Since December 2015, Netflix documentary Making a Murderer has become a talking point for the millions of people who watched and learned the story of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. For those not in the know, Steven Avery of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, was arrested and jailed for eighteen years for a crime he didn’t commit. After filing a civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction – a claim that could have seen him being awarded $36 million - he was then re-arrested for the murder of twenty-five-year-old photographer, Teresa Halbach. Avery’s sixteen-year-old nephew Brendan Dassey was also jailed for his involvement in the crime. Here’s the problem – the evidence suggesting Avery and Dassey murdered Teresa Halbach is not without flaw. In fact, if you dig a little deeper, the flaws are glaringly obvious, and viewers of the documentary are now demanding these men are given a new and fair trial.
Earlier this year, some of Avery and Dassey’s supporters participated in a protest at the Manitowoc County Courthouse, eager to make their voices heard. Now, UK supporters are getting ready to stage their own peaceful protest in London. I caught up with the organisers, Belinda Wilson and Kayleigh Brandon to find out more.
When did you first watch Making a Murderer?
Kayleigh: I had been nagging my boyfriend to watch it since I first heard about it in December. We finally got around to it in the first week of January. I was instantly hooked, and had to devour it – I couldn’t even wait for the evenings to watch with my boyfriend! Haha, sorry!
Belinda: I started watching Making a Murderer on 15/1/16. I kept seeing the Netflix advert on Facebook. When I was flicking through Netflix I saw it and decided to watch it. I watched the whole ten episodes in one go. My life then changed.
What were your initial thoughts after watching the documentary?
Kayleigh: Shock. Disbelief. Outrage.
Belinda: Anger. Disgust. Sad. Helpless.
What in particular about Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey’s stories affected you?
Kayleigh: With Steven, I was appalled at the blatant class warfare going on. I was hugely disturbed that a system which is meant to exist to see justice served contrived so purposefully and maliciously to steal this man’s life for a crime he was innocent of. He has almost no relationship with his four children as a result. All this, despite him having over a dozen witnesses to alibi him, and a timed receipt from a restaurant miles away from the crime! I was drawn to Brendan as he is the same age as me (born only two weeks to the day after myself). I felt guilt at the rites of passage I have enjoyed (learning to drive, first job, buying a house etc.) whilst he has been behind bars, and a deep, uneasy sense that it could have been any of us manipulated in that way as a naïve child. I also work with kids, so I am keenly aware of their vulnerability.
Belinda: With Steven's story, I was extremely sad that Steven had lost eighteen years of his life and his children's lives, seeing his marriage fall apart. Hearing the pain in his voice, seeing the pain in his face. I was appalled at what lengths the prosecution was willing to go to get a conviction for both the rape and murder. Brendan's story hit hard. Being a youth support worker myself, for children with learning disabilities, I instantly felt the need to protect Brendan. Seeing Brendan go through intense interrogation by those so-called professionals made me feel physically sick. Still haunts me now.
When did you first think of the idea for a UK protest?
Kayleigh: After the recent protests in Manitowoc and Madison, many UK supporters had expressed a desire for something similar over here. I suggested it a few times on various posts and got lots of likes, but it wasn’t until I connected with Belinda that I found somebody willing to go for it!
Belinda: After watching closely on the family Facebook page and seeing their protest coming together, I felt gutted that I lived so far away. I felt helpless. I wanted to be there showing my support to Steven, Brendan and his family. I also wanted to express my disgust at the criminal justice system. I posted a post to the Facebook group with my intentions for a protest in the UK as I received private messages from people in the UK who felt as helpless as I did. There was a lot of interest and this is how Kayleigh and I came together and decided to set up an events page
Can you give us some more details of what will happen on the day of the protest?
Kayleigh: April 2nd 2016. 11am US Embassy then 2pm Parliament Square. People are free to join at any point in the day they like, and any short time they can spare would be hugely appreciated! People are encouraged to use their imagination and create their own signs, but we will likely have some spares! We have ‘FREE STEVEN AVERY & BRENDAN DASSEY’ t-shirts available, and are also encouraging people to make an impact visually with orange jumpsuits, handcuffs, taped mouths, etc. We want to show solidarity with Steven and Brendan whilst also commenting on the way the US system is trying to hush up this injustice. We have international MMA fighter Jimmy ‘Justice’ Millar attending, as well as former US prisoner turned author/public speaker Shaun Attwood. We have received messages of support from Jerry Buting, and the admin and family in the official family Facebook page.