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Almost all the major figures featured in the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer have been interviewed by various media outlets since the series premiered last month — except for the man at the center of it all: Steven Avery.
One reason for his absence: the Wisconsin prison system has so far declined to connect journalists to Avery.
“We are not facilitating interviews out of respect for the victims,” Joy Staab, director of public relations for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday.
Avery served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault conviction out of Manitowoc County, Wis., for which he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003. Then in 2005, Avery was convicted of the murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach. The Netflix series, which debuted Dec. 18 of last year, has since made headlines and generated new interest in the case.
Attorney Jerry Buting, half of Avery’s former defense team made famous overnight thanks to the series, told THR that the prison system’s reason to deny direct access to an inmate is a first, in his experience.
“I’ve never heard that explanation given before,” said Buting.
The DOC has “full discretion” over interviews, Buting added. Previously, Buting had only heard of a request being denied due to security purposes.
Still, Buting noted that he represented another high-profile homicide client years ago who was allowed to do an on-camera interview from the same prison that Avery is currently in, Waupun Correctional Institution.
“So, I just don’t know,” he added.
Harvard Law School professor and retired federal judge Nancy Gertner also said the explanation from the department of corrections was a new one for her.
“According to very old law, the prison has a right to exclude cameras from the facility, but not to deny you a visit with a prisoner [for an interview],” Gertner said in an email. “But they have to be making decisions based on institutional concerns, concerns relating to the prison, not ‘out of respect for the victims.’”
The decision to decline Avery interview requests made through the department of corrections, Staab said, was decided on “multiple levels” and put in place shortly after the series premiered.
Staab declined to specify the number of media outlets that made contact with the department for that specific reason, only noting that THR was “not the first” to reach out with an interview request.
If a reporter wants to have contact with Avery, they may, just like the public, send him a letter, Staab said. He is free to respond if he chooses and he may add people to his visitors list. He may also make calls from the prison.
Since the series premiered, Avery filed an appeal asking that his conviction be thrown out due to a tainted jury and mishandled evidence by law enforcement. His current attorney, Kathleen T. Zellner, based in Downers Grove, Ill., did not respond to a request for comment.
Although Avery has not been involved in any recent media interviews, he has been in contact with Making a Murderer directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, the duo said.
The two filmmakers spoke Sunday at a Television Critics Association panel. In the four weeks since the series launched, they have had “several conversations, telephone conversations, with Steven Avery. And we did record those calls with an eye toward including them in any episodes, should there be any future episodes. But we’ve not returned to Wisconsin in the past four weeks,” Ricciardi said at TCA.
The directors were not available for comment.
Buting noted that Avery made a request to see Making a Murderer, but it was denied since the prison is unable to get Netflix. If Avery were able to obtain the series on tape of DVD, a prison staff member would have to view it with him, the attorney said.
Law enforcement officials, including Manitowoc County Sheriff Robert Hermann, have contended that the Netflix series is skewed and evidence further proving Avery’s guilt was not shown.
The filmmakers and former defense attorneys have rebuffed those claims and continued to stand in Avery’s corner.
“My personal opinion is that the state did not meet its burden,” Ricciardi said during a recent Late Show appearance on CBS. “I would say in my opinion: not guilty.”
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