An online petition has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures seeking a pardon for a pair of convicted killers, after a Netflix documentary series cast doubt on the legal process.
The 10-part Making a Murderer documentary, which portrays the case of Steven Avery and his then-teenage nephew, Brendan Dassey, has prompted celebrities and armchair sleuths to flood message boards and Twitter feeds.
Wisconsin authorities say the series was slanted and that it omits crucial facts that led to Avery and Dassey being found guilty in the death of photographer, Teresa Halbach.
The filmmakers stand by the series, which spans a decade and largely concentrates on the defence and the perspective of Avery and Dassey’s relatives.
Q: SO, WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
A: Avery made national headlines in 2003, when he was released after spending 18 years behind bars for being wrongfully convicted of rape.
Two years later, Avery and Dassey were charged with killing Halbach, who visited the Avery family salvage yard to take photos of a minivan on Halloween.
Her bones and belongings were found burned near Avery’s trailer.
Both were convicted and sentenced to life terms, but only Dassey is eligible for parole — in 2048.
Q: WHY HAS THE DOCUMENTARY BEEN SO POPULAR?
A: The series’ release, before Christmas, was impeccably timed.
Much of the nation was on holiday and had time to delve into a 10-hour series.
Also, it comes on the heels of the popular podcast, Serial, which lays out a complex legal case and has generated intense social-media participation.
Q: WHAT IS IN THE DOCUMENTARY?
A: The documentary suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence against Avery, including a key found in his bedroom and blood found in the victim’s vehicle.
But sheriff Robert Hermann denied that.
“They did not plant evidence,” Hermann said.
“I trust them 100%. Quite frankly, I think justice was served in this case.”
He said he watched the series, and “I call it a film, it’s missing a lot of important pieces of evidence”.
Q: WHY DO AUTHORITIES SAY IT’S BIASED?
A: The series details the perspective of Avery and Dassey family members.
The case’s special prosecutor, Ken Kratz, has claimed the documentary ignores the majority of the physical evidence.
The omissions include the fact that Avery’s DNA was found on the hood latch on Halbach’s SUV, which was hidden on the salvage lot.
Kratz has also said a bullet fired from Avery’s gun was found in his garage, with Halbach’s DNA on it.
Q: WHAT DO THE FILMMAKERS SAY?
A: Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos said critics who argue they intentionally omitted or underplayed key evidence, to make the series more entertaining or tragic, are wrong.
“Those accusations are untrue and unfounded,” a statement read.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THAT ONLINE PETITION? IS IT GOING TO WORK?
A: It seems unlikely. For one thing, it started by petitioning President Barack Obama, who has no such authority in this type of case, since it’s not a federal matter.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker hasn’t granted a single pardon since he took office five years ago.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE VICTIMS?
A: Halbach’s brother, Mike, has declined comment, since releasing a statement from the family before the documentary became public.
“Having just passed the 10-year anniversary of the death of our daughter and sister, Teresa, we are saddened to learn that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and to seek profit from our loss,” it read.
“We continue to hope that the story of Teresa’s life brings goodness to the world.”
The victim from the 1985 rape case declined comment.
Q: WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN LIKE?
A: It’s been all over the map. Celebrities have tweeted about how into the series they are, late night talk-show host, Seth Meyer, spoofed it and fake Twitter accounts have been set up for some of the main players in the case.
However, Sheriff Hermann said some of his officers have received threats in emails and voicemails, including from a convict.
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