Making a Murderer, a documentary about a court case many are familiar with became a popular show when it was released by Netflix in 2015. But what really happened in that case? Was the documentary truthful? Roberto Clemente Community Academy’s law students explored the court cases behind the film in order to determine for themselves if Steven Avery really did commit murder or if something went wrong within the system.
While many students approached the assignment with an already established viewpoint, students had to clear their minds of what they knew and approach the case objectively, the same way a lawyer would. First, they reviewed Steven Avery’s original 1985 case in which he was accused and found guilty of rape, only to later be exonerated. Students examined trial transcripts, evidence, and testimony in order to find the mistakes that were made in the case.
Using what they have learned all year as well as what they learned from the previous case, students began looking at the Avery case that is the focus of the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. Again, students examined evidence such as DNA found at the crime scene, the property of the victim, and possible murder weapons. Then students listened to witness testimony related to the day of the victim’s disappearance, investigators in the case, FBI agents, and DNA experts.
Through their analysis of the evidence and testimony, students had to build a case that would defend Steven Avery or prove him guilty. Much like a real lawyer, they had to formulate an argument with a clear theme to tie all evidence and testimony together for the jury. They wrote opening statements to hook the jury and introduce them to the case. Finally, they developed closing arguments that summarize the case, their main points, and remind the jury of their role.
This week, students will participate in a mock trial, taking on the roles of prosecution and defense to present their cases to a jury for them to decide if Steven Avery is guilty or not. Stay tuned for coverage of the student-led trial and the final verdict!