Making a murderer and its global implications


As a loyal Netflix viewer, I’ve watched many of movies, TV shows and documentaries on Nexflix. But few of them have more profound impact on its viewers than its recent release of a documentary series – making a murderer.

Netflix推出的《制造谋杀犯》是一部动人心魄,令人难安系列纪录片,该片向观众展现了美国威斯康辛州马尼托沃克县男子Steven Avery及其外甥Brendan Dassey被定罪的庭审过程示。Avery一生中的大部分时间都是在监狱中度过。他因强暴一名女性而被误判刑入狱,并且为此白白坐了18年牢。而在Avery出狱后,他和他的外甥Dassey又被控谋杀年轻女摄影师Teresa Halbach,在被定罪后Avery和Dassey都被判处终身监禁,目前他们仍身陷囹圄。

Netflix’s making a murder is a chilling and disturbing documentary series that follow trials of Steven Avery, a Manitowoc County, Wisconsin man, and his nephew Brendan Dassey. Avery has spent most of his time in prison. He had served 18 year sentence for a sexually assaulting a woman – a crime he did not commit. But after being released from prison, Avery and Dassey were convicted for another crime – killing a young female photographer Teresa Halbach. They were sentenced to life in prison after the conviction and are currently being locked behind bars.


Avery filed a lawsuit against Manitowoc County sheriff department after he was exonerated of the first crime, seeking damages for the wrongful conviction. The lawsuit seemed to have forced certain police officers into the corner. During his murder trial, the defence lawyers argued that the police planted the evidence to frame him. 


Was Avery innocent? The true crime thriller did not provide an answer, but left more burning questions to the American public that go far beyond the Avery trial. The documentary has revealed the disturbing and dysfunctional reality of American courtrooms and police stations and exposed deep flaws in the American criminal system -- from false convictions to the flawed forensic evidence to forceful interrogations.


But if American justice system is flawed, China’s system is broken. In a county where its criminal justice system does not follow the principle of innocent until proven guilty –an internationally established standard, the accused people are provided almost none of the rights or protections that are taken for granted by their counterparts in much of the world. 


In China, only a very small percentage of people who face trial are found not guilty. The conviction rate reaches as high as 99.9% while in US, it is only about 93%.  The examples of wrongful convictions are plenty, where murder victims showed up alive and well years after their “killer” had been convicted and sent to prison. 

相比Avery的审判,其外甥Brendan Dassey被定罪的过程更加令《制造谋杀犯》的观众愤懑和不安,因为法庭是将其供词作为定罪判刑的主要依据,而当年只有16岁的Dassey智商只有70,并且警方是在没有律师在场的情况下对其进行威逼诱导才获得这份供词。

Brendan Dassey’s conviction in “Making a Murderer” is more disturbing than his uncle’s trial– it relied largely on the confession of a 16 year old  – who has a IQ lower than 70. The confession was obtained through coerced integration by police without a lawyer present.


But Chinese system largely relies on confession of guilt to reach conviction. The police use compulsory measures to interrogate, without a lawyer present, for as long as 12 hours. During trials, defendants rarely succeed in tossing coerced evidence out. 


Zhang Gaoping and his nephew, Zhang Hui, spent 10 years wrongfully incarcerated for a 2003 rape-murder of a young hitchiker.   New evidence showed DNA results matching another man and the Zhanges’ “confessions” were the product of coercion.  The Zhanges were deprived of sleep and underwent seven days of abusive interrogation, including physical abuse.  They finally signed confessions drafted by the police under pressure from other detainees.


But when the mistakes were corrected, they are often far too late. The 18-year-old Mongolian man named Huugjilt was convicted for rape and murder, but by the time it was found to be a wrongful conviction, Huugjilt had long been executed. 


Making a Murderer has left its viewers stunned, disturbed and enraged. It has sparked widespread demand for justice and prompted calls to enhance oversight on miscarriage of justice. As Americans’ petition for Avery’s retrial has gathered momentum, there is more urgent need for China to reform its criminal system and provide its citizens with fairness and dignity. But a powerful journalism revealing wrongdoings in the system should be the first step on that journey of reform.

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