Top-10 stories of 2016 – Number Nine

Making of a Murder – Part Eight

We ended last week with Steven Avery making the decision to stay off the stand. Bad move.

By Pat Merriman

There are ONLY 2 people who know exactly what happened out at his place with Teresa Halbach and, she is dead. This jury is going to want to hear his explanation. That’s my opinion as closing arguments commence. Curiously, defense attorneys are more concerned about their client’s reputation if he is acquitted. But, after 2 days of closing argument, Special DA Ken Kratz hammers on the wealth of physical evidence and gives the jury the state’s theory—Avery killed Halbach in his garage. Defense counsel, in my opinion, violate the first rule of criminal defense—ride one horse into the trial and stay on that course. My experience is that jurors don’t buy “shotgun defenses”, i.e., there is no evidence in Steve’s trailer, but there is in the garage, so, if there is any evidence in his house/ garage/yard, it was planted by the cops but, we’re not saying the cops killed Teresa Halbach, we’re saying they were duped by the real killer into planting that evidence. Guys, it’s too many hoops.

The absolutely irrefutable facts in this case are that Halbach was killed, probably by a bullet, in Avery’s garage and parts of her burned body were found at 3 different locations on his property along with her car, blood stains, and Avery’s sweat and blood (literally) all over the car. Since he claims he never had contact with her, just before her death, particularly in her car, the jury either believes the convoluted conspiracy theory or, they convict him. Not much wiggle room there for reasonable doubt. And, as DA Kratz pointed out, do you really want to call your own law enforcement officers, fellow citizens in your county, murderers, conspirators and liars? The defense statement that you can only decide the evidence presented in this courtroom “where we agreed to pick a jury” finally answers the fatal question why the defense did not move for a change of venue. Again, another bad decision because of the pre-trial publicity.

At the post-closing press conference, defense attorney Dean Strang still doesn’t seem to get it. He criticizes Kratz for not answering all of the questions he raised. Brother chicken, you have been outfoxed because that is EXACTLY what juries do. The best cases are the ones where they have to connect the dots and, that is what is going to happen here. On Day 2 of deliberations, juror Richard Mahler is released because his daughter was injured in a car accident. Netflix makes much ado about the irregularity of the event. Well…it’s not unusual. That’s why judges seat alternate jurors because these high-profile cases experience problems all the way through. From witness scheduling to dead jurors. I’ve seen this stuff believe me. So, seating an alternate juror on Day 2 is really no big deal.

On Day 3, Avery whines about committing suicide but, again, I doubt that. The most telling thing that he is in trouble is when the jury requests a transcript of Bobby Dassey’s testimony. Recall that I told you back in episode 5, this testimony gutted Avery’s defense. The handwriting is on the wall. Couple that with the request, by the jury, to have supper at the courthouse and, they have a verdict on the murder charge and, it ain’t good for Avery. Day 4, March 18, 2007, is the death knell. Only 20 hours deliberation, and the jury has a unanimous verdict on all 3 counts. No other questions from them and they are sequestered. It’s over, it was quick for a murder trial and that usually bodes ill for an accused. Curiously, the jury finds him guilty of murder and a felon in possession of a firearm but, acquits him on the mutilation of a corpse. That seems inconsistent on its face but, you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out a jury’s thinking process. They do what they perceive to be fair and, that’s all that needs to make sense.

Much ado is then made about juror Mahler coming forward, 3 years later, and complaining that he felt there were “3 stubborn jurors” who was “winning over” the other jurors whose first poll was 7 for guilty. “We were weak and tired…discouraged…let’s get it over with.” Unfortunately, there were 3 more days of deliberation after he left and these remarks just seem desperate. As attorney Christopher White reported on January 13, 2016, in Making a Murderer: Making a Fool Out of You, Mahler’s (and others’) argument that Avery was framed by the cops and the jury felt compelled to convict him out of fear for retaliation from the community is ludicrous and just increases the members of the conspiracy again… now the entire population of Manitowoc County. White continues that Netflix’s program, is just, “another example of two talented filmmakers’ ability to manipulate facts to fool the audience into believing Steven Avery is the real victim and that a flawed American legal system is to blame.”

“The filmmakers give the audience the impression that Mahler’s family emergency (his daughter’s car accident) wasn’t actually serious enough that he needed to be dismissed from the jury and that had he stayed Steven’s trial would’ve at least ended with a hung jury mistrial, if not outright acquittal. Furthermore, they give the impression that the authorities who informed Mahler of his family emergency exaggerated the circumstances and urgency so that he would feel the need to ask the judge to leave immediately. This narrative fits nicely with the overall theme of the series and leaves one to speculate that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office was maybe even corrupt enough to somehow get the one juror willing stand up for Steven Avery kicked off the jury. What they don’t tell you, however, is that when Avery raised these issues and called Mahler to testify in his post-conviction motion hearings in support of the allegations the Court flatly rejected Mahler’s testimony, finding him not credible…Mahler was dismissed from the jury he ‘expressed an imminent concern regarding a car accident, but also an ongoing concern regarding marital issues’.”

Something must be up regarding Ken Kratz because we end this episode with the defense investigator flatly blaming the Special DA for being the main person responsible for Avery being re-railroaded, “He was only seeking a conviction…not the truth.” Avery’s defense team then opine that Brendan Dassey (Avery’s nephew) should not be convicted because a 17-year-old deserves “a chance at life”. I guess unlike Teresa Halbach who was dead at 25. She had a good, additional 8 years, so, let’s just focus on Dassey? Right? Dassey’s trial will commence 28 days from now and, his lead defense counsel Mark Fremgen (a veteran public defender with serious homicide chops) has successfully convinced Judge Jerome Fox to have this case heard by another county jury—a change of venue. And, unlike Avery’s defense team who allowed their client to dress like an ex-convict (perhaps to evoke the image of the 1985 wrongful conviction), Brendan Dassey is intentionally groomed to look like a teenage college student. This team wants his youth and innocence on display in this second trial. Only one problem that I can see…this kid looks eerily familiar to Jeffrey Dahmer.

Attorney Chris White closes this week’s installment, “There is no question that Making a Murder is an enthralling series but it is not an honest documentary. Before rushing out to sign meaningless petitions to pardon Steven Avery or doing something even more foolish like donating money to his commissary account or legal defense fund, take some time to look deeper into what the documentary did not show you about the case and remember the real victim is Teresa Halbach.” Amen. See you next week.

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