‘Making a Murderer’ creators warn wrongful convictions on rise

Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos address Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College

 

Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, the creators of Making a Murderer, have warned that the number of wrongful convictions in the US is rising.

They spoke this week at Griffth College to staff and students about their ground-breaking documentary series from Netflix which explores the case of Steven Avery, the Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for rape before being exonerated by new DNA evidence.

After his release, Avery took a $36 million wrongful conviction lawsuit against the county and the sheriff. Shortly afterwards, he was charged with murdering 25-year-old Teresa Halbach. Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, a 16-year-old with learning disabilities, was also implicated in the murder, based solely on a highly questionable confession.

At an event hosted by Project Manager at the Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College, Anne Driscoll, the two film makers answered questions from both students and staff about documenting the life of Steven Avery.

“It’s an experience that changed us and an experience that we tried to offer to our viewers and that’s another reason why we fought so hard to make this a series,” they said.

The Innocence Project estimates that between 2 per cent and 5 per cent of those incarcerated in the US have been wrongfully convicted.

During the talk, Ms Ricciardi and Ms Demos discussed the amount of coverage the Avery case got, with their first exposure to it being the front page of the New York Times.

“Between 1985 and 2005 the public had become aware of wrongful convictions; they were nothing at the level they are now,” they said.

Anne Driscoll writes:

Sometimes life is serendipitous. And also amazing.

Sharing a stage and a public conversation with the megahit Making a Murderer creators Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos is akin to having a singsong with Glen Hansard.

And the fact that this Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College event happened after a Hail Mary email to the pair on the eve of their arrival in Dublin for a two-day visit and materialised in a Q&A before 100 people 36 hours later is equivalent to a Christmas miracle. But it shows how truly gracious and grounded these two people are.

All that happened and the Griffith College students and staff who got to hear what these two extraordinary filmmakers had to say about the story of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey and their 10-year journey chronicling it are all the richer for it.

Making a Murderer creators Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos consider themselves filmmakers, not journalists, but they certainly do the work of the best journalists I know.

They are ethical.

They are thorough.

They are relentless.

They are steered by the best intentions.

As a journalist who has been working in the field of wrongful convictions for a decade and as the project manager of the Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College - which is one of two out of 68 innocence organisations worldwide recognized by the Innocence Network that has both law and journalism students investigating cases - I am always hoping to promote the role of both law and the media in holding the criminal justice system accountable for its mistakes - or worse, misconduct.

In the case of Steven Avery, he had two exceptionally capable lawyers and yet many believe the justice system failed him.

Steven Avery would be one more anonymous person sitting in a jail cell claiming his innocence were it not for the fact that Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos were willing to spend a decade of their lives documenting his case.

And yes, if this blog sounds fawning, it does amount to an honest love letter to Laura and Moira.

Their example of integrity, determination and doggedness would be inspiration enough, but these two women have gone beyond the best of what could be expected in such an endeavor. They consistently have shown the deepest respect and compassion for the subjects of this game-changing series.

And, that compassion is a trait you can’t teach in film school or journalism school or law school. That emanates from a heart that is wide and full. And we all should be inspired.