Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bulletin: Innocence Project of Florida debuts a 'roundtable' on episodes of "Making a Murderer.' Read on for Episode 1: (Note: Spoilers);

INTRODUCTION: "By now, you have probably heard about the docuseries Making a Murderer released on Netflix last month. The series, which documents the life of Steven Avery from the time of his exoneration in 2005 to his current incarceration, immediately gained national popularity. While the concept of wrongful conviction is a new topic of interest for the general public, it has been an extremely important issue for those involved with and interested in the criminal justice system for quite some time now. It is incredible that interest in wrongful convictions continues to gain popularity because it represents a step in the right direction towards reforming the justice system in order to lessen the chances of these life-altering mistakes occurring. Innocence Project of Florida’s (IPF) blog, Plain Error, has been revamped this year, producing new content every day. Because of the immense public interest in Making a Murderer and the continued following of the cases even after watching the entire series, IPF has decided to do a digital roundtable discussion about the docuseries on the Plain Error blog. Once a week, each episode will be discussed in order, and perhaps even a few episodes at a time. The posts will give a brief recap of what happened in the episode discussed, and IPF’s executive director, Seth Miller, and intake coordinator, Dr. Adina M. Thompson will discuss and answer questions about the content in each episode, along with the innocence movement’s response to the handling of the cases in the series. Without further ado, the roundtable discussion will begin with the first episode, “Eighteen Years Lost.”

RECAP: Steven Avery of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for the 1985 sexual assault, attempted murder, and false imprisonment of Penny Beerntsen. Although innocent of these crimes, he spent 18 years behind bars. On July 29, 1985, Penny Beerntsen was sexually assaulted while jogging at a beach along Lake Michigan Beerntsen described her attacker to the responding officer at the hospital, Deputy Judy Dvorak, who commented that the description sounded like Steven Avery, who was not well-liked in the community. Chief Deputy Eugene Kusche drew his own composite from an mugshot of Avery was taken from jail records, instead of basing the migshot on the victim’s description of the attacker. This drawing was shown to Beerntsen, who confirmed that he was her attacker Later that night, Avery was arrested. The next day, his lawyer was informed that the sheriff ordered Avery’s name not be on the jail list, that he not be allowed visitors, that he not be allowed access to the phone, and that he be held in a cellblock alone so he could not have contact with anyone. District Attorney Denis Vogel cited Avery’s past criminal record, and he was denied bail. While Avery was incarcerated, a man by the name of Gregory Allen, who had an extensive criminal history for sexual crimes by violence, repeatedly came up. Sheriff Tom Kocourek was approached by several officers, including Detective Thomas Bergner of the Manitowoc City Police Department, who suggested that the wrong man was in jail for the crimes against Beerntsen and recommended Allen may be responsible. Three women from the District Attorney’s office expressed their concerns to Vogel that the wrong man was incarcerated, also suggesting that Allen may be responsible. Yet the prosecutor did nothing. Due to his history of sex crimes, the city of Manitowoc required daily surveillance of Allen. On the afternoon of Beerntsen’s assault, the officers assigned to monitor him that day were called away to work on other crimes; therefore, Allen was not under surveillance during Beerntsen’s attack. Avery had several alibi witnesses that accounted for his whereabouts on the day of the crime, in addition to a shopping receipt with a time stamp.
From 1986 to 1994, Avery appealed his conviction all the way up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but all of his appeals were denied. In 1994, Stephen Glynn and Robert Henak agreed to reexamine Avery’s case. They obtained the sex crimes kit and tested the victim’s fingernail scrapings. The tests involved alleles at a single genetic marker, two of which Avery and Beerntsen shared; a third allele that did not match either of them, meaning there was DNA under the victim’s nails that could not have come from Avery. Glynn and Henak presented these findings, but ultimately the court sided with the state; the court of appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court would later side with the state’s argument, too. The state argued that since tests could not prove who’s DNA was identified in the nail scrapings, they could not discount for the fact that the DNA could belong to Beerntsen’s husband, the couple that found her, the doctors that examined her, etc. In 2001, the Wisconsin Innocence Project agreed to take Avery’s case. The organization also obtained the sex crimes kit and tested pubic hairs; one of the hairs generated a full profile from which Avery was conclusively excluded, meaning the pubic hair could not have come from him. The hair’s profile was run through the convicted offender DNA database and matched Gregory Allen, the alternative suspect.  Based on this evidence, Avery was exonerated in 2003. Due to misconduct in the case, the Wisconsin Attorney General ordered the Division of Criminal Investigation to examine Manitowoc County’s handling of Avery’s 1985 case. Specifically, evidence existed that District Attorney was aware of Gregory Allen as the likely perpetrator but buried that information in his file. Inexplicably, the investigators concluded that no criminal or ethical violations occurred. Because the investigation did not hold the prosecutors accountable for their misconduct, Avery filed a lawsuit seeking $36 million in compensation for his loss of freedom and punitive damages for indifferent behavior of the defendants. The defendants in the suit included Manitowoc County, Sheriff Tom Kocourek, and District Attorney Denis Vogel.
DISCUSSION: Proceed to the following link below for the 'roundtable discussion' on Episode 1.