'Making a Murderer' directors: 'We want to see justice served'

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The creators of Making a Murderer want to see a fair investigation into the death of photographer Teresa Halbach, who was killed on Halloween in 2005.

"We would like to see justice served," says Moira Demos, speaking to 24 Hours in a phone interview, with co-creator Laura Ricciardi also on the line. "We think that whoever is responsible for this should be in prison. That may be Steven Avery, that may be Brendan Dassey, that may be somebody else. But we need a process that we can trust."

Netflix’s 10-part documentary series has transfixed viewers since its release a month ago, tapping into pop culture’s revived appreciation for true crime stories, following the successes of podcast Serial and HBO’s The Jinx.

Making a Murderer centres on Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man that served 18 years in jail after being convicted of sexual assault, only to be later exonerated when the results of a DNA analysis were released. And, if you’ve watched the show, you’re aware of what happens next. After filing a lawsuit against the officials involved in his arrest, he finds himself accused of Halbach’s murder. Has he been framed? Many fans on social media seem to think so, and they’ve filed petitions requesting pardons for both Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was convicted as an accomplice in the murder.

A rep for the White House recently said that U.S. President Barack Obama has no authority to pardon either defendant, because the convictions were made in state court. And Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, has refused to issue any pardons.

"The truth is, it’s very difficult for someone in Steven or Brendan’s position to have their conviction overturned," says Ricciardi, who spent 10 years working on the project with Demos. "But in Steven’s case, I think the most recent action is that he filed an appeal from a postconviction motion that had been denied. Interestingly, Steven has a new attorney [Kathleen Zellner], so there’s been a recent development in his case. We have not spoken with this individual. We don’t know what, if anything, will come of that."

Demos and Ricciardi responded to all of our questions with slow, articulate answers. Here’s the rest of our conversation with them:

What made you want to stick with this project for 10 years?

Laura Ricciardi: It was such a rare and incredible opportunity for us, because Steven had such a unique status as a DNA exoneree charged in a new crime. When we first read about his story – he appeared on the front page of the New York Times – we also learned that at the time of his rearrest, he had a $36 million lawsuit pending against the county in which he found himself charged again. And it seemed like an unprecedented story to us. So we really wanted to go on this trip with him, and to document the experience of the accused in the American justice system, and we knew that he would take us from one extreme of the system to the other.

Have you talked to Steven Avery recently? What does he think of all of his popularity these days?

Moira Demos: We have spoken to him since the series was released. We spoke to him about two weeks ago. And what’s important to remember is he has not been able to see the series. The warden and his social worker did not grant him that permission. So what he learns is through visits. Quite frankly, our call was mostly Steven talking about the work he’s currently doing on his case. He had just filed his most recent appeal to one of his post-conviction motions … but he did mention that he had received a pile of letters, which he described as very encouraging and very touching. But it’s also important to remember that he is in an incarcerated setting, and that all of our conversations with him are recorded. And from what we hear, it’s not necessarily a good thing to stand out in that setting. 

By saying "it’s not a good thing to stand out," are you implying that maybe he’s receiving verbal abuse from other prisoners or something like that?

Demos: No, I’m not implying anything like that. I’m saying that we were not telling him about the world’s response over the telephone.

Teresa Halbach’s relatives just spoke out against Making a Murderer in a new People interview. What’s your response to the Halbach family?

Demos: Well, we have tons of empathy for the entire Halbach family. The tragedy that befelled Teresa and her family is awful. But we made this series full of respect for them. And we think it’s crucial that procedures be followed, and that the process be fair … if there are unanswered questions about what happened to their daughter, it is with all respect that we ask those questions.

If Steven Avery didn’t kill Teresa Halbach, then who did?

Ricciardi: We have no idea. We certainly were not with Teresa Halbach on Oct. 31, 2005. We do not know what happened to her, and we really would never want to speculate about that. The question for us was not, ‘Who killed Teresa Halbach?’ We were never in a position to investigate the murder case. That was left to the authorities. Our question was, ‘Was the process – the investigation and the prosecution – in the Halbach matter fair?’