The Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” has captivated the nation’s attention. The filmmakers chronicle the case of Wisconsin resident Steven Avery, a junkyard owner railroaded by Manitowoc County's law enforcement and judicial system into serving 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.
After being exonerated of the rape by advances in DNA testing, Avery is set free. Over the next couple of years, Avery sues Manitowoc County for $36 million for wrongful imprisonment.
Just as his lawsuit is beginning to hold Manitowoc cops and lawyers to account, a young female photographer goes missing. Her murdered remains show up on Avery’s property, and Avery and his mentally-challenged teen nephew are charged with the gruesome rape and murder.
Whether Avery actually committed the crime is a secondary point in the film compared to its examination of the police search and subsequent trial.
Avery’s defense points to numerous inconsistencies in the state’s prosecution, as well as the conflict of interest inherent in having the very Manitowoc County deputies Avery was suing involved in the search of the crime scene.
Crucial pieces of damning evidence, like the murdered woman’s car keys and bullet fragments, are missed over a full week of searching, but miraculously turn up after two suspicious Manitowoc deputies join the search later. A vial of Avery’s blood from his overturned rape conviction decades ago is found to have been tampered with, leading defense to suggest it was used to plant his blood smears in the woman’s vehicle.
Then there’s the nephew, a dullard of a boy who is pressured into a confession by two trained interrogators. His mother is not present, and he’s never given the assistance of counsel. But even when he does get an appointed lawyer, that attorney and his investigator actually steer the boy toward making the state’s case against Avery, and in the process, damning himself to a 42-year stint in prison.
As I read the reviews and discussions of “Making a Murderer,” I see Americans shocked that so much police and prosecutorial malfeasance came to bear on this one man and his family.
To them, I say, welcome to our world.
First off, I assume that many of the commenters who are so shocked must be white. The idea that cops would lie and plant evidence and that prosecutors would cut ethical corners to secure a conviction rather than find the truth is nothing shocking to your average black or Latino family in most urban settings.
Think of all the recent high-profile killings of unarmed black men caught on camera. How many of those police reports said the suspect was aggressive, hostile and going for the cop’s gun, only to have the video evidence completely expose those lies?
Then, of course, there are the daily miscarriages of justice that take place in the War on (Certain American Citizens Using Non-Pharmaceutical, Non-Alcoholic, Tobacco-Free) Drugs.
One of the first stories I covered in my marijuana journalism was Atlanta’s Kathryn Johnston. She was a 92-year-old black woman who was raided by cops when they falsified information to get a search warrant for what ended up being the wrong address. Fearing for her life, she shot at them once with a pistol, only to be killed by their return fire of 39 shots. So they planted bags of marijuana in her home to justify the raid and shooting.
Then, there is the case of undercover narc Tom Coleman in Tulia, Texas.
He targeted the black population of Tulia in supposed cocaine stings that turned up no evidence of cocaine, no drug paraphernalia, no weapons, no money or any other signs of drug dealing. At one point, he had 13 percent of the adult black population of the town arrested. He even secured convictions against Billy Wafer, who could prove he was at work when Coleman said he was selling him cocaine, and Yul Bryant, a 5-foot-7-inch bald man who Coleman’s report described as tall and bushy-haired. Witnesses placed him 50 miles away from Coleman when the cop said he was sold cocaine by Bryant.
Philip Smith at StopTheDrugWar.org regularly chronicles the latest drug war police corruption stories, like these five stories and these eight stories that include conspiring with a local businessman to plant drugs in the man’s brother’s car and the cop who stole cocaine from the evidence locker to trade for services from sex workers.
And it’s not just local-yokel police departments and sheriff’s offices involved.
Drug war corruption extends all the way to the federal level, costing former DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart her job when it was revealed that DEA agents in Colombia were enjoying parties with sex workers paid for by the drug cartels. (Locking up an innocent San Diego college student in solitary confinement for five days with no food or water, why, that was just a simple mistake.)
Even just this week, we’ve seen the case of the Northern California narcotics cop busted in Pennsylvania trafficking 122 kilograms of Emerald Triangle bud for sale on the East Coast.
Thank you, Netflix, for dramatically illustrating a case that involved a white family and no drugs, so Americans can finally recognize that when it comes to bad cops and prosecutors, it’s not just a few bad apples, but the product of a rotten barrel.
(Photo Courtesy of Netflix)