I was one of the few people outside of the state of Wisconsin to be familiar with the Steven Avery case prior to the making of the hit Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer. I reviewed his case years ago and was satisfied that a serial killer was where he should be....off the streets and out of our communities. When I heard that a documentary series had been made that pretty much proclaimed Avery was not guilty of the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005, I was stunned because I always thought there was a pretty good amount of convincing physical and circumstantial evidence to support his conviction. I wondered why so many people who had seen Making a Murderer were convinced Avery was innocent, so sure that he was framed and railroaded by law enforcement and the prosecutor's office, and willing to accept this television production's rendering of the events and evidence. I have come to the conclusion that the public has a very poor understanding of five things and this is why Steven Avery now has a fan club and advocates desperately wanting to free him from prison.
The public tends to not fully understand:
1) How defense attorneys represent a very guilty client and how prosecutors prosecute
2) How law enforcement conducts investigations and how they go amok
3) How criminals commit crimes and how profilers and detectives analyze crimes
4) What makes a psychopath and how does he think and behave
5) How the television and entertainment industry works.
In Part One of this blog, I will discuss the television and entertainment industry. In Part Two, I will discuss criminals, psychopaths, and analyzing crimes and what this all means as to Steven Avery and Brendon Dassey's involvement in murder. In Part Three, I will discuss how police investigation works, how the prosecution works, and analyze how I see the agencies handling of the Avery cases. Finally, in Part Four, I will discuss how defense attorneys handle criminal cases and what happened in the defense of Avery and Dassey.
Television works a lot like the college system these days. In many colleges today, rather than serious lectures, in-depth research requirements, and long hours of memorization and writing of long term papers, students are spoon fed material, allowed to plagiarize large portion of texts (by cutting and pasting), do tests with their books open, and put in as few hours as possible in schooling so as to have a full social life. Above all, they must be entertained when in the classroom or the professor can seek other employment. Students get to evaluate their professors and those who don't amuse them enough or give them high grades regardless of effort and achievement get bad ratings which leads to dismissal. Education takes a back seat to catering to the comfort and whims of entitled students.
Television also seeks to entertain rather than educate. The production company edits and constructs the material to keep the viewer mindlessly engaged, does all the work for them so that they don't have to put in the effort to discover the truth for themselves; in fact, television will present "the truth" they want the viewer come away with by the end of the program. The show will be built with everything in the right place to produce the right result: voiceovers, news pieces, experts, people who act in such a way that the audience will sympathize with them, people who act in such a way that the audience will despise them, bits of information without the original context to understand exactly what the facts are, information left out that might cause viewers to question the agenda or conclusion of the show, music and visual effects intended to manipulate feelings to go along with certain information, and all of these sound bites of the show will be sewn carefully together to create the intended narrative.
So why do colleges and television peddle this kind of product to students and audiences? Because students and viewers are consumers and these businesses analyze what the buyer wants and if they want the buyers to keep buying, they have to sell them a product that makes them happy. In today's society, what sells well is not necessarily a moral or truthful product. What sells now is instant gratification and exciting entertainment, not hours of thoughtful discussion and an in-depth presentation of facts all of which requires further effort to become educated enough to understand the totality of the subject matter.
When I profiled the last queen of Egypt in the Discovery documentary, The Mysterious Death of Cleopatra, I was filmed in action twelve hours a day for four weeks (in Egypt, Italy, and England). I spoke in-depth on camera with a number of Egyptologists and historians and I gave an in-depth analysis of many issues concerning Cleopatra's life and death. The whole documentary running time was less than 45 minutes and a good portion of that was voiceovers, acting sequences, and me walking into a temple, walking down a street, riding in a taxi, oohing and aahing over the architecture. The point of the program was to convince people that a snake did not kill Cleopatra, not because evidence supports this (which it does), but because it is a controversial and myth busting premise which would get people talking and make the show a high earner. And it worked. Although I am happy to have made some important points in the film and gotten rid of that silly death-by-cobra myth, much of the success of the narrative came from the crafting of the show rather than the evidence I presented. I went on to write a book, The Murder of Cleopatra in which I detail all the evidence that supports my analysis of what happened to the Pharaoh during her reign, in her relationships, and how and why she was killed. I have offered quite a few new theories and evidence to support them. I have had a dozen reviews from people who attack me for murdering a myth and just making up stuff without doing any research; they don't actually bother to read all the evidence I have spent years gathering to support my theories....that would take work and critical thinking...and Cleopatra committing suicide with a snake is cooler. Furthermore, I don't have a scripted show with all the bells and whistles and publicity to make them instant believers of my theories.
So, we come to Making a Murderer. Very few shows that are pitched to networks actually see the light of day. I know. I have had over a dozen shows pitched with me as profiler and, although the production company is, oh, so excited about this great show that they are sure will sell..usually it doesn't come to fruition. Right now I am up for criminal profiler in the new CBS show Hunted, a show that actually HAS made it because it is a reality show with an edgy twist; teams of citizens go on the run and see how long they can evade capture by a highly skilled tracking team. For the ten part series Making a Murderer to get to your television screen it has to be something unique and captivating; simply telling the story of a man who was wrongly incarcerated, released, and then arrested for a similar heinous crime...well, interesting but that would probably only make a one hour crime show. BUT, if this wronged man is wronged again, framed by crooked police and politicians....if he is really innocent, yeah, THAT is worthy a series. Worthy of critical acclaim. Worthy of a lot of viewers. Worthy of a lot of money.
And worthy of your skepticism.
Criminal Profiler Pat Brown
January 19, 2016