Making a Murderer is still on my mind. People Magazine featured a story about it as well—so I assume it’s on many people’s minds. In fact, I’m going to a happy hour gathering next week where the express purpose is to discuss the many theories around what might have happened and whether or not Avery is innocent, all over a pint or two. This raises a murky discomfort… is it ok to have a party to discuss the show? Are we making too much light of the tragedies? Are we forgetting that this isn’t just a story—it’s several people’s reality? But this is what we do all the time, for The Bachelor and The Real Housewives and other “reality” shows.
The way we respond to and interact with the true crime genre is confusing. And to confuse it even more, I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird.
The circumstances of the two stories are certainly different. First of all, the Avery family more closely resembles the Ewell family than the Robinson family. Considering how intensely we hate the Ewells, you’d think we might at least be more suspicious of the Averys. But we’re not. We accept the filmmakers’ portrayal of the Averys as “salt of the earth” types wholeheartedly.
With the Avery case, we also lack another likely suspect. In TKAM, Atticus almost immediately casts suspicions on Bob Ewell—who is, indeed, a believable suspect. Even with the jury dead set against Tom, you have the feeling that in their hearts, the jury knows Tom is innocent and Bob Ewell is guilty. Unfortunately, in the Avery case, Steven Avery is the most believable suspect.
But here’s where you start to see some similarities between the two cases. Atticus says, “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.” We know that Steven Avery’s jury deliberates a long time, with many apparent changes of heart along the way. Tom’s jury also deliberates much longer than usual—a fact in itself which starts to give Atticus some hope that, even if they reach “an inevitable verdict,” they are starting to feel more empathy than they let on. Was it the same in the Avery case?
Dean Strang (Avery’s lawyer) says, “The State is supposed to start every case swimming upstream… presumption of innocence.” These words seem to echo Atticus’s words: “In the absence of eyewitnesses there’s always a doubt, sometimes only the shadow of a doubt. The law says ‘reasonable doubt,’ but I think a defendant’s entitled to the shadow of a doubt. There’s always the possibility, no matter how improbable, that he’s innocent.”
Beyond anything else, I think where we see the most similarities between the two is in our reaction. You can’t help but relate to the frustration and fury Jem expresses around Tom Robinson’s conviction when he says, “It ain’t right, Atticus.”