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REVIEW: Netflix Documentary “Making a Murder”

(A few months ago I wrote this response to the Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer and forgot to post it).
Some random thoughts:

Family members were the stars of this series. We saw so much of them! They were strange to look at, and not particularly interesting. Like mole people. Nice but dull.

The series could have been half the size. Lots of shots of empty rooms, witnesses grabbing plants from the ground, tracking shots of the sunset, the highway, that damn junkyard!

I’m not giving anything away by saying that there were two separate but related cases. I pretty much agreed with the court decisions on both of them although one of them has an issue which seemed significant enough to seem to merit reconsideration (Update: Apparently a higher court agreed last week!)

I think the main message of the movie is to show how much of a spectacle a big money trial is and how easy it is for the defendant to believe in the rightness of his opinion (and convince onlookers and family members to invest money in legal fees).

Mistakes were mistake. Aside from one whopper of a mistake, none of them seemed to be committed out of malice. It’s just that people screw up, and courts have to deal with imperfect evidence.

I totally believe the directors in the PBS interview that they had no horse in this game, that they were just here to record the workings of the justice system. There is inherent value in that. But there is also inherent value in doing a documentary about Nazis and getting them to record their inner thoughts and dreams. I’m not being coy here. A film that purports to objectively get into the minds of Nazis or SS would be enormously interesting. But at some point you have to say: Is the underreported story really to hear the overpaid defense lawyers gloat at holes they have “found” in the evidence? Also to ask: what efforts did the filmmakers make to get thoughts from the family of the victims or other bystanders? Why were they unwilling or unable to get this perspective?

The primary thing this film demonstrated is that when money is no object, lawyers can dig up all sorts of defenses. And pontificate about these things ad nauseum…

There is a shocking piece of evidence in the middle of the series, and I’m glad the directors (and lawyers) circled back to it near the end.

About the only thing I rooted for were the public defenders in the latter part of the trials. Lacking the resources to counter the state’s case, they nonetheless seemed cogent and well done3.

It’s funny how my opinions changed over the course of the series. Near the start, I felt I needed to have an open mind. Also, I needed to keep in mind that certain pieces of evidence smelled funny.

I’m going to reveal my cards here and say that when you are the last person to see a victim and the victim’s car is on your property and the charred remains are found near your trailer, and you were seen burning a fire on the night in question and no one else on the property has anything remotely suggestive of criminal tendencies, that creates an overwhelming burden of you to show how and why someone other could have been the perpetrator. Leaving aside ALL of the forensic evidence and ALL OF THE COERCED TESTIMONY of his cousin, you still have to present an alternate theory which is convincing enough to override the presumption here. The defense attorneys suggested malice by the sheriff and DA; fair enough, but malice doesn’t imply ability or even the desire to take action. I may want to murder somebody badly; I might even have the opportunity; but that does not mean I act on my impulses.

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