The Quotes That Tell the Story of 'Making a Murderer'

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Steven Avery from the Netflix documentary series 'Making a Murderer.' Netflix

Bewildering. Frustrating. Depressing. Captivating. And entertaining. The 10-episode, true-crime documentary series Making a Murderer, which was released on Netflix on December 18, checks all of those boxes.

While viewers obsessively pore over the minutiae as if Making a Murderer is True Detective 3, there is one glaring difference: These are real people. A young woman, Teresa Halbach, was murdered on October 31, 2005. Two men were put on trial for that homicide. Lives were lost and ruined. The reputations of more than a few law enforcement officials have been sullied.

What is not readily apparent as one devours the 10-hour film that producers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi spent almost a decade making is whether Steven Avery is guilty of the murder and mutilation of Teresa Halbach on Halloween in 2005. What is all too clear, though, is that the compulsion to get a conviction, as opposed to pursuing the truth, overwhelmed this homicide case almost immediately.

There are heroes and villains aplenty on both sides of the law in Wisconsin's Manitowoc and Calumet Counties, the setting for the series. They say things that leave your mandible dragging. It is the characters, and their quotes, that make such an indelible impact. Some of the most memorable quotes are compiled below.

Warning: The rest of this column abounds with spoilers. If you have yet to watch the series and intend to do so, then you continue, to quote a prosecutor in the series, "at your own peril."

"The fact that the victim identified the perpetrator as wearing white underwear when Steven Avery didn't own underwear"Robert Henak, Steven Avery's post-conviction lawyer from 1994 to 1997

The prelude to Steven Avery being charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005 was a sexual assault he had been convicted of in 1985. Avery was sentenced to 32 years in prison and was only eligible for parole if he admitted his guilt, which he never did.

Eighteen years after being sent to prison, Avery was freed when DNA evidence, specifically one pubic hair, exonerated him. Henak's quote is telling because it refers to just one of numerous pieces of exculpatory evidence that the jury ignored in the 1985 trial, and also speaks to the squalor in which Steven Avery lived. It is not that Avery chose not to wear underwear; it's that he did not even own a pair.

"I think Steven was seen in that case as a representative of the entire Avery family," says Reesa Evans, his court-appointed defense counsel in 1985, "and how the sheriff's department saw them as kind of a problem and definitely undesirable members of the community, for lack of a better term."

"They're not just going to hand Steven Avery $36 million"Kim Ducat, Avery's cousin

After Avery is released from prison on September 11, 2003, evidence emerges that his 1985 conviction may have been a product of law enforcement malfeasance. He files a civil lawsuit seeking damages of $36 million. Between October 11 and 13, 2005, four key members of the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department—Sheriff Ken Petersen, Lieutenant James Lenk, Sergeant Andy Colborn and Chief Deputy Eugene Kusche—are deposed.

Less than three weeks later, on October 31, 2005, Teresa Halbach, a photographer in her late 20s, disappears. The last person Halbach is known to have seen is Avery, on his property. One day later, and two days before anyone reports Halbach missing, the Wisconsin state legislature passes the Avery Bill, designed to reform the meager way in which wrongfully imprisoned people are compensated by the state.

"I want to emphasize that Manitowoc County's role was to provide resources to us as they were needed. Items on property to conduct searches they provided equipment, and that's their role and their only role in this investigation" Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel

On November 5, 2005, Halbach's Toyota RAV4 is found on the 40-acre Avery family compound, which is primarily an auto salvage yard. Due to the pending lawsuit between Avery and Manitowoc County, and in order to pre-empt any claims of a conflict of interest, the acting district attorney turns over the investigation to neighboring Calumet County.

Sheriff Pagel publicly announces that Manitowoc County will only assist by providing equipment, but then we see the very officers who have been deposed in Avery's civil suit taking the lead in personally searching his property. Lieutenant Lenk and Sergeant Colborn comb Avery's trailer on four occasions between November 5 and November 8, and Lenk discovers the key to Halbach's RAV4 in Avery's bedroom on his fourth visit. The lone bullet fragment, discovered in Avery's garage after numerous searches, is only found after Lenk searches the garage.

"If we wanted to eliminate Steve, it would've been a whole lot easier to eliminate Steve than to frame Steve...or if we wanted him killed, it would be much easier just to kill him"Manitowoc County Sheriff Ken Petersen

While giving an interview to a local television station, Petersen dismisses claims the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department is planting evidence in order to incriminate Avery by arguing that it would have been simpler just to murder him.

Upon seeing the interview, Dean Strang, one of Avery's two defense counsels, remarks, "This is insane. This is completely insane."

"All due respect to counsel, the state is supposed to start every criminal trial swimming upstream. And the strong current against which the state is supposed to be swimming is the presumption of innocence"Dean Strang, co-defense counsel for Steven Avery

The Atticus Finch of Making a Murderer is Dean Strang, a dark-haired, ruminative and bespectacled defense attorney in his late 40s. While his co-counsel, Jerry Buting, is given to an occasional fit of sarcasm or may be perceived as prickly, Strang comes off as even-keeled.

At the outset of Avery's murder trial, the lead prosecutor, Calumet County district attorney Ken Kratz, objects to a motion presented by Strang and Buting. Months earlier, Kratz had gone on television and luridly described a rape-and-torture scene that presaged the murder, for which there was (and is) no physical evidence. The defense presents a motion that as a curative measure the jury be informed that the state will not attempt to prove any of Kratz's histrionic claims in the trial.

Kratz argues that such a measure will put the state into a position of swimming upstream to open the trail—disregarding the fact that his brazen publicity stunt put the defense in that very position. Strang counters by reminding the court that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

"Were you looking at those plates when you called them in?"

"No, sir."

Dean Strang questions Sergeant Andy Colborn about his having called in the victim's license plate number two days before the vehicle was reported found

On a few occasions the two fillmmakers, Demos and Ricciardi, open a door of suspicion that they never close. On November 3, 2005, two days before Halbach's RAV4 is found in Avery's salvage lot, Sergeant Colborn calls in the vehicle's license plate to dispatch. After being told that the vehicle belongs to a missing person. Colborn then describes the make and model of the vehicle.

The unanswered and eerie question is, How is Colborn calling in those plate numbers if he is not in the presence of Halbach's missing vehicle? The implication is that Colborn, and by extension the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department, has found Halbach's missing car, albeit two days before volunteer searchers will happen upon it.

"Try to put [Halbach] in his house or his garage"Note written by investigator Tom Fassbender to DNA technician Sherry Culhane

On November 11, six days after Halbach's vehicle is found and six days into an eight-day search of the Avery compound, investigator Tom Fassbender sends a note to the Calumet County DNA technician. Fassbender's note informs Culhane of potential DNA evidence being sent to the lab, with a suggestion as to the specific locations to which that DNA should be connected—Avery's house or garage.

Fassbender's note is one of many examples of the investigation seemingly searching for the outcome it desires.

"Poor people lose. Poor people lose all the time"Steven Avery, talking to his parents from jail

Avery was incarcerated during the entire time that Demos and Ricciardi shot their film, and remains so. The same is true of his nephew, Brendan Dassey, also convicted for this murder. Hence we learn much about what the two accused men are thinking via recorded telephone calls between them and their parents.

The recorded conversations offer the most vivid glimpse into the backwoods culture into which viewers have parachuted. Avery, to his mom: "I can't go on." Mom: "Don't be strange." Avery: "I'm not strange." Mom: "I'll give you a what for."

"No sane lawyer looks forward to presenting a defense that the police framed his client. No sane lawyer" Dean Strang

Ryan Hillegas, the ex-boyfriend of the victim, who had seen her the day before she went missing—but claims under oath that he cannot recall what part of the day he had seen her—was never asked by police to provide an alibi. Nor was Halbach's male roommate, who did not report her missing for three days.

We also learn that the judge prohibited the defense pointing fingers at any potential suspects. Denied that option, and given that Halbach's car was found on Avery's property and her bones in a fire pit behind his trailer, Strang's and Buting's optimal defense is to demonstrate that the investigation was seriously compromised.

"Who better than a police officer would know how to frame somebody?"Jerry Buting, co-defense counsel for Steven Avery

On the fourth visit Lieutenant Lenk and Sergeant Colborn make to Avery's trailer, accompanied by Calumet County sheriff's deputy Dan Kucharski, Lenk claims to discover the key to Halbach's RAV4. It is lying on the carpet, in full view. When Buting asks Kucharski if it is possible Lenk and Colborn planted the key, Kucharski replies, "First of all, they would have had to have the key. I think the only person who had the key was the person who killed Teresa."

"If you buy Mr. Strang's argument that [law enforcement] were trying to make sure that a guilty person was found guilty, then assigning accountability to the murder for Teresa Halbach shouldn't matter whether or not that key was planted"Calumet County district attorney Ken Kratz

During closing arguments, Kratz tells the jury it should consider the matter of whether police planted evidence to inculpate Avery irrelevant. Kratz says that if you believe Avery is guilty of murdering Halbach, the ends justify the means.

The camera pans to Buting and Strang, seated at the defense table, staring incredulously at Kratz.

After the guilty verdict is returned, Kratz tells the pool reporters, "We knew what kind of person Steven Avery was when this trial begins." Kratz's declaration seems odd, since Avery had spent 19 of the past 21 years, or almost all of his adult life, incarcerated. And 18 of those years of incarceration were for a crime he did not commit.

"You think I can get there by 1:29? I have a project due in sixth hour"Brendan Dassey, 16, after being interrogated for four hours by investigators Fassbender and Wiegert

Fans of Making A Murderer will long debate which of the two suspects, Avery or his teenage nephew, Brendan Dassey, were more unfairly treated by police (they will also long debate whether each of the men are guilty).

What is undeniable is that at the time of his arrest, Dassey, 16, had serious cognitive deficiencies. He failed to comprehend the gravity of his predicament, or that nearly law enforcement official he encountered shamelessly manipulated him. He asked his mother the meaning of the term "inconsistent," and she did not know, either.

After a four-hour interrogation in which investigators Fassbender and Wiegert all but spoon-feed a confession to him, Dassey wonders if he will be able to return to his high school to turn in his project. He does not realize that he will never be free again.

Initially, he likes his court-appointed counsel, Len Kachinsky, because they share a favorite animal ("cats"). A few weeks later, speaking to his mother, Dassey laments, "I'm going to miss Wrestlemania on April 10th." He has bigger problems than that.

"What book that you read ever had the story of a woman chained to a bed, raped, stabbed, and then her body thrown on a fire? What book was that, sir?"

"I believe it was called Kiss the Girls"

Exchange between prosecutor and Brendan Dassey in his murder trial

At his murder trial, Brendan Dassey takes the stand in his own defense. Dassey claims that he made up the lurid story of how he and his uncle raped and tortured Halbach. As there is no physical evidence, only Dassey's "confession," the trial hinges on whether the jury believes what Dassey told the investigators then or what he is testifying to now.

This moment occurs in Episode 9. It is the first and only time viewers see a side of Dassey that suggests he is not a simpleton. Was he coached to say this line? Is he telling the truth? Dassey answers prosecution's rhetorical, even sarcastic question with a coherent answer.

"You are probably the most dangerous individual ever to set foot in this courtroom" Judge Patrick Willis, to Avery, at his sentencing

In the wake of the series' release and phenomenal popularity, stories have emerged that show Demos and Ricciardi slanted their coverage of Avery's trial to his advantage. Certainly it is odd, after what the viewers of Making a Murderer have seen, to hear Judge Willis say these words. Viewers are left to wonder whether Willis is just one more cog in the presumption-of-guilt machine or if the filmmakers have omitted some seriously incriminating facts.

"We have a 16 year-old who, while morally and legally responsible, is heavily influenced by someone who can only be described as something close to evil incarnate"Len Kachinsky, Brendan Dassey's court-appointed defense counsel

"This is truly where the devil resides in comfort. I can find no good in any member. These people are pure evil. A friend suggested this is a one-branch family tree. Cut this tree down. We need to end the gene pool here."Kachinsky's defense investigator Michael O'Kelly, in an email to Kachinsky

No undertaking, short of the murder of Halbach, is more egregious and horrific than the representation that Kachinsky and, by extension, O'Kelly, purport to provide Dassey. Before even meeting his client, Kachinsky has described his uncle, Avery, as "evil incarnate." This happens before Avery's trial has begun, suggesting that the defense lawyer has already decided Avery is guilty.

It is clear Kachinsky and O'Kelly hoped Dassey would confess, which may allow him to receive a softer sentence but will also guarantee Avery's conviction. For whom, exactly, are they working?

"Most of what ails our criminal justice system lie in unwarranted certitude on the part of police officers and prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges and jurors that they are getting it right. That they are simply right. Just a tragic lack of humility in everyone who participates in our criminal justice system" Dean Strang

If there is an epitaph to Making a Murderer, and also a theme, Strang provides it at the end of Episode 9.

"I ain't gonna give up. When you know you're innocent, you keep on going"Steven Avery

The filmmakers give the final word to Avery. The father of five spent 18 years in jail for a crime he did not commit (though Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department officials remain dubious, even when confronted with the DNA evidence), even though he would have received early parole if he had simply proclaimed his guilt.

Because Avery chose to do the time instead, there is at least an incentive to believe him this time. Why would a man who stood to win a $36-million award from the county that wronged him recklessly commit murder on his own property just as that civil trial was about to begin? As Avery's mother, Beverly, would tell him, "Don't be strange."

And yet so much of the evidence points directly at Avery: The victim's cremains, which were found not far from his trailer; the murder weapon, which hung above his bed. Is Teresa Halbach's murderer(s) in prison? Or were Avery's and Dassey's trials a case of injustice for all?

The Quotes That Tell the Story of 'Making a Murderer' | Culture