TORONTO – As “Making a Murderer” returns for a sequel this week, the creators insist they don’t have a bias in documenting the case of Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey.
Part 2 of the docuseries launches Friday on Netflix as a continuation to the stories of Avery and Dassey, who are serving life sentences after being convicted in the 2005 killing of Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach. Both maintain their innocence.
After the series launched in 2015 and became a global phenomenon, prosecutor Ken Kratz published a book accusing Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos of bias and fabricating information. Several news reports also swirled over the subject.
“Those accusations are meritless,” Ricciardi said in a recent phone interview.
“When people say that, I think they’re confusing bias, which would be having an opinion and transforming the world to fit that opinion, versus we chose Steven Avery as our protagonist and wanted to share the experience of an accused,” added Demos.
“So we have a character who has a point of view, but for us that’s not about whether he’s innocent or whether he’s guilty — it’s sharing his experience. Subjectivity and bias are very different, documentary and journalism are very different, and I think all of those differences get lost in a very simplistic accusation from the prosecutor who has an agenda, who starts a campaign about bias.”
Avery served 18 years in prison for a rape before DNA evidence fully exonerated him. After his release, he filed a suit against the county on the case, but was later arrested and convicted in Halbach’s murder. Avery insists police framed him. Dassey has argued police unconstitutionally coerced him into confessing that he helped Avery in Halbach’s killing.
The writers/directors spent 10 years making part 1 after reading about Avery’s case in the New York Times. They started filming “Making a Murderer 2” in June of 2016, after seeing the response to part 1 and realizing “the story was not over.”
Part 2 begins with footage of news reports on the popularity and impact of the series, and the controversies that arose from it. Avery’s mother, Dolores, is seen at her kitchen table in Manitowoc County, Wis., poring over letters from fans and supporters of her son — a big shift from season 1 when she was reflecting on hate mail.
“On a practical level, Steven’s life has changed tremendously,” said Demos.
“It wouldn’t be a complete story if we ignored that the series had come out and impacted this world. It’s very meta.”
Part of “Making a Murderer”‘s impact is the addition of successful post-conviction attorney Kathleen Zellner, who took on Avery’s case after seeing the series.
Cameras follow Zellner, who has worked extensively in wrongful conviction advocacy, as she consults with experts and performs re-enactments of elements of the crime in an attempt to prove his innocence.
“She, at first, had not watched the series and actually heard from a client of hers who was encouraging her to watch,” said Ricciardi.
“One of the things she talked about was not tolerating bullying. She thought she recognized a type of bullying in the story and wanted to represent him.”
Other new faces in part 2 include Dassey’s post-conviction lawyers, Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin.
For all of the meta qualities of the new season, the filmmakers said they didn’t let armchair detectives, who have posted their own theories on the case online, affect the direction of the episodes.
“Because we ourselves were never investigating the crime, we’re not investigative journalists, we’re not playing that role,” said Demos. “We’re documenting the experiences of those in the story.”