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Series / Making a Murderer

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"I still believe in the fundamental fairness of the courts if you give them the evidence. No one's done that yet."
Kathleen Zellner

Making a Murderer is an American True Crime documentary television series written and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.

It is the story of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who served 18 years in prison for the wrongful conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder. He was again charged in 2005 and convicted in 2007 for the murder of Teresa Halbach. The connected story is that of Brendan Dassey, accused and convicted as an accessory in the murder.


This show provides examples of:

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    Season 1 
  • Chronic Evidence Retention Syndrome: If you believe the state's version of Teresa's murder, Steven Avery managed to completely clean a crime scene of forensic traces of her ever being there yet was stupid enough to leave her car, bones and personal items in his property. The defense notes that it would have been stupid for Avery to keep the victim's car intact on his premises when it was cluttered with compromising traces while he had a compactor at his disposal to Destroy the Evidence.
  • Courtroom Drama: The story moves properly into the courtroom up from episode 5.
  • False Confession: Brendan later revoked the confession he made which seemed to have been obtained under coercion.
  • Fiery Coverup: Avery had lit a bonfire on Halloween eve which was taken as evidence that he wanted to get rid of the victim's remains which were indeed found in the ashes during search. In season 2, an expert puts a big question marks on this being possible.
  • Forensic Drama: Steven Avery's case is mainly built around forensic evidence obtained at his home. Brendan Dassey's case, however, is solely based on his confession as there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime scenes.
  • Frame-Up: The defense attorneys' position is that Manitowoc County police officers planted evidence against Steven Avery on his premise, in a benevolent attempt to help the conviction of whom they believed to be a guilty man.
  • Government Conspiracy: The suspicion is that the State Supreme Court was trying to get Steven Avery behind bars with whatever means possible, even conspiring with the FBI.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: The police officers argue that Brendan was this and all they did was help him get rid of this god-awful feeling via a confession.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: When asked about a possible motive for Avery to kill Teresa Halbach, some interviewees expressed the opinion that the 18 years in prison may have taken its toll on him psychologically.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The rape, murder and mutilation of Teresa Halbach is assumed to have happened on Hallows Eve.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: When they interview the Dateline NBC producer, she mentions how this case is the perfect story for them as murder is hot at the moment. It's what everybody wants to see. And they try to beat out the other networks for coverage on the story.
  • Institutional Apparel: The black-and-white striped prison suit they make Avery wear when they jail him for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Lampshaded by his attorney:
    "[...] we can dress him up in something that makes him look like he jumped off a Monopoly game board or something. He's a 'get out of jail free' card come to life."
  • Manipulative Editing: The show has been called advocacy journalism for the reason that a number of facts were left out by the producers which made the case less riveting and Avery and Dassey more sympathetic. Some of it was addressed and rebutted in the second season, though. Examples are:
    • The young Avery didn't unintentionally set fire to a cat but poured gasoline on the animal and then threw it into a bonfire.
    • According to an Appleton Post Crescent article from 2006, Avery planned the fantasy torture and killing of a young woman while in prison.
    • The criminal complaint claimed that authorities had found restraints — handcuffs and leg irons — at Avery's residence. Avery admitted to buying them so he could use them on his then-girlfriend.
    • Avery not only called Auto Trader and specifically requested Halbach to take pictures the day she was killed, he also called her twice from his phone, disguising his number.
    • Not only was Avery's blood found in six places on Halbach's vehicle, but DNA from his sweat was also found on a hood latch.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Avery got wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985 and served 18 years behind bars before new evidence proved him innocent. And it seems to be happening again when on trial for homicide in 2005.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: A variant. Avery's decision to not testify in court is taken by the brother of the victim as a sign of his guilt. The truth is, taking the stand in your own murder trial even if you are innocent is the riskiest thing you could possibly do and people rarely do it.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Teresa Halbach's voicemail and online phone records were easy to access from the outside because, according to her ex-boyfriend, she used her birthday in the password.
  • Plea Bargain: Brendan's first attorney suggests this solution. Brendan doesn't go for it and pleads "not guilty".
  • Slice of Life: The documentary is filled with scenes showing the Avery family going about their daily lives.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the documentary Witch Hunt (2008) which covered a similar case of wrongful convictions, withheld evidence and exonerations after long years of imprisonment, similarly provoking questions about an unchecked criminal justice system.
  • Stupid Crooks: Avery and Dassey's low IQs (both of them scored in the low seventies) are brought up a few times. In Dassey's case, the defense cited this as evidence of his impressionable nature — that he was easily coerced into trapping himself in his redacted confession. The prosecution insinuated elsewise, leaning more on the idea that their low intelligence is the main reason they failed to cover up the murder and left so much evidence behind.
  • Title In: Locations and characters are introduced via on-screen text.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The season concludes with a statement about Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey's current situation together with recent photographs of them in prison.

    Season 2 
  • Attention Whore: Steven's new girlfriend Lynn mentions that she knew that if there was another season of the show she would be in it as his girlfriend. It really makes you question her motives.
  • Clear Their Name: Though the defense attorneys were already trying to prove Avery and Dassey innocent in the first season, Zellner takes this trope to a new level where she comes up with new exculpatory evidence in Avery's case in each episode.
  • "Dear John" Letter: Lynn wrote Steven a "breaking up" letter in prison.
  • Dirty Cop: While the entire Manitowoc County police is under suspicion of bias and evidence planting, Kathleen Zellner singles out Sergeant Andrew Colborn as a prime example of this trope as he twice withheld evidence in favor of Steven Avery. Once in 1995 when he did not report on a phone call that mentioned Avery was "not the guy" and in 2005 when not forwarding the verbal statement of a witness having seen the Halbach's SUV outside Avery's ranch well after the time she went missing.
  • Lie Detector: Kathleen Zellner subjects Steven Avery to 13 hours of lie detector testing in order to determine if he was innocent or not. He passes.
  • Miranda Rights: On the confession tapes they recorder with Brendan at school, one of the police detective is making Brendan aware of the fact that he read the Miranda rights to him earlier.
  • Off on a Technicality: Discussed. People are impressed with Steven's new attorney Kathleen Zellner but fear that she may get him out of prison by finding a loophole while he may still be guilty. Kathleen's response is that courts on this level are not letting people out on technicalities.
  • Orgy of Evidence: It's being pointed out that the DNA sample of Steven that was lifted from the hood latch of the victim's car contained implausibly high amounts of DNA. Adding to it, Steven's DNA was the only one found on the latch as if it was cleaned beforehand. This leads the defense to suspect that the sample was planted rather than left by Steven actually opening the hood.
  • Take That!: Each episode ends on a Title Card with a long list of names from people who refused to collaborate with the creators on this project.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: This season is split into two subplots, one of Kathleen Zellner unraveling the mystery around the murder of Teresa Halbach and one about Brendan's attorneys trying to get him out of prison.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Same as the first season, the second season concludes with photographs and information about Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey's current situation.