Loads of us loved the Netflix series Making a Murderer, a show following the seemingly wrongful convictions and imprisonments of Steven Avery and his teenage nephew Brendan Dassey for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005.
Despite the show appearing to demonstrate multiple police failings in building the case, Avery saw a motion for a new trial denied in October 2017. Meanwhile, Dassey, who had his conviction overturned in August 2016, on the grounds that his confession had been coerced, saw an appeal by the state succeed, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruling in favor of upholding the original conviction.
The story proved both how badly wrong eyewitness identification can go, and how coercive interrogation practices can throw cases – and proved a riveting, twist-filled series to boot.
And now it won’t just be us schmucks, sat on our sofas yelling at the telly, who’ll benefit from Making a Murderer– because a university in the U.S. has announced that it will be launching a class based on the show.
According to local news channel KUTV, the University of Utah course is designed “to teach students how to use criminal justice issues raised in the documentary series to teach law students about flaws in the legal process”.
The class was created by law professor Shima Baradaran Baughman, who shows her students clips from the documentary and gives them trial transcripts and other readings to examine the prosecution.
They then “argue motions, examine and cross-examine witnesses as a training exercise”, as well as conducing their own independent research around the subject.
“This is a really good case study of criminal justice in general and all of the problems we have —including tainting of juries, improper investigation, DNA evidence and contamination of evidence, prosecutorial ethics, when to change venues, ineffective counsel and many other issues,” she said.
“Using the case as a way to teach those topics is amazing,” she added.
“Each week my friends and I gather together and watch the assigned episode of the documentary and discuss it together. It’s become our weekly ‘movie night’ tradition that we look forward to,” she said.
If you’re not in Utah but you still want to get your Making a Murderer fix, you’ll be pleased to hear that another documentary on the same case is set for release soon.
Convicting a Murderer, directed by Shawn Rech, will be focusing on the prosecutors and investigators who convicted Avery – a compelling look into the other side of the case.
Meanwhile, the second series of Making a Murderer, following up on what’s happened since the original trials, is expected to hit Netflix at some point this year.