Manitowoc, Wis. is a fellow Midwestern city, about eight hours northwest of Columbus, that I had never heard of. It wasn’t until I read spews of tweets on my Twitter timeline that mentioned the city — along with huge skepticism of America’s justice system — that Manitowoc entered my radar.
I read an article about how two petitions had gained about 200,000 signatures in hopes of legally pardoning a man named Steven Avery, a man who was wrongly convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder. I also learned that the White House had issued its first official decision-maker response to the petition. So I decided I had to give the “Making a Murderer” docuseries a try.
Now, I’m not a fan of intense spoilers, so I’ll only sum up the first episode of Netflix’s “Making a Murder” in one word: blasphemous.
I say the word pretty loosely, but the law is supposed to be sacred, right? Or it should at least be thought of that way — if you don’t want to be arrested, of course. This is why when Sandra Morris, a cousin of Avery’s, raised her right hand and agreed to “solemnly swear that the testimony (she was) about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help (her) God,” and claimed that Avery had performed sexual acts in front of her without her approval, I was taken aback. Most of the evidence presented in the show suggested that Avery hadn’t done any such thing.
In 1985, at just 23 years old, Avery was charged with raping a local woman named Penny Beerntsen, which resulted in a conviction and a 32-year sentence. Despite multiple alibis, no physical evidence to link Avery to Beerntsen’s rape and, according to Avery’s father, having 22 witnesses, Avery was still convicted of the crime.
To be clear, I am not in the business of victim blaming, and it was evident that Beerntsen was sexually assaulted. But while watching the first episode, my gut — along with many holes in the Manitowoc police chief’s and district attorney’s reasoning for claiming Avery as the criminal — said that Avery was innocent, and the justice system agreed.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, many citizens of Manitowoc resented the Avery family because they were autoworkers who seemed to be more concerned with building their own family’s community than merging with their farm-working neighbors. It turned out that there were loads of funny business happening with police sheriffs, district attorneys, judges and other common people in the city, which led to a conspiracy of sorts that aimed to keep Avery locked up, no matter the cost. So basically, Manitowoc was full of hatred, and so much of it that folks were willing to break the law, putting their government jobs and freedom at risk. When you find the logic in all of this, please let me know.
At the end of the episode, Avery was released from jail; current DNA technology proved that he had not raped Beerntsen. I thought everything was going to go well for Avery after being released. But the thought vanished just as soon as a police car flashed across my computer screen and the words “Do we have Steven Avery in custody though?” took its place.
I’d like to think that Avery has some justice in his future, but seeing that the series has a whopping nine more near-hour-length episodes left, I’m not so hopeful. But I guess we’ll see. The first episode was so jam-packed with drama and mystery that I wouldn’t dare stop watching now.