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'Making a Murderer' panelists discuss the issues surrounding the documentary

DeLuca, Kraynok, Kilgallon, Zoladz, & Hill discuss Making a Murderer to a packed room. (Northern Review photo/Shane Tilton)

DeLuca, Kraynok, Kilgallon, Zoladz, & Hill discuss Making a Murderer to a packed room. (Northern Review photo/Shane Tilton)

Kevin Hill, professor of law at Ohio Northern University, hit on one of the key takeaways from Netflix’s hit series “Making a Murder.”

"We are all guilty of something. It's just we have not been convicted of it." 

“Making a Murderer” was the theme of the panel hosted by ONU’s Communication and Marketing in the McIntosh Center Activities Room Feb. 4. The show focused on the sexual assault of Penny Beerntsen, the murder of Teresa Halbach, and Steven Avery’s murder trial. ONU’s "Making a Murderer" panel was an open forum to discuss some of the critical issues associated with the documentary.

One of the major problems in the eyes of the panel was that the documentary feeds into the “conspiracy” mindset that is prevalent in American society. However, the panel argued that the conspiracy theories are not based on the reality of the situation. Evidence was specifically mentioned as a key driver of the arguments for Avery’s innocent.

Hair was one of the key pieces of evidence used in Avery’s trial.

"Over 150 of the people that are excoriated from the Innocent Project were found guilty based on hair evidence. Hair evidence is not very good," mentioned Dennis DeLuca, professor of forensic science.

However, the panel argued that hair evidence was not seen as problematic during the time that the trial took place. 

The conspiracy angle was fueled in the documentary by the town's hatred towards Avery.

"The problem with this case is that the case was held in a small town, and nobody liked the [defendant of the case]." noted Phillip Zoladz, associate professor of psychology.

Zoldaz mentioned that the issues might not be with the hatred but with the fluid nature of memory. 

"Memories are not like a tape recorder. When Penny [Beerntsen] described the nature of her rape, the police officer said 'it sounds like Steve Avery.' When the police officer suggested that it sounds like Steve Avery, it was incorporated into her memory. Stress also changes memory." 

Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, whose officers interviewed Beernsten after the sexual assault, was analyzed based on the segments of the documentary. Hill defended the officers when he said "You need to remember this is a small police force dealing a large crime. Think about if this happened in Ada." Ada has five police officers, and Hill made the argument that they needed all the help they could get to help solve the case.

Manitowoc County was dealing with a major crime and the pressure from the community to solve the case factored into the panel’s discussion. Tristin Kilgallon, assistant professor of criminal justice, described the connection between the community reaction to wanting to solve the case by stating "There's always pressure to solve the case. We should not allow that pressure to influence the investigation."

A key argument made by the panel was that focus on the conspiracy angle removed the focus from the problems with Brendan Dassey’s conviction. Dassey’s memories of the night of the murder were called into question by the panel. Megan Kraynok, assistant professor of psychology, hit on this point. 

“Dassey was trying to please the officers because they were authority figures… [He thought] he could tell them what they wanted to hear, and he would be able to go home.”

“Making a Murderer” for all of its limitations is still a popular series that draws its audience into the plot. Kraynok mentioned that she was compelled by a particular plot point.

"I remember that I was watching the episode around 1 a.m. and I was going to go to bed. Then they showed that pinprick and I said "Nope!"

This comment was met with laughs by the packed room.

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