Like many, I quickly became overwhelmingly invested in this show to the point of binge-watching and finishing it in a single day (much to the chagrin of my poor wife). Every few minutes my thoughts would flip-flop concerning the innocence of Steven Avery, and ultimately still have no idea what I believe. However, since finishing the show and attempting to process it, I have found that it is one of the most interesting studies of human behavior and insight into the justice system in the United States.
Like most of you, I'm sure, I started looking up articles and blog posts with wide ranging opinions and developments since the show spread like wildfire. Unlike many of those articles and blogs, I hope to use this as an opportunity to extract some lessons from this rare case which we are allowed a large amount of access. If you're looking for speculation about this case, or updates on what is currently happening, look elsewhere. My aim is to begin a discussion in which we can understand a little more as to what makes us tick as human beings and how to improve our individual lives.
When discussing such a topic, it is not only important, but essential for us to remember that someone's right to live was taken from them. There are few other reasons more worthy for an all out quest for truth and justice. What was so frustrating for me while viewing, was that is didn't seem to many of those involved were interested in truth at all. Whether it was the officers doing the investigation, the attorneys on either side, or even the media, then or now, many seemed more interested in making evidence found (or not found, which I find just as worthy) bend and mold to the theory that bring about the results they want. The word 'truth' was trampled time and time again, especially by those who were put under oath, swearing that their testimony was true. Everyone who went up on the stand was lying, except for maybe the bus driver! We saw:
- officers blatantly lying (Lieutenant Lenk and his original estimation that he showed up to the crime scene 6:30 or 7:00 at night, but then claiming he came at 2:00 in the afternoon, knowing that was before a sign-in document had been started, or Sergeant Colburn calling in Halbach's license plate number and saying dispatch had told him the type of vehicle, when the audio proved he was the one who brought up the model, then going on to swear he had never seen the vehicle before).
- heard speculation asserted as truth (such as DA Kratz claiming various areas, namely Avery's trailer, then his garage, as the place where Halbach was murdered, when both were clearly shown as impossibilities)
- processes that were nowhere near acceptable standards (the Manitowoc County Sheriff's department handing over the investigation to Calumet County to "eliminate bias" then not only allowing Manitowoc County investigate, but the very officers who were deposed in the lawsuit brought by Avery's unjustified imprisonment against the county were the one's who were "finding" the most crucial evidence)
All of these things scream that there was no actual desire to find the truth, and reeks to high heaven of improper conduct. I find this to be the most angering, disgusting, and deeply disappointing insight into the workings of our criminal and judicial systems. Teresa Halbach deserved better.
We've lost the value of accountability
One of the most painfully obvious lessons that I was reminded of during this documentary, was largely illustrated by District Attorney Ken Kratz, the prosecuting attorney for both the Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey cases. In his closing arguments to the jury in Avery's case, Kratz shows a picture of Lieutenant James Lenk and Sergeant Andrew Colburn and prompts the jury to think of their years of service in law enforcement and their families. Throughout the trial, Lenk and Colburn were shown to be involved in, if not illegal, highly unethical activities during the investigation of the disappearance of Teresa Halbach. You know who should have been thinking of the years of service and the families of these two officers? ... LIEUTENANT LENK AND SERGEANT COLBURN!
Later, we learn of Kratz himself being involved in a scandal. The documentary allows us to hear as a reporter asks Kratz about his apparent involvement in a series of inappropriate messages to women involved in cases he was working on. When pressed by the reporter, Kratz launches into a full tirade about how the reporter would be ruining his 25 year career, that his family would be largely effected, and on and on. You know who should have been thinking of how his inappropriate actions would affect his career and family? KEN KRATZ!
This type of thinking wasn't unique to this case, but I see as a sweeping epidemic in society at large. Many seek to place blame for problems on anyone or anything but themselves. If we want to make our lives better, or our society better, their must be a widespread restoration of the value of accountability.
Many viewers got the chance to empathetically imagine they were sitting in the seat of Steven Avery. Most of us have nothing to fear because we keep ourselves from being put into such a position. Steven Avery, whether innocent of this particular crime or not, showed enough patterns in his life that gave this kind of action was well within the realm of possibility. Though it's an irrational fear to think the average citizen would be caught up in such a situation, it does teach me that I want to be so far from that edge in personal conduct and relationships with those around me, that it would be extremely difficult for something like this to come against me without a load of people being willing to verify my character. Such a level of morality, our ability to govern ourselves instead of being governed by this country's laws, will not only keep us from this type of situation, but can truly bring fulfillment in life.
"The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. they have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right.
As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try and maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that "gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior.
Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice systems are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we've become."
-Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Full talk can be found here.