Friday, January 29, 2016

Kathryn Schulz: Dead Wrong about The Making of a Murderer

In the New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz decries the makers of "Making of a Murderer" for conducting an investigation of the murder trial of Steven Avery with no rules guiding them other than the imperative for good ratings. She says that of a documentary 10 years in the making--as if the driving motivation for a project requiring that sort of tenacity could be self aggrandizement. 

She details the anger the show has generated, aimed primarily at the police of the Manitowoc,  Wisconsin where Avery lived because the series presented evidence they had planted the most damning evidence and framed Avery, motivated by the lawsuit Avery filed against them after they discovered he was innocent of an attempted rape but with held that evidence so Avery remained behind bars for 8 more years.

Schulz points to evidence that Avery's DNA was found on the RAV 4 belonging to the dead woman which she says "could not have been planted."  This was said to be a drop of perspiration with Avery's DNA.  Now, I am not a forensic molecular biologist, but I have enough science to ask the questions: 1. How can anyone tell what was found was perspiration? 2. Does perspiration, which, generally speaking has lots of fluid and electrolytes but no cells contain enough DNA to be reliably analyzed? 3. Why could police have not obtained sweat from Avery? 

Schulz is, of course, correct: the makers of the series were bound only by their own sense of justice and decency, but that strikes me as a pretty substantial boundary.

The real point of the series is made by Avery's remarkable, decent and exemplary lawyers, who say the point is we are all dealing with uncertainty in trials like this. They say we should not be any more certain of his innocence than we are certain of his guilt, but when in doubt, you do not convict in a murder trial.
Avery is likely beyond unsavory--as a 20 year old he doused a cat with gasoline and set it on fire.

What is not in doubt is the Manitowoc police brought suspicion upon themselves in so many ways as to make any conviction a travesty:
1. They manipulated the "discovery" of the victims RAV 4 on Avery's property by a woman who claims she was guided by God to the car.
2. They "found" the car key to the RAV-4 in Avery's bedroom after the room had been searched 4 times by both non Manitowoc police and by the county cops previously and the key conveniently had only Avery's DNA but not the DNA of the woman who owned it. Subsequently, photos of the murder victim holding a set of keys revealed the incriminating key was attached to other keys, as most people do, but only the single key is "found" by police. Even if Avery had murdered her and kept a single key, why would he have kept that piece of incriminating evidence? In fact, Avery had a car crusher on his junk yard not 100 yards from where the car was found, partially covered by tree branches like some bashful stripper, as if someone wanted to pretend to cover up but really wanted you to see underneath.
3. The prosecution presented a FBI test for EDTA in the blood which, if it were found, would have proved the blood was planted. No EDTA was found, but, as the defense expert testified that meant only the EDTA, if present, was below the limits of detection of the test. The testimony of the FBI agent was astonishingly suspicious, as he started blinking uncontrollably under cross examination and claimed that although 6 samples were submitted he tested only 3 but he still knew the 3 untested samples had no EDTA in them. 
4. The interrogation of Avery's "accomplice," his nephew Brendan revealed he was mentally incompetent.  He is led step by step to agree to the story the police outline for him and after confessing to the crime asks when he can go home to do his homework. He clearly does not understand he has just "confessed" to murder. The fact the police would even charge him in the face of the videos of his interrogation is among the most astonishing things about this series.

5. And lastly, am I the only one this bothers? No body!  Yes, we all know the magic of DNA, but really, burnt bits of bone which still have enough undamaged DNA to positively identify the missing woman? One of the big issues here is: Well, if it wasn't Avery, who would have done this?  After looking at those Manitowoc officers is it really conspiracy insanity to imagine the victim, Teresa, in a witness protection program somewhere?

Ms. Schulz misses the forest for the trees: It is true the film makers selected and edited to make their points, but some facts are plain and incontrovertible and there are enough of those to lead any reasonable person outside the state of Wisconsin to believe the local police were and likely still are corrupt and their case against Avery, even if he was the killer, was so dirty, it should never have gone to trial.

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