Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Making a Killing off a Murderer: An Analysis of the Crime and Documentary - Part Two

Before I continue tonight with Part Two of my analysis of Making a Murderer, I want to complement the producers on making a really fine documentary, top quality, slick in fact, the kind of documentary that wins awards, so well made that a viewer would have a hard time not jumping on the bandwagon to free Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey and to condemn the police investigators and prosecutor and the original defense attorney for Dassey. There are good guys (Avery, Dassey, and Avery's defense team who are fighting for truth and justice) and there are bad guys (anyone thinking or suggesting Avery and Dassey are guilty of the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach). Which side do YOU want to be on?

There is no evenhandedness with the presentation of this documentary. If you think there is, it is because the producers included bits of "tch-tches" to show how the good guys are, of course, human, that we are not trying to whitewash our characters. We all make mistakes, but we don't deserve to be railroaded and have our lives ruined, do we? Even if the "good guys" aren't perfect, we can sympathize with them and get on their team. On the other hand, the producers work overtime to never show the "bad guys" in any sympathetic light, because, they are the devil incarnate, not just mildly flawed human beings like the other side; they are the enemy.

In other words, the producers and a number of the "good guys" in the documentary straight up lie and slander, but we are supposed to not notice this - and if we do note that something is not quite truthful - we let it slip by - because these moments are glossed over quickly and then the film segways into the "bad guys" doing their conspiracy thing so that any conflicting emotions we might have had for a minute quickly get lost in the disgust we feel for what is being done to the innocent men and their families.

I will repeat again; hundreds of hours of filming is edited down to what you see. Each statement allowed in the documentary is handpicked for what emotion it will evoke and what will support the narrative. For example, Steven Avery is always presented as a placid fellow; he speaks with a slow, calm voice throughout the entire documentary. If the producers must include anything about Avery that is a bit unsavory, then Avery is giving his version in a voiceover while a selected portion of evidence flits by on the screen.

Take the cat "incident" that Avery softly explains was just a foolish moment with a bad group of friends (psychopaths always blame others and don't take responsibility for their actions); where he was just playing and tossed the cat over a fire and the cat got lit up. A silly prank that went so awry he got nailed with animal abuse and spent nine months in jail.

Avery flat out lied. The producers let him lie to the viewers. This was in Episode One and right there, viewers should realize they are not going to get the truth from this documentary; that the producers are not going to be ethical and present a factual series about Avery and the circumstances of his legal situation.

It is a fact that Avery poured flammable liquid on the cat and chucked it into the fire to watch it suffer and die. Avery was an adult at the time and coldbloodedly tortured his pet in front of other people. He shows no remorse. Psychopaths often commit impulsive acts for their amusement and don't think about the consequences. If they end up paying for their evil acts, they feel no shame or guilt and blame others for why they did what they did and for the resulting penalty. Many a serial killer has claimed the victim caused him to lose his temper and that is why he is in jail ("The bitch made me do it" excuse). In fact, Avery and his defense attorneys toss down this very card as to why he got nailed for the earlier sexual assault for which he was wrongfully convicted. Avery's cousin told people that Avery was acting like a pervert in front of her (masturbating) and his response was to run her off the road, point a gun at her, and threaten to kill her.  But, again, we hear Avery's soft voice downplaying the incident and then the attorneys claiming that it was this no-big-deal moment that led to the hatred the cops had for him and the first arrest, not that his own behaviors put him in the crosshairs. Later in the show, letters are shown that Avery wrote to his kids - first sweet ones and then ones threatening to kill their mother - but, Avery again just had a bit of frustration because of his situation and his soft voice tells us of his struggles; of course, it is his wrongful incarceration that causes him to threaten to kill people (as if all people who are wrongfully incarcerated would do the same).

Full stop. What Avery has really shown us if we don't fall for the producers' manipulation is that he is a violent psychopath. He exhibits all the traits of a psychopath: narcissim (it IS always about him), manipulativeness, poor behavioral controls, pathological lying, lack of remorse, emotionally shallow, lack of empathy, failure to accept responsibility for his own actions, impulsivity,  need for excitement, and a grandiose sense of self-worth. Not only does he exhibit psychopathic traits but he also exhibits a penchant for violence, sadism, and sexual perversion. And fire setting. So he is actual right on the mark for being a sexually sadistic psychopath.....and a serial killer. Yet, the producers of this documentary want us to believe he is just a poor, uneducated schmuck who has been dealt a raw deal because people in the community don't like him or his family because they are not upper class citizens. In reality, he had a reputation for being creepy and criminal  and that is why some people and the police thought of him as a blight in the community and someone likely to commit a violent crime.

And what kind of crime might a sexually sadistic psychopath commit? Just about anything and, because Avery is quick to lose his temper and prone to violence and impulsiveness and sexual perversion, it is not a stretch to think that if Teresa Halbach caught his eye and he wanted to follow through with the fantasies he spoke of in prison of imprisoning a woman and doing what he wanted to her, he couldn't stand to miss the opportunity. He might even have thought that he was immune to future investigation because he had been victimized by the police system and now was being paraded around as a poster boy for wrongful conviction. He might have thought he was untouchable....a grandiose notion often featured in the psychopathic personality. That the crime didn't goes as planned or that disposing of the body and evidence was a bit more messed up than he thought it would be is not surprising....real life is not like a crime drama on TV and if you have any obvious connection to the victim or crime location and the police show up at your door, it is not as easy as all that to get away with rape and murder. The reason most serial rapists and serial killers go for so long without being caught (or go forever without being caught) is because they attack strangers in isolated locations so it is nearly impossible to figure out who the perpetrator is barring a lucky DNA match someday in the CODIS system.

As to Brendan Dassey, he is what we professionals call "a dumb shit." A "dumb shit" does not refer to simply means that he is a guy - usually not an evil guy - but one who does stupid crimes because he makes foolish choices or participates in serious crimes because he is egged on by a stronger lawbreaker or a gang. He is the weak partner in a serial killer duo, the one who does what the mastermind says; he is a follower and needs the attention of the leader. Dumb shits often give confessions with little prodding. When they are separated from their leader and on their own, they are not exactly clever and tough. Avery can hold out till death proclaiming his innocence, but a dumb shit like Dassey will simply open his mouth with the smallest encouragement. While the interrogators of Dassey didn't do the best job I have ever seen and occasionally gave information and led Dassey, they did not coerce  his confession or terrify him into giving his statements. Dassey told of his experience over and over - even to his mother - and his description - while likely containing some errors - was pretty much the truth. Avery drew Dassey into a criminal act. I doubt Dassey would have committed such an act on his own but, being a follower, he followed. Dassey truly is not a very bright fellow - not mentally retarded - but certainly not very smart. I feel a bit sorry for him....I think he deserves to go to prison but maybe not for life; the first attorney the documentary villainized knew he was guilty and that he should go for a plea bargain because the evidence overwhelmingly supported the majority of his confession. Unfortunately, his mother intervened along with Avery's defense team and got him a new lawyer who then got him a life sentence.

Steven Avery, while also portrayed as slow upstairs, is no dummy. He may not be an intellectual or highly educated but he has some smarts; he knows when to shut his mouth. Too bad for him his defense team couldn't overcome the evidence with their story of the police trying to frame him. But, now he has a documentary team and they just might do a better job than his attorneys.

Part Three

Part One

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown

January 20, 2016


drpersuasion said...

Pat Brown, thank you so much for deconstructing the full landscape picture of manipulation at play in this documentary film series. This is a very insightful post and quite courageous. We are taught in a democratic America to think for ourselves but in this case the producers/directors have an agenda that creates a bandwagon effect that shuts down individual conclusions or dissent. I knew something was up when Alec Baldwin started his Twitter frenzy. If you don't side with Avery you are labeled as an outcast who sides with a corrupt Manitowoc County sheriff's department. It's a dangerous version of "brand journalism," designed in this case to place profit and publicity before the truth. We should understand the gray areas, which include failures in investigation, but failures do not necessarily add up to framing. Finally, as a cat lover, that was a tough introduction.

Martin Roberts said...

Interesting how arson and cruelty to animals appear as early behavioural traits among those later suspected of murder:

Pat Brown said...


I have been on the "wrong" side before and it is amazing how nasty people get when you won't jump on the bandwagon. When there is a campaign to free "innocent" people, if you don't agree that those people are innocent, you are branded a cruel and corrupt person. You point out another big problem and this is the one of gray areas and failures in investigation - which I will be covering in Part Four of these blogs on Making a Murderer. A good portion of what people think is corruption is incompetence. People in all professions vary in capability and training. Sometimes the police are just unskilled at certain things and err in investigation or handling of cases. Other times, there is a problem with coverup something or perverting evidence; this usually happens because of previous incompetence that sent the case down the wrong road or frustration at knowing the guy is guilty but the court system will let him walk or departmental embarrassment or protection from political suicide. I have seen these things in cases I have worked and I am certainly not happy with having cases wrongly handled, injustice occur, etc. And it is something we need to work to prevent and improve...but not by creating a pack of lies and slandering police departments wrongly to make a political statement. Much like the "Black Lives Matter" campaign which has thrown perfectly acceptable police behavior in with not so acceptable police behavior; I can't stand with this group because I refuse to slander good cops and and call justifiable homicides murder and raise dangerous thugs to the status of innocent victim/hero. I DO want to see proper evaluation of police shootings and those shootings that are not justified should then be prosecuted in court. But, if we can't have a rational conversation about that and make proper determinations, I don't want to be on a lynching squad. Likewise, with the Avery case and police corruption. Let's analyze it rationally and see where there is true corruption and where there isn't and work to fix each problem that exists.

Pat Brown said...

Martin Roberts,

The triad - bed wetting, arson, and animal cruelty - has been noted to be present in some serial killers' past (but not all). I believe these are areas of control for young people. All these things can be something you can do to get power and control and revenge - all at home or in the neighborhood. Then, later, when you get more mobile, you can commit bigger crimes.

Martin Roberts said...

Hi Pat

Thanks for your clarification (8:48). You're obviously on 'home turf' with this topic, and I look forward to the sequel(s) plus others' comments.



Nancy Snow said...

I'm looking forward to all the posts to follow. One of my specializations is propaganda studies, which is why I value rational discourse over a pack of lies and lumping everything together into one.

Pat Brown said...

One of the biggest problems with propaganda is that it includes some truths so that if you stand up against it, people attack you for not supporting those truths within...which, of course you do, but don't support the entire package. Hence my problem with "Black Lives Matter" movement...there are some truths included within it which I would liked to see addressed in a rational format, but there is so much else mixed in, I cannot jump on board. Propoganda makes it hard to speak out because there is little listening and discussion going on; you are either in or out, right or wrong, good or evil...propaganda makes sure there is no middle ground where we can work things out. It is a revolution and you are either a soldier or an enemy.

The Secret of My Success said...

Pat you are applying good common sense to this case as if it is a normal criminal case of murder but it is anything BUT normal, it is quite extraordinary, so your points are less valid than they would otherwise be.

Steven Avery was a high profile exoneration that made the county sheriffs department look terrible, was about to sue for over 30 million, and depose key members of the law enforcement hierarchy.

With this status and with so much at stake, the likelihood of police tampering and fabrication is surely more credible than if he was any other citizen. There is clear motive and reward in ensuring his conviction.

I agree with you that the documentary was biased and in some cases disingenuous. I too was annoyed by the whitewashing of the cat incident and his prior criminal behavior.

However reading outside the case and looking at certain evidence (for example the odd smeared blood in the Rav4, and the key that "fell out" of some furniture on the 7th search according to Lenk's highly unconvincing testimony) make me doubt Avery's guilt quite a bit.

I would agree Avery COULD have murdered Theresa, he is certainly a suspect, but others should have been investigated such as Ryan Hillegas, George Zipperer and Scott Tadych.

This is not based on the documentary as it does not explicitly point the finger at any of these three. I think it is trite to say that people have been "deceived" by the documentary or misled - while it is biased, there are many deeply troubling things about this case which the filmmakers merely had to present to viewers. Brendan's confession is one of them. It was absolutely cooerced, and I have viewed it unadulterated outside the documentary so please do not accuse me of being misled by the edit.

I look forward to the next few years when Kathleen Zellner succeeds in not only exonerating Avery but finding damning evidence of the real killer, and you will inevitably write a blog on why Avery is still guilty.

By the way - I am a fan of your blog and have been reading it for a long while. I simply disagree with you on this one.

Pat Brown said...


Many reasonable points. I won't address all but I do want to point out some things.

I agree that this case was unusual because of the high profile aspect of Avery. However, let's go back to the case he got nailed wrongly for. True, the police could have done a better investigative job but, to be fair, they really did think it was him. Not because they had it out for the Avery's - if you hung around police long enough you realize that they are familiar with many a creepy guy so they do not need to focus on just one - but because they really thought it was him. Very believable ID by the victim, he really did match the description, and he was the kind of guy they suspected might behave that way. Yes, the real guy was on their radar but, again, if you work the job long enough, you realize that they are a pile of suspects in every few block radius. I have had cases where there are so many good suspects within a five minutes walk of the victim, it makes your head spin. I think if the guy hadn't looked so much like Avery and the victim had a moment's hesitation about Avery, the police might have gone on and thought about other possibilities, but when she ID'd him, they just thought they had their man. I would instruct detectives as to better crime analysis and profiling but done is done.

While the police COULD have planted evidence and MAY have planted evidence, there is no evidence that they planted evidence. And this is the problem with the documentary; they are allowing the defense to make claims without proof which is really defamatory and shouldn't happen. Likewise, there killer COULD be someone other than Avery but there is no evidence pointing to this at all.

As to Brendan's confession, I do believe he participated in some of the crime, but not all. His confession to his mother was very telling. Was the interrogation properly done? Not in my opinion; there were times when Brendan was definitely led but there were other things he said that were quite convincing and he said on his own. Again, this was not a great interrogation but this is not unusual in that many detectives just aren't that good at it.

I think Zellner may be able to get another trial for Avery based purely on massive public pressure and a jury may well find him not guilty (because a jury is but a crap shoot to begin with). I find there was enough evidence to convict Avery and unless true evidence of tampering shows up and true evidence pointing to another person, I will stay with my conclusion. I find it very difficult to believe that Avery calls the woman out, she vanishes right then, she and her car end up right on his property, he has a fire that very night and right where pieces of her are going to be found. Even if Brendan's confession weren't completely true, and the blood and key were planted, then the body remains and phone also have to be planted and Avery has to be a real unlucky son-of-a-bitch that someone right near him decided to off Teresa just after he called her and then planted the evidence on him and got the police to help out. Wow! Okay, maybe that kind of Hollywood script happened and, if it can be proven, I will say that was a real surprise to me. I have seen cases railroaded in my career and wrong people convicted and nothing so fancy ever happened. Basically, a lowlife was found to pin it on and the evidence was never very convincing at all. Most of the time, there wasn't even anything to prove the guy was near the victim, just that he committed a similar crime (and was in prison already) or he was in town at the time or he once knew the victim. Never was the guy the last to see the victim and all the evidence ended up right with him.


The Secret of My Success said...

Thanks for this detailed and thoughtful response. Based on Zellners recent comments about the case, she has hinted that the real killer was someone close to Teresa and that there was "obvious" evidence overlooked by police.

I have learnt from your blog that the family or partner or ex partner of a murder victim are often the first to be looked at as suspects. However obviously the Manitowoc Police did not see the need to make such enquiries after the RAV4 appeared on the salvage yard.

We also know that someone was stalking Teresa at the time and that she told her colleagues not to worry about it. This suggests to me that it was someone she knew and that she perhaps felt a degree of control over the situation.

I do realize all of this is speculation at this point, but do you consider it a credible theory that Teresa was being stalked by a man close to her, who knew her movements, and intercepted her after her visit to the salvage yard? It would perhaps explain how the killer was aware of her appointment with Avery, and simply took advantage of that connection?

Do let me know what you think as this is the most strongly prevailing theory amongst MaM fans at the present moment.

Pat Brown said...


It is interesting how you are thinking about the possibility of another suspect than Avery and this is exactly what I wrote about today! Do go and read this blog and you will see that the problem here is not using the evidence to develop a theory but developing a theory that has nothing to do with the evidence.

Zellner is hinting that the real killer is someone close to Teresa; she is hinting because she can't easily say who it is because there is no evidence to support it. Then, she claims there was "obvious" evidence, so obvious she isn't going to tell us what it is! This is total crap. If there was real evidence and a real suspect, she could just say so. This is what I do with my profiling. Layout the evidence and then say who it points to.

No stalker is going to get lucky that Teresa just happened onto the Avery property that day and that Avery was a good fall guy and then manage to plant all the evidence or get the police to do it. In fact, there is simply NO evidence linking to a stalker. It is just a good story, the kind of story a defense attorney dreams up to confuse the jury who then says, well, maybe there WAS a bogeyman and all the evidence pointing toward the defendant is just coincidence.

When you read my blog on this issue, you will see exactly how unscientific such theorizing is.