The Watch

News and Information for Chicago FOP members.

Making of a Monstrosity?

Judge's Decision Casts More Doubt On Netflix Documentary...

The Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer, that claims Steven Avery is innocent of the 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach seems, at first glance, to have little connection to Chicago. But recent developments in Avery’s bid to get out of prison for the murder strikes some familiar and chilling chords in Chicago.

The documentary, which won six Emmys, convinced millions of people that Avery was innocent of murdering Halbach, and claimed that Avery was the victim of corrupt police investigators and prosecutors. Avery’s release from prison seemed all but certain.

But despite the hysteria the media generated about the case, a judge ruled last week that he would not grant Avery a new trial.

From the New York Times:

A Wisconsin judge denied a bid for a new trial by Steven Avery, who is serving a life sentence for a 2005 slaying featured in the popular Netflix documentary "Making a Murderer."

 Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Judge Angela Sutkiewicz ruled Avery had not met the legal standard to receive a new trial, according to a copy of the decision posted online by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"Given the totality of evidence submitted at trial, and the ambiguous conclusions stated in the experts' reports, it cannot be said that a reasonable probability exists that a different result would be reached at a new trial based on these reports," Sutkiewicz wrote in the ruling.

Avery’s case. and the documentary about it, points to a condition that has existed in Chicago for decades, the fact that criminal cases are now played out in two often competing venues – the media and the courts. 

Ironically, Avery hired high-powered Chicago-area lawyer Kathleen Zellner, who specializes in wrongful conviction cases. Zellner has worked the social media campaign on behalf of her client, posting a steady stream of tweets arguing that her client should be, and would be, set free.

There’s a fly in the ointment, though. Those accused of framing him are fighting back. They are claiming that the documentary is not only false, but that its creators knowingly misled the public.

A recent Daily Mail interview with the prosecutor in the Avery murder case, Ken Kratz, details arguments in a new book, Avery: The Case Against Steven Avery and What Making a Murderer Gets Wrong, that Avery is clearly guilty. Moreover, he argues that the filmmakers fabricated facts and manipulated the story through suspicious editing techniques.

Does the judge’s recent ruling denying a new trial bolster Kratz’s claims?

A similar dichotomy between the media-driven narrative and the courtroom narrative in key criminal cases is unfolding in Chicago. In two key federal lawsuits, attorneys are arguing a pattern of misconduct by wrongful conviction activists, alleging they have brought forth tainted investigations as a basis for wrongful conviction claims. These attorneys argue that the corruption includes bribed witnesses, altered evidence and false affidavits that may have sprung killers, and even put an innocent man in prison.

Attendant upon all these cases was a willingness of the media to go along with the claims without checking the facts, or worse.

What is striking about these bombshell cases is the fact that the media gallery in the federal courtrooms adjudicating this misconduct is largely empty. At best, one reporter has attended them. What a contrast to the media response when the inmates were freed decades earlier. Then, the media coverage was near hysterical.

As it was in the Avery case. When the judge announced he would not grant Avery a new trial, the media only printed a grudging announcement. There was certainly no discussion and no follow up about how so many people might be completely wrong about the case.

The Avery case is bringing forth another theme familiar to law enforcement and prosecutors in Chicago, the anger and resentment for the threats and accusations made against them by their accusers and their media sympathizers.

From the Daily Mail:

For Kratz, the hidden tragedy of what became a hugely successful documentary is the devastating impact the series had on the lives of Lt. Lenk, Sgt. Colborn and himself. All three received thousands of death threats directed to them and their families and were accosted in the street and at their homes. Exploding glitter bomb packages were sent to Kratz's office and that of the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department. Chillingly, Kratz even received messages from men who said they wanted to rape and kill his daughter (fortunately he does not have a daughter.) Lt. Lenk suffered a heart attack soon after “Making A Murderer” came out while Sgt. Colborn was so afraid that he bought his blind wife a gun so she could protect herself from would-be attackers.

If Avery is guilty, one wonders: Is this is the thanks the police and prosecutors get for putting a vicious killer back in prison?

Attacks on the police and prosecutors is an all-too-familiar story for members of the criminal justice system in Chicago. All the cases now pending in the federal courts that allege a pattern of misconduct and false allegations in the wrongful conviction movement are based upon claims of police coercion and misconduct, suggesting an anything-to-win strategy by the police accusers.

As a result, many of the investigators’ lives were turned into a kind of living hell as the media either echoed one claim after another from wrongful conviction zealots or ignored the overwhelming evidence of their guilt, just as Kratz now claims in the Avery case.

In a rare moment of covering just how powerful the toll of accusations of wrongdoing against police officers can be, the Chicago Tribune published a story in 2014, titled “Chicago Cop’s Suicide Tied to Stress Over Lawsuit,” about a young officer facing a lawsuit over a fatal shooting. Dragged from an offender’s car and in fear of his life, the officer fatally shot the offender. The shooting was ruled justified.

From the Tribune article:

IPRA — after interviews with [the officer], two fellow officers and nine witnesses — ruled the shooting was justified because Madison had placed [the officer] at risk of death or severe injury by failing to stop the car after repeated instructions to do so.

 “[The officer’s] body was partially stuck in the vehicle," the report said. "(Madison) was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon."

But, according to the article, a settlement between city attorneys representing the officer and the attorney for the family of the offender stalled. The attorney for the family sought depositions. In those depositions, a potential drinking problem by the officer surfaced. 

More from the Tribune:

The revelations about the drinking, alone, didn't seem to rattle [the officer], his family said. But during a conversation with city attorneys after the deposition, they suggested that he had withheld information from them about the drinking, he told his family. Further, he would have to produce all his outpatient treatment records, his friends would have to be interviewed about his drinking and even his bar receipts examined, [the officer] told family members.

The article suggested that the release of so much private information about the officer and the potential to destroy his reputation rattled him and propelled him into a deep depression.

A few weeks after giving his deposition, the officer hanged himself in his apartment.

And the attorney who filed the lawsuit against the officer, according to the Tribune?

Kathleen Zellner.