In 2003, Steven Avery was exonerated by DNA evidence and released from prison after serving 18 years on rape and assault charges. He returned home to Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. This is a fact.
On Halloween Night, 2005, Teresa Halbach was murdered in Manitowoc County. Steven Avery was one of the last people to see her alive. This is also a fact.
How these cases are entwined — and how they played out — is the subject of the stunning new Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer. Over the course of ten episodes, directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos painstakingly piece together a fascinating and disturbing tale that involves — depending on who you believe — murder, conspiracy, false testimony, police corruption, and the destruction of more than one innocent life.
The series is making headlines all over the world and stirring a vibrant debate about the U.S. criminal justice system. Not sure if you’re ready to join the conversation? Here are five reasons why you should be watching Making a Murderer.
1. It’s a fascinating true crime story
The most interesting true crime stories grab our attention because of their complexity. And there may be few cases that are more complex than that of Teresa Halbach’s murder. The state of Wisconsin ultimately convicted both Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, for charges relating to her death. But the details of how they got that conviction are murky at best. And the moving pieces surrounding the case are just as intriguing — a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit. Political pressure on the very department that pursued Avery. And two defendents who, at varying points, had few resources to adequately represent themselves in court.
Making a Murderer works so well as a documentary series because of its exhaustive approach to examining the investigation. Critics have called it “immersive, compulsive and unpredictable.” And it’s all the more compelling when you realize that the the story isn’t over yet.
2. The story is still unfolding
Making a Murderer has been a huge success for Netflix, gaining popularity seemingly overnight. It’s also renewed interest in the Halbach case, and has people all over the world asking whether justice was really served. This increased attention — and the details that the documentary has revealed to the greater public — has caused the police officers and lawyers involved in the case to go on the defensive, arguing that the documentary is biased. Meanwhile, Dassey has a new legal team working to appeal his conviction, and the Wisconsin Innocence Project is supporting Avery in his own efforts toward exoneration.
There is precedence for true crime documentaries influencing criminal cases. The defendants featured in The Thin Blue Line and the Paradise Lost series were all ultimately released from prison, and many believe the films that told their stories played a role. Time will tell whether Making a Murderer could change the course of this case — but those who’ve been fascinated by its subject matter will likely want to follow the events as they unfold.
3. You’ll learn a lot about criminal justice in America
It takes more than ten hours for the creators of Making a Murderer to tell Steven Avery’s story. And in the process, viewers spend a great deal of time feeling as though they, too, are pouring over the evidence at hand. Viewers see interrogation tapes, witness interviews, and courtroom proceedings. Transcripts and photographs of crucial evidence are on display.
As a result, Making a Murderer in many ways feels like a crash course in the criminal justice system, and how some American court systems work — the good and the bad. It’s fascinating to witness, and has left many viewers asking questions and demanding answers about how we, as a society, determine guilt and innocence.
4. If Serial and The Jinx Left You Wanting More
In the last year, there have been plenty of incredible true crime stories to dig into. Sarah Koenig’s addictive podcast Serial and the HBO miniseries The Jinx both examined alleged murderers and the details of their lives. Making a Murderer fits right into this genre — from its in-depth and sometimes intimate discussions with the people involved in the case to its revelation of key details that may not have previously been known to the public. And like its predecessors, it’s a polished film series that draws viewers in just as quickly as a John Grisham novel. It’s a must-see for anyone who’s found themselves fascinated by murder mysteries or crime stories.
5. Everyone Else is Doing It
To put it lightly, the excitement over Making a Murderer is international. And if you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the last week, chances are you’ve heard about it at least once. Almost as soon as the series hit Netflix, Reddit threads devoted to the case popped up. Celebrities tweeted their frantic reactions to the series. The prosecutors involved in the case were inundated with negative reviews on Yelp and other social media platforms. Reactions to Making a Murderer rarely seem to be subdued — whether you believe Avery and Dassey are innocent or guilty, the conversation inspires a passion in people because the stakes are so high. And the dearth of information presented in the series is so large, it’s almost impossible not to form your own opinion about the events. Regardless of whether you’re a proponent of criminal justice reform, or just want to watch a fascinating story, Making a Murderer is worthy of your attention. You can watch all ten episodes now on Netflix.