Making A Murderer, the newest addition to a spate of in-depth true crime television series, is unique—not only because it seems to demonstrate a grotesque failure on the part of the justice system, but because almost every major player in the explored crimes is still alive—including one of the victims. Because of this, the story is still developing.
The show begins with the story of Penny Beernsten, a beloved, involved member of the Manitowoc, Wisconsin community. In 1985, she was attacked and raped by a stranger who she later identified to be Steven Avery. Avery eventually served 18 years in prison before being exonerated by conclusive DNA evidence. Shortly after being released from prison, Avery was questionably convicted of murdering another woman named Teresa Halbach.
Although Beernsten refused to speak with the filmmakers because she doubted their allegiance (“They were very convinced [Avery] was innocent,” she said), she did share her reaction to the series with The Marshall Project.
“After the DNA results came back, I just felt powerless,” she said. “I can’t un-ring this bell. I can’t give Steve back the years that he’s lost.”
She also spoke about the unreliable method of identification the police used:
It was a simultaneous lineup [where witnesses are shown all photos at once]; there were nine photos, and I looked carefully at each one and picked Steven Avery’s. The sheriff later put together a live lineup. There were eight men and I again picked Steven Avery. He was the only person who was in both, so it’s logical that I would pick him.
Of her initial anger toward the Innocence Project (that ultimately located the exonerating DNA evidence):
The first time I was in court, Keith [Findley of the Innocence Project] came up to me and said, “I’m very sorry, this must be very difficult for you. I know you went through a horrendous assault.” And think I snapped back with something snarky like, “I wish I could believe you were sincere.” Now I consider Keith Findley a friend. He and the other attorneys at the Innocence Project have always been very victim-sensitive.
How the police department has accepted no blame for the mistaken conviction:
One of the things that really troubled me is that I was one of the only people who apologized to Steve. It would have been nice if the prosecutor and sheriff had said, “Actually, we all got it wrong.” I felt like I was the only one taking any responsibility.
The police department had called me a couple weeks after the assault and said they had another suspect in mind. They didn’t give me name, but it turns out it was Gregory Allen. I hung up and I called the sheriff and said, “What’s this about another suspect?” I was told, “Do not talk to the police department, it will only confuse you.”
And of how her therapist has had to work with her to reassign her feelings of rage to the real perpetrator, a man named Gregory Allen.
“You will never be able to attach the emotions that you felt at the time of the assault or in the ensuing years to Gregory Allen,” her therapist reportedly said. “What you need to work on is removing those feelings from Steven Avery.”
On Tuesday morning’s edition of the Today Show, documentarians Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos shared that a juror in the trial that ultimately convicted Avery of Halbach’s murder recently came to them to confess that they, too, believed that Avery had been wrongly convicted of the second crime.
“They believe that Steven was framed by law enforcement, and that he deserves a new trial, and if he receives a new trial, in their opinion it should take place far away from Wisconsin,” said Ricciardi.
“Obviously we asked this person, explain what happened, why did you cast your vote for guilty?” continued Demos. “And what they told us was that they feared for their personal safety.”
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Images via Netflix.