It’s been an almost three-year wait, but ‘Making A Murderer Part 2’ is finally about to debut on Netflix, continuing the dramatic story that had the whole world talking when the documentary first began streaming in December 2015.
Focussing on the same legal case as ‘Part 1’, the documentary picks up shortly after the events of the final episode. Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, are both still serving life sentences for the murder of Teresa Halbach. They’re both still protesting their innocence. And they’re both still fighting to overturn their conviction, almost a decade on.
“They’re both fighters and they want to challenge their convictions, they want to win their freedom,” says Laura Ricciardi, who co-wrote and co-directed both the first series of ‘Making A Murder’ and the new instalment, dubbed ‘Part 2’. “This is a real opportunity to try to help educate viewers about a lesser-known part of the American criminal justice system, the post-conviction phase of it.
“What does it look like for someone who’s challenging their sentence? What obstacles do they face? What are the stakes? How much time does it take, and who does it all take a toll on…?”
And while things remain largely the same for the two central figures in the documentary, America is a starkly different place than it was in December 2015, when ‘Making A Murderer’ first took the world by storm.
Laura says we’ll see precious little reflection of that in ‘Part 2’, as the documentary is about being “immersed” in Avery’s “particular story”, though the world he inhabits is now significantly different too, mostly thanks to the success of ‘Making A Murderer’, and the global attention his case has received as a result.
This is addressed immediately in the first of the new episodes, which opens with a montage of headlines and news reports relating to the announcement of ‘Making A Murderer’, and various advances in the Teresa Halbach case, including a petition to the President for both him and Dassey to be pardoned.
“We realised very quickly once we were on the ground that we were going to be documenting a changed world for our subjects,” Laura says. “We certainly thought it was important to acknowledge the entirety of the response. Or what we knew to be the entirety of the response.”
Interspersed in this opening montage are comments from prosecutor Ken Kratz, who maintained that Laura and co-director Moira Demos left key details out of ‘Part 1’, most notably a crucial piece of evidence.
Laura is instantly dismissive of the suggestion the first 10 episodes of ‘Making A Murderer’ were biased or one-sided, pointing out that as a filmmaker, it would be counter-intuitive to erase anything that could be considered a turning point in the narrative.
“Such a claim really misunderstands our motivations and our process,” she explains. “And it certainly misunderstands what we would want to do as storytellers.
“Because as storytellers, we’re telling this as a narrative documentary, and it wouldn’t be in our interest as storytellers to undermine conflict. We want to show the true conflict - and that’s part of the reason why in ‘Part 1’ we devote so much time to the courtroom scenes... part of that is because of just how dynamic it is to be in a courtroom with both sides sort of hashing it out.
“So there isn’t any merit to those claims, and they’re claims being made by someone who isn’t familiar with our process. I mean, you know, you could see us working in public, shooting a scene or something, but how anyone would know what editorial choices we made and our motivations for them is beyond me.”
The family of murder victim Teresa Halbach was similarly critical when Netflix announced the first part of ‘Making A Murderer’ in 2015, suggesting the documentary was an exercise to “seek profit from their loss”.
“When that statement was put out, it was around the 10-year mark of Teresa’s death,” Laura recalls. “I imagine the family is still in a tremendous amount of pain.
“We talked to Kathleen Zellner [Avery’s new post conviction defence lawyer, who is a central figure and, frankly, scene-stealer in ‘Part 2’] about this. She talks about how when you’re advocating for a client who has been convicted, it can be especially hard for the victim’s family, because they’d like to believe the jury or judge has spoken, and want closure, and to think justice has been served.”
Ultimately, Laura says, her motivation for making the documentary was not to sensationalise the murder of Teresa Halbach, but to follow Steven Avery, who they saw as being in a truly “unique position”.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to go on a journey with someone who was uniquely positioned,” she recalled. “He was a DNA exoneree, charged in a new crime. And what we really wanted to do [in ‘Part 1’] was look at the historical context for the Halbach case, what went wrong in 1985? How is it that somebody could be wrongly imprisoned for 18 years, while maintaining their innocence all the while and fighting to get out…
“I mean, we show in ‘Part 1’ that Steven’s freedom came down to a single hair, so in many ways it was miraculous. And just trying to have a better understanding of the ways in which the system works, and the ways in which it fails, you know?”
Between parts 1 and 2 of ‘Making A Murderer’, Laura and Moira have now spent the best part of 13 years chronicling Steven Avery’s case, filming in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, and following his family’s personal journey.
“We certainly have empathy for them,” Laura says on the difficulties of spending so long documenting a family through their personal ups and downs. “It is challenging in its way, just on a very human level, to be documenting people who are in such extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
“There’s a lot of pain, and what we see a lot of in ‘Part 2’ is Steven’s concerns and worries for his parents, that they’re aging and ailing while he’s locked away. And there’s a frustration and a bit of an impatience on his part to get out and be available to live with his parents and help his parents. But when we’re filming with them, always at the forefront of our mind is ‘what is our job?’.”
She continues: “As a documentarian, because you are receiving so much from your subjects, it’s such an incredible gift that they let you in. And you want to feel like you’re offering something in return.
Before ‘Making A Murderer’ came out, Laura notes that the Avery family were “pariahs” in their own community, because of their son having been found guilty, and the heavy media attention his case received during the conviction process.
“Mrs Avery had spoken in the past about what it was like to go into town and go into a store or a restaurant,” Laura recalls. “She told us one time about going into a restaurant and overhearing people talking about her son and her grandson in a very negative way, and how that made her feel, and basically confronting them and telling them, ‘they’re both innocent’.”
Now, though, the family receive masses of supportive messages from all over the world, with ‘Part 2’ beginning with footage of Dolores Avery opening a box of letters from supporters, in the same house where she was once filmed reading out hate mail little more than a decade earlier.
On life for the Avery family post-‘Making A Murderer’ Laura says: “[They’re] finding themselves in a new position, they’re truly getting support from people all around the world.
“There’s some footage that we shot, it didn’t ultimately make the cut, but it was Mrs Avery on her 80th birthday, and Allan [Steven Avery’s father] had gone and collected the mail, and he was opening these cards and reading them to her. I think she was quite down about turning 80 and things not having changed substantially, and Allan was reading these cards and these letters to her to try to cheer her up. It’s incredible. So I think that’s very meaningful to them.
“For us, what we try to keep at the forefront of our minds is that we’re offering them a voice... or [the opportunity] to share their voice, let them speak to their own experience, their own truth, and share that with other people. And it’s up to other people to say how they themselves respond.”
‘Making A Murderer Part 2’ launches on Netflix on Friday 19 October.