Four Lingering Questions You'll Be Asking After Watching Netflix's Making a Murderer
The latest on Steven Avery's legal options, Brendan Dassey's requests for an appeal, and his former attorney's standing
For true crime buffs, it doesn’t get much better than Netflix’s latest binge-worthy offering, Making a Murderer.
The 10-part documentary series examines the case of Steven Avery, whose wrongful 1985 conviction for sexual assault was overturned but who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life for the 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Avery vigorously maintains his innocence and believes he was framed in retribution for filing a $36 million lawsuit against the county and authorities, which he ultimately settled for $400,000.
Ultimately, the series leaves the viewer with nagging questions. PEOPLE takes a deeper look at some of those questions here.
Has Avery Run Out of Legal Options?
There is hope yet for the 53-year-old Avery, who is currently a resident of Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution, but it s only a thread. Avery’s chances remain “slim,” according to Dean Strang, one of his two defense attorneys.
“Not vanished or nonexistent,” Strang told The Capital Times, but “I think they lie under the heading of new evidence.”
That, Strang told the Madison-based newspaper, would require “someone coming forward, someone admitting something, someone revealing a secret they’ve been carrying that would point in another direction or an advance in scientific testing.”
Avery’s contends that officers framed him by planting blood samples at the crime scene. Strang said with advances in scientific testing, the samples “can be revisited.”
Barring any new evidence, Avery’s conviction will likely stand, Strang said.
What’s the Latest with Avery’s Nephew’s Case?
Those who’ve watched Making a Murderer know the prosecution’s case against Avery was buoyed by a confession provided to police by his teenage nephew, described in the 10-part series as learning disabled.
In several interrogations portrayed as dubious in the documentary, the nephew, Brendan Dassey, implicated both himself and Avery in Halbach’s slaying, telling investigators he even helped his uncle dispose of her remains. Dassey was convicted in 2007 of homicide, sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse.
During Dassey’s trial, his attorneys argued that detectives pressured the confused teen into signing fabricated statements.
While Wisconsin’s Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal, Dassey’s lawyers filed a federal habeas petition last year: The petition claims his conviction should be vacated and that his rights had been violated by police and that his first attorney, Len Kachinsky, who was appointed by the court and who the documentary portrays as in cahoots with prosecutors. (Kachinsky did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on the allegation.)
A judge has yet to rule on Dassey’s petition, but could move to reject it, order a new trial or release the now 26-year-old from Green Bay Correctional, where he’s serving a life sentence.
Is Len Kachinsky, Dassey s Initial Attorney, Still Practicing?
PEOPLE learns the Wisconsin Bar Association lists Kachinsky as being an “active” lawyer in “good standing,” while the Wisconsin Court System claims “there is currently no public disciplinary history” for the Appleton advocate.
Making a Murderer portrays Kachinsky as cooperating with investigators – not representing Dassey’s best interests. Neither Dassey’s mother nor Kachinsky were present during the teen’s numerous interrogations, and the attorney eventually advised his client to accept a plea deal.
A woman answering the phone at the Sisson and Kachinsky Law Offices in Appleton claims Kachinsky is still taking on new cases.
Will the Innocence Project Get Involved?
In 2003, Avery became the first Wisconsin prisoner freed by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, after the group used DNA tests to link another man to the sexual assault that put Avery in prison.
But after he was convicted of Halbach’s murder, his case was portrayed as a cautionary tale. The documentary claims that when Avery reached out the Wisconsin Innocence Project for help overturning his murder conviction, the group declined to help him.
On December 22, the Innocence Project posted on its website, “As you will learn through the series, a member of the Innocence Network is currently looking into some aspects of [Avery’s] case.”
It added, “Fortunately, the filmmakers behind Making a Murderer are helping to shine a spotlight on some of the problems that plague the criminal justice system.”
Whether or not the group picks up Avery’s case is significant because Avery currently lacks legal representation. The documentary claims that Avery has run out of money to pay attorneys fees and that he is not entitled a court-appointed attorney because he has exhausted his appeals.
One scene in the documentary shows Avery requesting his entire case file, consisting of 24 boxes of transcripts and records. Another shows him in the prison law library studying to be his own advocate.