Making a Phenomenon

"Your Honor, I just want to say this before we adjourn. It was far too easy to convict this wrongly accused man for murder and send him to death row for something he didn't do and much too hard to win his freedom after proving his innocence. We have serious problems and important work that must be done in this state." — Bryan Stevenson, "Just Mercy"

In December, Netflix released the true crime documentary "Making a Murderer." Since then, it's taken the Internet — and culture — by storm. How could 10 episodes spread out over a dozen years do this you ask? Well, quite simply because of the story it tells and how that's hit a raw nerve for the public.

Last year I read a fascinating book by Bryan Stevenson called "Just Mercy." It took a hard look at our justice system, and asked some hard questions about how easy it is to convict the poor and mentally challenged in this country.

That's the raw never that "Making a Murderer" touches. That's the questions that are posed by the story of Steven Avery, his nephew Brendan Dassey, and their conviction for murder. A conviction they are still fighting nearly a decade later.

There has been plenty of outcry about the Avery case. People petitioned the government on his behalf, declaring him innocent. I won't go that far, but I think it raises questions.

The beauty of our criminal justice system is supposed to be equality, and that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. You are innocent until proven guilty. It's a beautiful thought, but far too often it isn't the case in practice.

The standard is supposed to be reasonable doubt. At the least, I think there is reasonable doubt in the Avery case. Yet he entered that courtroom forced to prove his innocence, rather than the prosecution proving his guilt. That's not the way the system is supposed to work.

Avery might be a murderer, but it wasn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, there are serious questions about the evidence, how it was gathered, and the motivations of law enforcement. That should be enough to force a not guilty verdict. It wasn't. People who've seen the evidence throughout the 10 hours are outraged because of it.

I don't know what the final result will be, but my hope is stories like "Just Mercy" and "Making a Murderer" will cause us to ask hard questions about the justice system in America and, hopefully, make some changes.


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