The first three episodes of my new true crime docuseries, “Convicting a Murderer,” premiered last week, so I talked with Brandon Tatum, a former police officer, to discuss the case. But it wasn’t just his background in law enforcement that made me want to talk to him; it was also his interest in this particular case. When the Netflix docuseries “Making a Murderer” came out, he was so hooked on the story, he watched every episode of it in one night. Now, he’s watching “Convicting a Murderer” each week.
“Making a Murderer” was a smash hit docuseries on Netflix that essentially told viewers the story of Steven Avery, who the justice system failed the first time around. He served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. This wrongful conviction was discovered years later after DNA testing proved him innocent. Like Tatum, viewers started this series and thought Avery would never have murdered someone after being let out of prison — 18 long years in prison. His life story was practically set up for a mystery.
Everyone who watched “Making a Murderer” said they binged the docuseries because the narrative was so compelling. Tatum told me another reason he couldn’t turn the show off was because every episode ended on a cliffhanger. The episodes took viewers on a one-hour journey, drawing them in, and leaving them wondering: Is there something else going on? Did he do this? How did they get the evidence? Tatum watched with a police officer’s perspective, and through that lens, he noticed the narrative vacillated between whether Steven Avery was actually guilty — or not.
Avery’s criminal record was quite expansive, especially for someone in a small town where everybody knows everybody; the same cops were likely arresting him for the same crimes each time. Even still, “Making a Murderer” often problematized the people who spoke out against Avery, while at the same time making him appear to be the victim. The docuseries minimized his crimes, saying, for example, he stole because he was hungry. But when I started digging into his story, one of the first red flags to me was his history of torturing animals.
First, I found out he tortured his family’s cat, dousing it in flammable liquid, setting it on fire, and throwing it back in the fire when it crawled out. As Tatum said in our conversation, “I think you have to be a level of crazy to want to see an animal suffer and die by way of burning it.” People who hang around the “wrong crowd” may make poor decisions, but they aren’t all thinking about murdering an animal or watching it suffer. That is a different level. The cat wasn’t the only incident. His own brother explains that when the family dog ran away, Avery’s solution to punish the dog was to chain it to the back end of a pickup truck and drag the dog down a gravel road. But it wasn’t only animals that brought out Avery’s violent side.
After Avery heard that his cousin, Sandra Morris, had supposedly been spreading rumors about him having sex in public, he tracked her down, attempted to run her off the road and held her at gunpoint, all while her toddler was in the car (which “Making a Murderer” completely omitted). As it turns out, Morris wasn’t the source of the rumors at all; a neighbor had reported Avery’s lewd behavior. Avery was sent to prison for six years, but while he was serving time, he wrote letters to his kids proclaiming he planned to commit murder when he got out — yet another huge piece of information left out of the Netflix docuseries. And that’s not all. It’s nowhere close. “Convicting a Murderer” shines a light on much, much more.
It’s difficult to discern someone’s character when information about their character is blatantly left out. So why did they leave out such significant and critical information about Avery’s character? Popularity. Rather than give all the truth, the objective seems to have been to make the show popular. Had they told more about Avery’s character, especially early in the series, there would have been no cliffhangers, and viewership would have fallen off. Yet Tatum himself confessed he still has questions about what evidence is left to see in “Convicting a Murderer,” especially about Brendan Dassey.
My response? I can’t wait for you to see. Once you see the lengths people went to in order to make the cops look dirty, you’ll be shocked. After all, there are always two sides to every story.