So what did I learn over the last 3 months reviewing this Netflix thing?
By Pat Merriman
Dunn Co. State’s Attorney
Well, there are a lot of people out there with WAY too much time on their hands—that’s for sure. And, they don’t mind insulting people who rationally disagree with them. Remember, I was assigned to review this “documentary”, I didn’t volunteer to do it and, read my column carefully…not ONE single time did I express an opinion about the guilt or innocence of these two fellas in Wisconsin. I reviewed the proceedings as an experienced prosecutor for our publisher Stacy and that was it. So, as an epilogue, some final thoughts on this thing. First, I have always shunned reality shows like this documentary, American Idol, the Bachelor, Survivor ad nausuem because…well… they make me uncomfortable. I was raised to avoid “putting my business in the street” or gossiping (giving or getting) or drawing conclusions from what I watched in the media.
As someone who has been in the drug and intelligence business for over 35 years, I’ve also learned that voyeurism/ gossip becomes perception which, far too often, becomes reality. And, that there is nothing more dangerous than someone who “thinks” they know what happened without actually witnessing it or actually being present at the event. And, to the detractors who disagree… folks, you just can’t get the same texture and information that a jury sees in a courtroom in a video recording of that event. Hence, why Courts of Appeal always defer to trial judges on the evidence in a case. It’s called judicial deference and, the system has always recognized that a transcript (even a video) is a poor substitute for the actual evidence the jury sees and hears. That’s why cases aren’t overturned because the public disagrees with the interpretation the jury applied. That would, frankly, be a violation of due process as a public lynching. And, remember, this go around, Netflix decided to take the defendants’ side. What if the converse were true next time?
Oh, that didn’t stop the haters from logging onto the Herald’s Facebook page and gnashing their teeth. Which proves the second problem I have with this stuff. Remember the Battle of the Facebook from the Summer of 2014? I’ll tell you a little secret…I couldn’t care less what people post about me on that darned thing. It’s always ill-informed, slanted, anonymous, acrimonious and insulting, so, why get your blood pressure up? It reminds me of that movie my wife made me watch years ago—Mean Girls. If anything, the posts also remind of the appalling condition of public education with the misspellings and punctuation too. And, of course, each poster blissfully ignorant that I was hired to do this review (I didn’t do it on my own). The self-appointed Avery supporters who insult, belittle and denigrate just because a professional prosecutor disagrees with you. Really intelligent remarks too like hack, stupid, shallow, narrow-minded, ill-informed, unreasonable, nasty and ridiculous. But, like my Grandma Vera used to say, “Honey, if they’re bad-mouthing you, they’re leaving someone else alone.”
My favorite post was, “Is Pat Merriman actually Dunn Co. State’s Attorney? What a write up from someone I would hope is an educated individual…” So, break out the pitchforks, tar and torches…I disagreed with the video heads who watched a simple TV show, and data-mined the Internet for support in their conspiracy paranoia. And, please note, I also drew a conclusion with which everyone involved in the Wisconsin criminal justice process (the local citizens, Governor, BCI, FBI, 2 different county sheriffs, 2 trial judges, 12 jurors, the Court of Appeals panel and the Supreme Court) completely agreed. Well… except for the defense attorneys. Sorry, I just can’t find the flaw that these malcontents are looking for. When you make bad decisions (particularly during a trial), there is a substantial downside if you lose. And, that, folks, is our adversarial criminal justice system. For actions…there are consequences.
Third, what this Netflix frenzy also proves is that there are a lot of people out there who cannot admit they are either wrong or are not entitled to an opinion either. Again, I don’t have an opinion about the guilt or innocence of Steven Avery or Brendan Dassey. I wasn’t there, I didn’t participate in the investigation/ trial, so, I’m not entitled to an opinion. And, just because a heavily edited documentary makes a point does not make it true. Avery and Dassey are guilty because a jury of their peers said so. And, as to Dassey, I genuinely hope this kid DOES catch a break because he, most likely, is a dupe. However, a jury of his peers has spoken and, we have the greatest system of justice in the world. Ask those Shariah Law folks…they can tell you! Again, my “opinion” on their culpability is irrelevant. These haters’ argument really comes down to their accusation that 12 of their fellow citizens railroaded Avery and his nephew. Because, at the end of the day, blame who you like, that’s what you’re really saying!
Fourth, when did someone’s armchair, lay opinion trump background, training and work experience? For every point about which Netflix speculated, I presented a logical rebuttal and, I accurately predicted the outcome of both these trials as each episode unfolded. I’m sorry there guys but, don’t kill the messenger with the message. Did each man get a fair trial? YES. That’s not my opinion… that’s what every judge (the only guys whose opinions matter) said. Oh…and 300,000+ Netflix addicts…President Obama can’t commute a Wisconsin STATE jury verdict. You should’ve paid attention in civics class. Only their governor can and, on January 12, 2016, Governor Scott Walker summed up what I’m saying here best, “Viewers of the Netflix series on Steven Avery should read the unanimous opinion of the Court of Appeals before jumping to conclusions.” Add one more expert to the conspiracy Avery supporters.
Suffice it to say Governor Walker, I DID read the appeal. Every single challenge raised by defense counsel was flat rejected by the Wisconsin appellate courts. In particular, the shotgun “somebody else did it” ploy, “This evidence failed to satisfy the ‘legitimate tendency’ test under State v. Denny…and was properly deemed inadmissible.” No conspiracy, no dirty cops, no incompetent lab tests and no smoking-gun dismissed juror, “We affirm the judgments of conviction and post-conviction order.” Of even more direct rejection, the court unanimously found that, “Avery offered no physical or other evidence connecting any [other individual] to the crime, other than their presence in the general vicinity. One can only imagine how much longer this six-week trial would have lasted had the court granted [Avery’s] request to introduce third-party liability evidence implicating the ten individuals named in [Avery’s] Statement…” OUCH!
Finally, last word on this subject…you either believe in the American criminal justice system or you don’t. And, if you do, the rules apply to everyone. Steven Avery tried to put the system on trial and, he failed—miserably. The fallout from the ploy even sacrificed his own nephew in the process. Was justice served? Yes. The system has run its course and, there is nothing to indicate that either Steven Avery or Brendan Dassey did not get a fair trial. So sayeth the courts. And, folks, this is not a game. Lest we forget, a dead girl and her family deserve justice too. Her killers got due process. And, despite what our do-over neighbors in Illinois think, this sad chapter in Wisconsin history is closed and, all that Netflix REALLY accomplished was selling advertising time to its sponsors and stirring up controversy. Objectively, may Teresa Halbach rest in peace and, lets all sit and wait to see what the next, big reality show will be. I mean with American Idol leaving the air and all…nature (as well as TV) hates a vacuum.