The Avery Effect: NBC Dateline On Steven Avery Vs. Society And Other Great Courtroom Controversies

The world is abuzz with the name Steven Avery since the release of Netflix documentary series, Making A Murderer — a blockbuster biopic of the American man’s complex and highly contested criminal history — on December 18 last year, viewers around the world have been engulfed in endless currents of controversy surrounding Avery’s convictions. So immense and widespread is the public interest in what Avery’s defense team calls “the greatest miscarriage of justice of our time,” NBC has announced that it will air an hour-long Dateline exposé this Friday, January 29. The State of Wisconsin vs. Steven Avery will explore the people involved in, the ramifications of, and the evidence excluded from Making A Murderer, featuring interviews with key prosecutor Ken Kratz and Avery’s original accuser of sexual assault, Penny Beerntsen, and discuss the broader scope of issues surrounding the American criminal justice system that the series has cast an interrogative light on.

Avery, who spent 18 years in jail for a wrongful conviction of sexual assault before being exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003, was free for just two years before being accused and convicted of murdering 25-year-old Teresa Halbach on his Manitowoc County property in October, 2005. Netflix’s documentary explores the notion that Steven was framed by corrupt law enforcement officers, who he purports orchestrated the murder conviction — and subsequent life imprisonment — to silence Avery and his multi-million dollar lawsuit. Focusing on the plight of Avery and his defense team as they seek and gather evidence to support their claim, including questionable communications, tactics, and signs of the potential planting of evidence against Steven.

Steven Avery listens to materials presented at his 2007 trial.
Steven Avery listens to materials presented at his 2007 trial. [Photo by Morry Gash/Associated Press]
On Sunday, the Inquisitr reported on the social media posts of Avery’s new attorney, Kathleen Zellner, who plans to lodge appeals for a retrial to exonerate Steven, having reviewed his case files. Zellner’s vocalized belief in Avery’s innocence serves as fuel to heated debates surrounding both Steven and the overarching issues within the criminal justice system.

Several peaceful protest events, aimed at showing support for Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey — who also serves a life sentence for being party to the Halbach murder — are set to take place this weekend, both in Avery’s home state of Wisconsin and elsewhere, including one in Los Angeles.

Similarly dedicated to the proving of Steven Avery’s innocence is Twitter, Help Steven Avery, operated on his behalf, which has recently posted links to a petition to free Steven and a website of information, resources, and updates relating to his case.

In today’s climate of media saturation, factors which lessen the likelihood of wrongful convictions — such as innovations in DNA testing — are rivaled by factors which increase it. The media frenzy that irreparably tarnished Steven Avery’s reputation prior to his trial exemplifies this jurisdictional issue, and his defense team frequently refers to it as the cause of a failure to provide Avery with a fair trial. The publicity generated by Avery also brings the movements of defense organizations to the forefront of the collective consciousness. On their website, The Innocence Project explains that another cause of wrongful conviction is the forceful soliciting of confessions from vulnerable people.

“Joseph Buffey pleaded guilty to the 2001 rape and robbery of an 83-year-old woman based on the advice of his lawyer who told him he risked a sentence of 200 to 300 years in prison if he went to trial and was convicted. He quickly regretted his plea, but it was too late,” says the organization’s site.

Steven Avery’s case appears set to continue to occupy front page and prime time television alike for months to come, with many speculating that Steven’s plight will be documented in a second season of Making a Murderer.

Avid followers of Steven Avery and his complex, controversial case await the results of his new legal representation in the lead up to her proposed appeal for retrial.

[Photos by Manitowoc Sherriff’s Department, Morry Gash/Associated Press, and Kirk Wagner/Associated Press, respectively]

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