod to justice. It was nothing more than taking out the trash. White trash in this case, but trash nonetheless. Getting rid of "trouble."

This is actually what happens in courts all across the land, day in and day out. Law enforcement is focused on certain elements in the population which are considered 'undesirable' by the community or the powers that be. There is often a racial bias in this focus, to the extent that practically all the law enforcement focus is on people of color, particularly poor people of color, whose communities are under constant and unrelenting siege by the police. Accusations, arrests, trials and conviction go on all the time, many for the most minor offenses, and very often, perhaps most often, the victims are induced to confess or plead out to crimes they have not committed, on the premise that if they plead or confess, they will receive a lighter sentence than if they contest the accusation at trial.

90% or more of convictions (they say) are actually due to plea bargains or false confessions. It's really quite remarkable. And millions are in prison due to these factors.

Every day in every way, this is how the court system works. It's based on lies, falsehood, and bargains, not on truth, justice, and the American way.

For police and prosecutors, it's about numbers of convictions. The judges go along. They know and don't care that what is presented in court is frequently false and that millions are sentenced based on these false claims. It doesn't matter to them.

When people protest, they rarely get anywhere in part because the people in power like things this way, believing as they do that even if the "innocent" are shot or convicted, it serves as a means of suppressing the inherent criminality of the lower orders, so what's to worry?

That's why "Making a Murderer" is to me an important document in the struggle for dignity, justice, community and peace, because it shows just how far into realms of bizarre fantasy the "system" goes to get convictions, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the victims.

It's amazing, aggravating, and true.

What do we have to do to fix it?


  1. A number of years ago PBS, probably Frontline had a segment/show on how the Japanese train their police and detectives and then deploy then to neighborhoods.

    They require a college degree, I do not remember what kind of degree at this point but criminology or similar study I would imagine...

    They encourage a type of physicality derived from Judo that allows them to subdue suspects quickly and without much to damage to themselves or the suspect.

    Only under the most dire circumstance do they issue guns and if I recall only recently have they 'created' SWAT teams like are seen here in the USA..because they were downplayed in that old TV show.

    But the fact that really stood out was that the average conviction rate for cops and detective there in Japan ran around 70-80% and the show mentioned in passing that average conviction rates in the USA hover at 40-50%, while some cities police never get above 30%.

    With the coming of the Innocence Project we now learn how so many poor men are sent away for life times on very poor police work and its seems to be everywhere.

    The thing the show emphasized was that detectives and street cops are assigned to districts in the city in which they live more or less stay at these assignments for life and spend years learning the names, occupation and whether a particular individual is a violent person, a drug user, a wife beater, or just a average Jane or Joe.

    When armed with demographic understanding up close and personal or at least in contacts of friends in the neighborhoods they have policed for years - finding and getting evidence that is true to the real facts seems routine for them...

    Not so much here in the USA...

    American exceptionalism as it plays out, is a form of national decay and not proud trait to berate others with because there scant things to point to, that this exceptionalism produces, other than misery.

    A foul mouthed billionaire who makes it up as he goes along only proves exceptionalism is a sick ideological crutch of expedient hacks and simpleton politicians who have hijacked our national dialogue for the worst.

    It does not look good, with election machines made by shady companies aligned with the right wing and gerrymandering I doubt the fairness of the coming election...

    1. Quite true Jackson.

      There are some parallels between the Japanese way and the Manitowoc County way of policing, I think, in that not only were the Averys and their extended families well known to the local constabulary, they were intermarried with them. It's apparently a very close and tightknit community on the Eastern side of Wisconsin south of Green Bay. The relationships are very strong, and from what I could tell, the police, prosecutors and courts are perfectly aligned with one another to get convictions, not to produce justice, and the people of the region like it that way.

      They don't like the Averys.

      Thus when something happens, it seems that the Averys get blamed, whether or not they had anything to do with it, simply because "nobody likes them." This is basic scapegoating, it seems to me. Maybe it's human nature, maybe it's something deep-seated in the cultural context, but whatever it is, scapegoating is not justice.

      It's one of the issues that comes up all the time in connection with "community policing." What can far too easily happen is that police -- who are typically lazy and dumb in this country -- will rely on scapegoating particularly marginal or undesirable characters within communities in order to suppress or solve crime, regardless of objective guilt or innocence, regardless of any objective justice, simply because it's easier, and it satisfies some primal urges within the community as well.

      Scapegoating has gone on in this country since forever, so I don't think there's anything particularly unique in what happened in this case, but it exposes just how fundamentally wrong-headed the system is. It doesn't produce justice; it's not meant to. It's all about "victory."

      Apparently a lot of people in Wisconsin are pissed because this series lifted the veil on what's really going on. They're happy that Steven Avery and Brandon Dassey are in prison for life, whether or not they did the crime they were convicted of. It doesn't matter. What matters is that someone -- anyone -- who "deserves it" is punished for the crime. The Averys are always targets, they always "deserve" it -- because they do.

      And everybody knows it.