Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey have been in the global spotlight since the release of the Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer. A little over 10 years ago, their spotlight was much smaller, and focused with laser intensity. Everyone in Calumet and Manitowoc counties knew their names, and thanks to a couple of questionable press conferences from then special prosecutor Ken Kratz, everyone was 100% certain of their guilt. Why should they doubt it? This respected prosecutor virtually said so, complete with sordid details of a horrific crime. This was reinforced with ill-timed press conferences with Dassey defense attorney Len Kachinski basically proclaiming his own client’s guilt. It wasn’t until Making a Murderer was released that people began to see that the narrative didn’t exactly match up with the physical evidence. People began to question, perhaps for the first time, if the men incarcerated for the horrific murder of photographer Teresa Halbach were actually guilty. Both men were going through the process of appealing their guilty verdicts, with little to no success. Things had continued quietly in the background from the time of the first verdict, with little press attention, and certainly without the world watching. The world is watching now.
To say the deck was stacked against the two men would be an understatement. It was not only stacked against them, it was braced with rebar and coated in a concrete shell. Those ill advised press conferences given by not only Ken Kratz and Len Kachinsky, but also Calumet county Sheriff Jerry Pagel have come back to haunt this case time and time again. Millions of people have watched and dissected each and every televised appearance, casting those men in a decidedly unfavorable light. While the press conferences by Kratz and Kachinsky guaranteed that the jury pool was tainted and removed any hope for an impartial jury to be seated, it is a press conference by retired Sheriff Pagel that is going to cause a lot of problems now. Problems for the prosecution, though, not the defense. People all over the world have been asking why it was Manitowoc officers that found so much of the evidence, when Pagel publicly stated that they would only be used in a support capacity. Was he lying? Or was the county that was supposed to be heading up this investigation just that oblivious to what was going on around their crime scene? Neither option looks good. It should have been a lesson learned the hard way, but it wasn’t.
Ken Kratz still makes public appearances, peddling his book , and loudly and vociferously proclaiming he was right to anyone who will listen. His fiancee, who must have been about 15 at the time of the original trial, has made a Twitter career of doing the same. Len Kachinsky still gives interviews trying to affirm his former clients guilt, while simultaneously trying to make himself appear to be the victim of an unjust system. And then there is Michael Griesbach, who has authored a pro-guilt book about the case, and most recently has penned an op-ed piece attempting to do damage control from the previous press conferences and still sway the public opinion towards guilt. His way of doing this is nowhere near as graphic and sweaty as Ken Kratz’ was, but is actually more disturbing on a fundamental level. He ridicules Avery’s post-conviction counsel, Kathleen Zellner in a shallow and obvious way, claiming she seeks two things she already has; fame and fortune. He takes potshots at Making a Murderer filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi for daring to profit from making the film, and flaunting it by buying a house. While petulant in tone, these are no cause for actual concern.
What is cause for concern though, is his repeated public apologies to the Halbach family for these men appealing their convictions. He makes it sound as if they have found a way to circumvent the system strictly to add pain and grief to the Halbach family. Surely he doesn’t mean to imply that these men are not entitled to due process, as afforded to every citizen of the United States. He can’t possibly mean to imply that both the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution are actually not worth the paper they are printed on? It is Due Process and it is 100% guaranteed to these men, regardless of guilt or innocence. It is their right, under the laws governing our country, to be able to appeal their respective verdicts. What’s more, the Halbach family should have been told at the time of the original convictions to expect this to happen. Ongoing public apologies here are only for grandstanding in an attempt to continue to sway public opinion. What happened to the Halbach family is something most people will never have to face. Apologies cannot make it any better, no matter how heartfelt and sincere. Insincere apologies by rote are a slap in the face, and more vile than any fantasy Kratz could author. It seems that if Manitowoc et al were as certain of the convictions as they claim to be, they would say nothing at all, letting the facts speak for themselves, privately keeping the Halbach family abreast of the ongoing procedural volleys and what to expect. They don’t seem to know, or care, that the more they talk, the less believable they become. Perhaps radio silence while they dot all their I’s and cross all their T’s would be better. That way, if they missed something, some vital clue that could lead them to the real killer(s), they’d be one step ahead of the game when these convictions are vacated. The Halbach family has the deepest sympathy of the world for their loss, and for the failure of the system that has yet to find and convict whomever was responsible. The murder of Teresa Halbach has been lost amid the vanities and egos of lesser men who cannot understand that they are not gods.