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“Making a Murderer” is bringing attention to wrongful convictions and creating wave of new advocates

Brendan Dassey

Historically, the wrongfully convicted have been largely ignored in the United States, but over the past decade the landscape has been slowly shifting. New exonerations regularly flood our news feeds, making the topic difficult to ignore. A week rarely goes by without hearing the news that another victim of wrongful conviction has been set free, often after spending decades of their lives locked in a cage as an innocent person.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 2015 was a record year for correcting wrongful convictions. The registry recorded 149 exonerations in the United States, which broke the previous year’s record of 125. Fifty four of the exonerees on the 2015 list were wrongfully convicted of murder. Disturbingly, five of those exonerees were on death row.

Due to the record number of exonerations in recent years, many people are just now coming to realize that wrongful convictions are a reality. This newfound surge of attention got a big boost this past December when Netflix debuted Making a Murderer, a ten-part documentary which details the murder of Teresa Halbach and the controversy surrounding her death.

This groundbreaking project, which was written and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, details the trials and convictions of both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, in Wisconsin. Avery is the primary focus of the series, based on his past history with the law. Avery served 18 years in prison as an innocent man for the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen, before being fully exonerated in 2003. His exoneration came just two years prior to being charged with the murder of Halbach, in the same county, by the same sheriff’s office that had previously caused him to lose nearly two decades of his life. The series leaves viewers to wonder if the authorities who wronged Avery the first time, set out to frame him once again in an attempt to avoid paying out millions of dollars to settle a civil suit resulting from his wrongful conviction.

Only time will tell, but there is no doubt that the Netflix series currently looks to be a major boost for both defendants in this case. The documentary has certainly given Steven Avery an entirely new outlook on his future, as it has worked to convince powerhouse defense attorney Kathleen Zellner to take on his case. Zellner has made a career out of correcting wrongful convictions. She has currently won the exoneration of 16 wrongfully imprisoned men. Her statements on the Avery case show that she is not only determined to exonerate her new client, she also plans on finding the real killer or killers. Read More »