It’s this year’s “Serial,” except in video form. It’s addicting. It’s the talk of the Internet. And there are likely at least two people in your family or at your office who won’t shut up about it. I’m talking about the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” which was released over the holidays. And while you may be reluctant to start the 10-part, true-crime dramamentary (yeah, I made that word up), there are some good reasons you should.
I should tell you I grew up in Manitowoc County, the same county where the case took place. 54220 was my zip code for 22 years. It’s where the family business is. It’s where most of my relatives live. I still consider it home. And I was living in Manitowoc when this case was unfolding. I watched the show in three days, waking up at 2:30 a.m. on one of those mornings to continue watching it because it was literally haunting me in my sleep.
“This case” involves Steven Avery. Avery was imprisoned for 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. DNA evidence exonerated him. Two years after being set free, however, and amidst suing the county and the sheriff’s department for tens-of-millions of dollars, he was charged with murdering 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach, dismembering her body, and burning it behind his country trailer home. It was a gruesome crime that not only dominated our tiny, 70,000-person community, but also national news.
Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were convicted of the crime. Case closed.
Until this year.
“Making a Murderer” is the work of two filmmakers who have been following the case and filming the family for 10 years. Quite the dedication. The filmmakers make the case — like the defense did during the trial — that Avery was framed by local officials to avoid the lawsuit. Some of the footage and evidence is stunning. In the aftermath, the prosecutor is calling the accusations preposterous. A jury member is allegedly saying there was some shady things that went on in the deliberation room. And there’s a swell of support for the federal government to now step in and relook at the case of both Avery and Dassey.
I’m not going to tell you where I fall on the guilty-or-innocent spectrum. But here’s what I am going to tell you: You really should watch it. Why? And why am I taking up space on this blog to say so? Here are three reasons.
1. Life and death matter
Here’s a very simple way to put it: If Avery is, in fact, innocent and was framed as the series suggests, an innocent man is sitting in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. If he is guilty, the death of an innocent woman is being used as a TV and ratings pawn.
Said another way, if neither of Avery or his nephew committed the crime, then their lives are being wasted behind bars. (Both were sentenced to life imprisonment.) That’s an injustice. If they did do it, like the jury concluded, Teresa Halbach’s killers are being lionized and treated like the victims. That’s wrong.
In the end, a young woman lost her life. A family lost a daughter. And when that’s in the national news, we should pay attention to it because life matters.
2. Justice and injustice matter
This point is closely related to the first, but it’s worth noting. If Avery and Dassey are innocent, a grave injustice occurred. If they’re guilty but set free, that’s an injustice, too. And if the lives of the law enforcement officers involved in the case are being unfairly ruined, if they’re good men who are being wrongly accused of a horrible crime, then that’s unjust also.
I’m a Christian, and as such believe that we’re supposed to be aware of and fight against injustice. I should stand up for what’s right. Whether that’s when the innocent are jailed, or when bad people are turned into heroes.
Living second also means considering others above yourself. We should, then, wrestle with justice and injustice. We should talk about things that are uncomfortable (with grace). And we should participate in cultural conversations where those issues are being discussed.
We should wrestle with justice and injustice. We should talk about things that are uncomfortable.
3. It’s culturally relevant
No one should live in a bubble. We do ourselves and our society wrong if we stick our heads in the sand. The truth is, “Making a Murderer” has captured society’s attention. People are talking about it. Those conversations are leading to other conversations about life, about justice, about injustice. Instead of putting our hands over our eyes, plugging our ears, and ignoring those conversations, why not join them?
Think about it this way: What if a conversation at work about Avery, Dassey, and Halbach opens up opportunities to talk about deeper issues?
Now let me be clear, I’m sure there are other cases out there like this one. There are probably other documentaries about them. Why am I telling you to watch this one? Well, for the simple reason that it’s the one being talked about right now. If something similar comes up in three months, you should also be informed about that, too. The reality is the reasons I outlined above apply to a lot of issues past, present, and future. “Making a Murderer” just happens to be the most recent and relevant example.
A final note of caution about all this: While I’m advocating you should watch the series, be careful after. Yes, I’m sure you will form an opinion, but conversations about life, justice, and injustice deserve to be treated with the utmost care and dignity. Be mindful of what you put on social media. Remember that no matter where you land, a young woman died. Don’t cheapen that by trying to pick fights.
Be informed, but don’t be obnoxious.
You may also like: Why we need to be vulnerable about our problems.