Conn. Defense Attorney: ‘Making a Murderer’ Subject is ‘Legally Innocent’

If you haven’t seen it, chances are you probably heard about it. Netflix’s original documentary “Making a Murderer” is sending shock waves through social media and is a genuine pop culture phenomenon. A prominent Connecticut defense attorney says there’s no way Steven Avery is legally guilty and that she is appalled at the conduct of police in the case.

It’s hard to provide a short synopsis of the show. It has more twists and turns than Waterbury’s “Mix Master.” The Shad has seen it and the best I can say is that it’s about a sad-sack Wisconsin guy who served 18 years in prison for sexual assault that DNA evidence eventually showed he didn’t commit. There were some questions about police practices in that case. The guy gets out, sues the police, the county sheriff and the county itself. In the middle of depositions in his $34 million lawsuit, he is arrested again. This time for murder. The viewer is left with the question of whether he did it or law enforcement framed him (pretty elaborately).

Steven Avery's 1985 mugshot.
Steven Avery’s 1985 mugshot.

Connecticut defense attorney Tara Knight, senior partner at Knight & Cerritelli, has seen the series in its entirety and said she could relate to the show. “I was impressed with the storyline and the details in the courtroom. It made me proud to be a defense attorney,” she said. “It also made me recognize that there are lawyers who don’t do their job and have no business being a defense attorney.”

Knight was referring in this case to the first court-appointed attorney for Avery’s nephew who was also charged with rape and murder in the second case. Len Kachinsky was portrayed as almost a caricature of a bumbling, clueless lawyer who among other things, sent his 16-year old client to be interrogated by police without being present (the kid’s mother wasn’t present either). Kachinsky also sent his investigator to interview the teen and got him to confess and draw lurid pictures of “what happened.” With advocates like that…

Knight says she has no doubt Avery, the main character in the 10-part documentary, is legally not guilty. “If you ask me if I know with certainty if he did it or not, the answer is no, I don’t. But legally speaking, there wasn’t sufficient [beyond a reasonable doubt] proof that he did it.”

The documentary strongly suggests that Steven Avery was framed by law enforcement after being exonerated of a crime in which he spent 18 years in jail and then suing those involved with the wrongful conviction. The new crime was the rape, murder and dismemberment of a photographer. He was convicted of those crimes.

“Making a Murderer” takes viewers behind the scenes of the case including persuasive evidence law enforcement meticulously planted evidence. “I was appalled by the actions of the cops and the prosecution in the case,” Knight said.

In the bigger picture, the takeaway lesson from the series perhaps is that law enforcement enjoys an advantage in criminal cases that it doesn’t deserve. “Defense lawyers have to take that into account when preparing for a case. There are times when judges have to give instructions to juries that they should not give more weight to the testimony of police than any other witness.”

Knight says that with “Making a Murderer” and other recent cases, things are changing. “People are finally starting to recognize [the unfairness of] the system.” That may be in no small part to the proliferation of small phones that can record incidents as they happen as well as police and dash cam video.