I finished Making a Murderer last Thursday night, and it left me as perplexed, and in as much of an absolute quandary, as everyone else in the country who has been obsessing over this thing since it was released over the holidays. Do I think Steven Avery murdered Teresa Halbach? Yes. No? Maybe so. Depends on the moment you ask me. I am certain that he didn’t do it in his bedroom (which was where the prosecution claimed he tortured and raped her) or in his garage (where they claimed he killed her), because of the complete lack of DNA evidence there. But as far as I know, there’s certainly nothing to say that he didn’t kill her anywhere else on the huge property. And there’s just as much of a possibility that any one of the many other people who lived on the property could have done it. Or one of Teresa’s own family members. Who even knows, because most of the DNA evidence was found in her car, which would indicate that her body was driven from one place to another.
And while I’m about 50/50 on Steven’s guilt right now, especially with all the conflicting information floating around the interwebs lately, I am absolutely 100% certain that Brendan Dassey, Steven’s nephew, who was coerced into a false confession by the police, did NOT rape, torture, or murder her.*
*Note: As of Saturday I am starting to see people like Nancy Grace trying to convince us that even Brendan is guilty (“The Brendan Dassey confession you didn’t get to hear!!”), but I’ve had a busy weekend and I can’t stop my entire life just to research this case. I’ve only got so much time on my hands. So my caveat with what I’m saying here is that I’m writing this based on what I know right now, as of the long weekend of Jan 15-18th. Now back to your regularly scheduled program …
Regardless of all the “What they didn’t show in Making a Murderer!!” stuff flying around right now, and regardless of whether Steven and/or Brendan really were involved in this heinous crime, the documentary itself produced a LONG list of thoroughly hate-able people. And that is in large part because even if you completely set aside the question of whether these two really are guilty or innocent, this documentary shows us a criminal justice system in Wisconsin that is completely, utterly F*CKED up.
And part of the reason it is so easy to believe this effed up situation is that we have seen time and time again in the past couple years, in city after city, how completely broken and corrupt our justice system is. In just one of dozens of examples, we watched a cop in North Charleston pump 5 bullets into a man’s back and then plant his taser right next to the body in order to support his false story about what happened. And MaM comes just on the heels of the Cleveland (Cuyahoga County) prosecutor finding the Cleveland PD innocent of any wrongdoing in Tamir Rice’s death, for Christ’s sake. It’s no goddamn wonder the idea of police and prosecutor corruption in Making a Murderer is so easy for us all to believe, even though most of us (myself included) are the absolute furthest thing from conspiracy theorists. We SEE this shady shit happening with our criminal justice system in the news every. damn. day.
And to be honest, MaM gives us questionable and hate-able characters on all sides of the fence, from police to attorneys to regular ol’ citizens of Manitowoc County. We’ve got plenty of jerk-offs to choose from here. Btw, the thought of making a list didn’t cross my mind until Eli Rosenswaike suggested that we should each compile one of our own. Great idea Eli. It’s hard to put a list in tweet form, so I decided to make it here.
1. Lt. James Lenk – Lieutenant, Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department
I didn’t get a major feel for Lenk’s personality here because he’s a very wooden person who seems to keep a poker face for literally every situation he’s in, even if it involves being publicly accused of framing someone for murder and doing poor policework. But I just feel that his actions indicate that he may have done the shadiest things of anyone involved in the murder case. Well, other than the actual murderer, obviously.
First, there’s evidence he may have known in the mid-90’s that someone else confessed to the rape that Steven was in prison for, and he did nothing to follow up on that confession. Second, Lenk was then in the middle of being questioned for Steven’s civil suit against Manitowoc County when Teresa Halbach was murdered. And then, lo and behold, wouldn’t ya know it, Lenk suddenly JUMPED to volunteer to work this new murder case which had a key link to Steven – the very person who was in the middle of threatening Lenk’s career and reputation via this civil suit.
It was Lenk who first got to Teresa’s car after it was found, it was Lenk who interviewed Steven the first couple times, and it was Lenk who magically “found” the car key on the floor after numerous searches of that corner turned up nothing of the sort. Lenk had free rein of this crime scene for 8 full days and the fact that he was allowed to do this, given his conflict of interest, is outrageous.
2. Andrew Colborn – Sergeant, Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department
Andrew Colborn is the one who gets the call in 1994/95 timeframe about an inmate confessing to an assault that someone else was wrongly convicted for, and he does nothing about it (or he possibly verbally tells his superiors Lenk/Kusche/Petersen about it, depending on whose statements you believe). But either way, he doesn’t document it. And then in 2003, literally the day after Steven is exonerated and let out of prison, suddenly he decides “Oops! NOW I should probably write that report.” And this is all on the advice of his superiors who are all also in my little list here. For Colborn, and for his superiors, it was never about doing their jobs properly, it was only about CYA. Colborn, along with Lenk, jumps in to volunteer to work the Halbach case.
And then later in the trial, we get that very, very odd testimony from him about the license plate from Teresa’s car that he inexplicably called in 2 days before the car was actually found. What was most striking to me about that testimony wasn’t even the weirdness of that timing so much as his reaction to the questioning. His body language and tone of voice there were the absolute epitome of “Oohhhh shit … I done been caught doing somethin’ shady here.” It honestly felt like we were witnessing his entire downfall there just from his reaction alone, despite the fact that not much ended up coming of it in the end.
3. Ken Kratz – District Attorney for Calumet County in 2005, special prosecutor in the Halbach murder case
It’s honestly extremely hard for me to not put Ken Kratz at the top of this list, because he gives me such an extreme visceral reaction from the very sight of his face and the sound of his delicately creepy little voice. UGGH. :shudder: The only reason he’s not at the top is that he wasn’t at all involved in the rape case part of the story. He came in later (for the murder case) and simply picked up the torch and carried it proudly. At no point during the entirety of his involvement in this murder case does he come off as being interested in anything or anyone but himself, and furthering his career with wins in these murder trials. He’s arrogant and he is the absolute definition of smarmy. So much so that throughout the entire series, I honestly felt like he was purposely doing a dead-on impression of Tim Heidecker’s most amazingly sleazy characters from his and Eric Wareheim’s various comedy shows.
So it comes as no shock whatsoever when Ken Kratz, 4 years after the Avery and Dassey trials, is outed in 2010 for sexual harassment of a handful of social workers as well as his own client in domestic abuse case. When I saw this, my reaction was simply, “Oh, of course!” He creeps me out in precisely the same way Bill Cosby always creeped me out for about 15 or 20 years leading into the revelations of his side career as a serial rapist. And, uh, that’s not a good thing. Go take a flying leap, Ken Kratz, seriously. You are the king of douchebags.
4. Kenneth Petersen – Manitowoc County Sheriff, 2005 through conviction (period of Halbach’s murder and prosecution)
We don’t get quite as much info about Kenneth Petersen as we do about Lenk and Colborn, but Petersen is their boss, and I have a feeling that if we had more info about him, he’d be at the top of this list. That is especially because he has the longest history with Steven Avery out of the three – he was the officer who arrested Steven back in 1985. And he was then the one who was in charge of all these Manitowoc guys while they had free rein of the Avery property for 8 full days during the investigation, despite the fact that the Manitowoc people were NOT supposed to be involved there because of the conflict of interest.
And then let’s not forget what he tells a local news station during the Halbach investigation: That it would’ve been “a whole lot easier to eliminate [Avery] than it would [be] to frame him.” Uhhh … are those options you’ve been pondering, dude? Cause … seriously??
5. Gregory Allen – The Rapist
O.k., fine, it’s a little fucked up for me to put the person who brutally attacked and raped Penny Ann Beernsten as only my 5th most hated person here, because he’s obviously the worst person on this list based solely on his actions. The only reason I’m putting him here is that we don’t actually “meet” or talk to him at all in this series. When you watch a movie or a TV show, it’s natural to have stronger reactions to the characters that are focused on most. What’s crazy though, is that even the goddamn attacker and rapist, the most obviously evil person in the first situation presented here, even he has at least one moment of being more honest than the cops and DA themselves when he confesses to his crime and tells a prison guard that Steven is not guilty of the crime he’s imprisoned for. That’s suuuper jacked when you think about it. The cops and the original prosecutor let this monster run around free to commit at least 2 more assaults/rapes because they were so irrationally dead set on convicting Steven instead. And I think Allen was in prison on other charges during part of this time too, otherwise he probably would have committed even more assaults during this 18 year timeframe.
6. Len Kachinsky – Brendan Dassey’s first appointed lawyer
Len Kachinsky, like Ken Kratz, cares about no one involved here but himself. He wants nothing more to collect his paycheck and go home. But while Kratz is strategic and calculating, Kachinsky comes off as an absolute bumbling fool. He just honestly is terrible at his job, and he doesn’t have any interest whatsoever in becoming better at it. He does the absolute bare minimum and nothing more. He takes the easiest possible route in his “defense” of Brendan, if you can even call it that, by simply going straight for the plea deal, no matter how many times his own client tells him that he’s innocent. And in the end, he permanently damages Brendan’s chances of ever getting a fair shake in this whole thing. Some “defense” lawyer you are, Len.
7. Michael O’Kelly – The Private Investigator working for Len Kachinsky
This. freaking. guy. Oh my GOD. The scene where he tries to elicit a confession from the defendant he is supposedly there to “help”, Brendan Dassey, is arguably the single most torturous scene to watch in this entire series. He does probably even more damage to Brendan’s case than even the cops who interrogated him a bazillion times did to begin with. Or at the very least, he seals the deal for them. And then the way he acts when he’s pulled back in for the postconviction hearing where Brendan appeals for a new trial is just flat-out bizarre. With the crying on the witness stand and the whole bit. It feels in this moment as if someone had hired the murder victim’s own father to defend the main suspect in their court case. It just helps to show how screwed Brendan has been from top to bottom in this ordeal.
8. Tom Kocourek – Manitowoc County Sheriff, 1980s
Man, it is honestly so hard to decide who I hate the most between the first 10 people in this list. It could very well be argued that Tom Kocourek, who was the top dog in the sheriff’s department at the time of Steven’s arrest in the rape case, should be #1. And that is because he was probably the most responsible for putting Steven away for a 32 year sentence even though he had ample evidence that he needed to investigate another major possible suspect, Gregory Allan. The Manitowoc City Police Department went to Sheriff Kocourek and told him, “Hey, we’ve been surveilling this Gregory Allan guy and we think he’s a prime candidate for the culprit in your rape case!” And what did Kocourek tell them? “Nah, we got our guy. Don’t worry about it. No need for us to look into that or anything.”
9. Denis Vogel – Manitowoc County district attorney
Denis Vogel, the Manitowoc County DA who prosecuted Steven in the rape case, is essentially Sheriff Kocourek’s right hand man when it comes to culpability in Steven’s wrongful conviction in 1985. Similar to Kocourek, he had several people (his own employees in this case) come to him and tell him that he needed to investigate Gregory Allan. But nope, he ignores them. He successfully prosecutes Steven, and then years later, it comes to light that he had a criminal complaint about Gregory Allen for lewd and lascivious behavior in his Avery file. Not only do Kocourek and Vogel suck for putting an innocent man away for 18 years, but even more so, they suck because they let Gregory Allen run free to rape as many other women as he wanted for 18 more years.
10. Gene Kusche – Manitowoc County Chief Deputy Sheriff, at time of Avery’s 1985 conviction
Gene Kusche is the guy who draws the composite of the “rape suspect” in the original case from 1985. However, there are many indications that he simply drew the sketch directly from a mugshot of Steven Avery from a prior arrest, rather than drawing it based on the victim’s description. He also comes off as shady and like he’s being less-than-truthful during his deposition for the civil suit. He’s also one of the top dogs in the department at the time of the rape case, just below Kenneth Petersen, and there’s indications that he may have also known about the inmate confession in ’94/95 and did nothing about it.
11. Peg Lautenschlager – Wisconsin Attorney General
Peg Lautenschlager must be a terrible reader or something, because against overwhelming evidence of negligence in the Avery rape case, she finds that there was no wrongdoing there on the part of police or the DA whatsoever. Really? Reeeaaaalllly??
12. Tom Fassbender – Investigator with the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation, working with Calumet County officials in prosecution, and Mark Wiegert – Sergeant with the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department
These are the two guys responsible for coercing Brendan Dassey into what clearly seems to be false confessions during several hours-long interrogation sessions. In the videos shown in the documentary, their interrogations amount to nothing more than quizzes – guessing games – they play with Brendan. They confuse him into thinking that if he simply confesses to this crime, all will be well for him and he will be allowed to leave and go back to class. These scenes are some of the most excruciating scenes in the entire series, along with the Michael O’Kelly session mentioned above. I know Fassbender and Wiegert think they’re doing the right thing here, and I know they think they’re doing a good job, but they’re really just not. Plain and simple, this tactic does not work to get legit confessions out of young, impressionable, and low-IQ suspects. (Again, I have not seen the extra bit that Nancy Grace is circulating around the news sites right now, so I’m going based on what I saw in the doc).
13. Judge Jerome Fox – Judge who presided over Brendan’s trial and appeal
This judge sucks for basically the same reason that Wisconsin attorney general Peg Lautenschlager sucks – he refuses to make any sane decisions despite the overwhelming evidence laid out before him (in this case, that Brendan is getting screwed left and right). It takes him forever to finally let Brendan fire his horrible excuse for a “defense” lawyer (Kachinsky), and that’s only because Kachinsky allowed Brendan to be interrogated again without Kachinsky being there. But then Fox still lets that interrogation session be used as evidence in the trial! He later denies Brendan’s appeal for a new trial in the postconviction hearing, because, of course he does. Putting the same judge who presided over the trial to begin with on this postconviction examination, which is essentially an appeal for a new trial in this case, just seems beyond pointless.
14. Scott Tadych – married Barb Dassey (after the trials), stepfather of her children
Scott Tadych, seriously, WTF is this guy’s damage? He testifies against Steven in the trial, and then when Steven is convicted, he tells the press, “What happened yesterday is the best thing in the world,” and, “He got what he got comin’ to him.” And suspiciously, he and Bobby Dassey, who also testifies against Steven, were both on the property that day as well, and they are each other’s only alibis. No one else can vouch for their whereabouts during that entire afternoon. If the cops had actually done their jobs properly, these guys would have been considered suspects just as much as Steven was. And what has me even more baffled by Scott’s behavior is that he knows full well that Steven getting convicted will only make it that much harder for his own stepson Brendan to get exonerated. He knows his wife is beside herself and convinced of her son’s innocence, so why would he be working against her there? He certainly has a major vendetta against Steven, that is clear from his statements to the press. Why? And is this vendetta driving some of his actions here?
15. Bobby Dassey – Brendan’s brother, Stephen’s nephew
And then we have Scott Tadych’s mutual alibi, Bobby Dassey. Bobby is the one who testifies first in the trial, before we even meet Scott. So my reaction to him was the same – What the hell is his angle?? At the time I did NOT get why Bobby would accuse Steven of making the statements he supposedly made, especially when it seems pretty clear that Bobby is lying about key details of what they were and when they happened. But then later on when Scott showed up in the trial, I started putting the puzzle pieces together. I now see a potential motive for them to behave the way they did. Is this indicative of anything legitimately shady, or is Steven really the monster they say he is? We’ll likely never know, because the cops didn’t bother to do this part of their job when they investigated the crime.
16. Sandy Morris – Steven Avery’s shady cousin
Similar to Scott Tadych, I ask – What the hell is this woman’s damage? I wish I knew more about this situation, and why she started the rumor about Steven whacking off in front of her car back in the 80’s. She seems to have a lifelong vendetta against Steven that has caused these two to be in a constant cycle of trying to get back at one another, which eventually leads to Steven getting thrown in jail for a 32 year sentence … which is in turn the catalyst for the series of events that lands him in prison on a life sentence for murder. Well I guess you won, Sandy!! Congrats. Sandy is married to a Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Deputy, which gives her a lot more power in this rivalry than what Steven has.
17. Judy Dvorak – Deputy, Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department
Judy is, in a sense, more directly responsible for Steven’s wrongful conviction in 1985 than anyone else, because she is the one who first makes the link between the case and Steven as a possible suspect. And, oh what a coincidence, she’s besties with Sandy Morris, Steven’s antagonist cousin who hates his guts! When Penny Beernsten describes her attacker to Judy when Judy questions her in the hospital about what happened, Judy instantly says, “Oh that sounds like Steven Avery!” And boom, Steven is instantly f*cked, even though he had nothing to do with this horrible assault whatsoever. Great detective work, Judy.
18. Marc LeBeau – The FBI guy who testified about the EDTA test
No. Just no. I do NOT believe for a second that the FBI, despite saying that they couldn’t develop an EDTA testing method for several months, suddenly just pulled one together in a couple weeks’ time. I call bullshit, and this guy was the bull doing the shitting on the stand.
So that is my list, as best as I can come up with it. I’m probably missing some people. Am I? Well, before I end this, let me do one more quick list, of the most sympathetic-slash-tragic people in this series:
The Most Tragic Figures in ‘Making a Murderer’
Teresa Halbach – Murder victim
There’s no question who the most tragic figure in this entire story is, and yet we really know almost nothing about her. This documentary focuses on Steven and his family because it aims to tell the story of how someone wrongly put away in prison for 18 years could then find himself in an even MORE f*cked up situation like this. But what about Teresa, this woman who was brutally murdered at 25 years old? I’d really like to see an hour show dedicated to her and her story.
Penny Ann Beernsten – Victim in the 1985 rape/assault case
Penny was brutally attacked, beaten and raped in 1985, and that was the major catalyst that kicked off this entire story. Like with Teresa, sometimes with all the focus on “whodunnit”, it’s easy to lose focus on the horror that the victims themselves suffered. It’s easy to see why Penny got Steven mixed up with Gregory Allan considering that a) they looked pretty similar and b) the police pointed her in Steven’s direction from day one. And you have to respect the hell out of her for publicly supporting and speaking out for Steven once she realized that he was not the man who attacked her after all.
Dolores and Allan Avery – Steven’s Parents
Steven Avery’s mom has spent a huge chunk of her life working tirelessly to prove her son’s innocence. The first time, we know that her efforts were actually backed up with the truth. The second time around, we really have no idea whether Steven is innocent. But his mom is no less of a tragic figure in either scenario. His parents have spent a ton of their lives and certainly a lot of money they don’t have in trying to rescue a son that they truly believe is innocent. They never asked for any of this shit in their lives, it was simply dumped upon them. They had no choice in suddenly being forced to dedicate their lives to exonerating their son. It really is heartbreaking to watch, especially considering the very real possibility that they will probably not live long enough to find out the real truth here.
Brendan Dassey – Steven’s nephew
There were two moments with Brendan that made me utter an audible “aawww!!” in pure heartbreak upon watching them: 1) The moment he asks his police interrogators if they think he’ll be done being questioned by 1:30(ish)pm … because he has a project due in 6th period. And 2) The moment his mom asks him if he likes his (shitty) attorney and he says he’s not sure, but the only thing he knows about him is that they both share the same favorite animal – cats. These moments just go to show both his level of thinking (simple, childlike) and his complete cluelessness as to what he’s gotten himself into here. Throughout this documentary this kid really just seems to be manipulated against his own good left and right, and it is excruciating to watch.
If I’ve got time, I’ll make another list of the people I loved most in this series (which sadly will be far shorter than the list of people I hated), and possibly the most questionable people who the jury is still out on (pun intended). In the meantime, who did I leave off this list? Do you think the ordering of my list is reasonable or is it way off?