Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, two Columbia University film students, learned about Steven Avery from the New York Times and decided he’d make an interesting documentary. Those who watched the Paradise Lost series will experience a sense of deja vu, for this is another murder trial in which the real murderer likely appears as a witness against a designated patsy. Meanwhile, the wheels of justice remain on a narrow track that allows the culprit to walk free.
One thing Stephen Gaskin taught me about enlightenment: it doesn’t require a high IQ. The learning disabled can attain serenity as easily as the geniuses among us. Steven Avery is a real life Forest Gump and his sense of dignity far exceeds that of the villains and stooges conspiring against him.
Mostly, however, the documentary series shows how police, the justice system and media circle wagons to guard against exposure of corruption in the system. The police have become laws unto themselves and woe betide any individual who dare question their ability to game our legal system to insure convictions. Evidence presented at this trial was more than sufficient to exonerate Steven. The key pieces of evidence in his favor are two recorded phone calls between him and his girlfriend while the actual murder was taking place, and the fact the DNA on the latch key was obviously planted, likely from a toothbrush. Until Zellner came around, Avery never had a truly competent attorney.
Since Steven was suing the local police department, they never should have had access to the alleged crime scene. All evidence is tainted because the local police took charge of the investigation and were the ones who discovered the suspicious evidence days after the property had already been searched multiple times by more appropriate authorities.
The real crime scene should have been uncovered when the cadaver dogs led the handlers into the quarry pit, where rib and vertebra remains were eventually located. Only the larger fragments had been moved to Avery’s burn pit. Avery’s blood in the vehicle must have been planted simply because his fingerprints were not found inside the vehicle.
I don’t think America can sleep soundly until justice is served and it’s time for a national commission addressing police violence and corruption as well. Communities should not be living in fear of their police, yet many are.
The biggest lesson learned from Paradise Lost is often the most obvious suspect turns out not to be the killer, so I’m wary of jumping to quick conclusions, but a new suspect emerged as the front runner after the second series was aired. We don’t know exactly where Teresa was shot 11 times, but she was never loaded into the back of her vehicle. Zellner shows how the blood marks on the inside of the rear hatch are much more likely the result of splatter flying off an ax head used to chop up the corpse. That SUV was reported to an officer, who seems to have had it driven back to the Avery junkyard, while most of the charred bones moved to Steven’s fire-pit.
There are two crimes here, the murder and the frame-up. In cases of murder, the primary suspects initially investigated are typically people close to the victim. But in this case, only Avery was investigated, while Teresa’s ex-boyfriend and any possible other stalkers ignored.
Ryan Hillegas quickly became my primary suspect, an opinion formed while watching him in the role of search leader.
He now works as an out-patient therapist at a Lutheran hospital.
Since Hillegas admitted accessing Teresa’s cell phone after her disappearance by guessing her password, he’s the most likely person to have erased any final messages, and we know at least one was erased.
Zellner also implicates him in helping someone move the vehicle onto Avery’s lot, where it crashed into another vehicle, damaging one headlight.
Another suspect from the first series was Scott Tadych, who has had a long series of encounters with the court system.
Tadych also has a history of violence, and a previous lawyer representing him was Mark Rohrer, Manitowoc County DA (and now a judge). Rohrer’s firm, Roher and Fox, included Jerome Fox, who became the presiding judge in Brendan’s trials, the authority who signed off on two blatantly coerced confessions.
Thus we have a cluster of self-interest circling Tadych, who became a key witness in the rush to judgment against Avery. And thanks to series two, it seems possible Tadych may have had an accomplice in Bobby Dassey, who apparently changed his testimony of what happened that day and joined his step-father Tadych in becoming a key witness against Avery.
The police who tweaked the evidence to insure a conviction could also have been the murderers, however, simply because the insurance company refused to cover the county based on a loophole, which left the police department and individual officers liable for millions. So not only were some officers in jeopardy of losing their careers, but all their assets as well. They certainly had the ability to put Steven under constant surveillance while searching for any possible solutions to their legal dilemma.
Len Kachinsky comes off as a completely corrupt toady of the Republican Party who’d just lost an election when he was inserted into the case as a public defender. He was later rewarded with a judgeship, although he’s recently contracted cancer.
His sadly comical machinations resemble the nervous William H. Macy in Fargo as he led his client down a garden path to making a false confession. How many public defenders like him have been steered into politically sensitive cases? Suffice to say the strategy is probably not that unusual. You simply never know who that pro bono attorney is working for if you aren’t paying for him yourself.
James Lenk, who appears to have retired since the trial, remains the most suspicious person in planting evidence. Lenk and fellow officer Andrew Colborn had just recently been deposed for Steven’s lawsuit, and during their deposition some valuable evidence emerged pointing toward a conspiracy involving their boss Sheriff Tom Kocourek to keep Steven Avery in jail after it should have become clear another party had confessed to the crime. After Steven was exonerated, Colborn wrote a “cover-your-ass” memo concerning a phone call he’d received six years earlier, which was six years too late to save Steven.
On November 3, 2005, the day Teresa was reported missing to police, Colborn placed a request to his dispatcher to run license plate SWH582. Minutes before, he’d been informed about the location of the vehicle but filed no report. This is crucial info uncovered by Zellner.
One of jurors who was recused during the trial remains haunted by the outcome. The original vote taken was 7 to acquit and only 3 to convict. It appears the police may have had some strong allies on that jury who convinced the others to render a split verdict on the charges, convicting Steven of a murder he obviously never committed.