By: Angie Ballman Punton
It’s only been a month since Netflix released its ten-episode documentary “Making a Murderer,” and it has already become a pop-culture phenomenon. Forbes calls the series “Netflix’s most significant show ever.” I am proof that it is indeed highly-addictive and binge-worthy, as it took me a mere four days to watch the 10+ hours of film. One cannot ride an elevator right now, let alone attend a legal-related function, without overhearing discussions about this captivating real-life drama.
THE DOCUMENTARY… IN A NUTSHELL
In the event you have been on a social media sabbatical or otherwise punched out of current events, “Making a Murderer” chronicles the story of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985, then served 18 years in prison for that offense, a crime he was later exonerated of with the help of The Innocence Project and new DNA evidence. After his release from prison, Avery filed a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, and the former sheriff and district attorney who convicted him. During the litigation of this high-profile case, and in a stunning turn of events, Avery was arrested and charged with the murder of a local photographer, Teresa Halbach, who allegedly was last seen on the Avery property. The series goes on to chronicle details from the initial 1985 trial and conviction, the resulting 2005 lawsuit, the 2005/06 Halbach murder investigation, and the 2007 trial and conviction. The film strongly insinuates that the police planted evidence to incriminate Avery in order to divert attention away from the civil trial and onto the murder trial… as well as to escape the high probability of paying out a $36 million verdict–an award which would have essentially bankrupted the county.
THE POWER OF VIDEO DEPOSITIONS
In Episode 2, Avery is litigating his $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County. His attorney takes a number of video depositions where he cross-examines various county officials regarding Avery’s 1985 case. I was mesmerized by the pattern of behavior displayed by the deponents: Lack of eye contact, constant looking down, chair-swiveling, nervous fidgeting, anxious tone of voice, and a whole lot of “I don’t recall”s. These visuals extracted from actual video depositions taken in Avery vs. Manitowoc County spawn serious questions around whether a thorough and proper investigation was conducted, and create a lingering suspicion of Manitowoc officials that permeates the entire series.
Last October, non-verbal communication expert Jan Hargrave presented at the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting (STAR) Conference where she demonstrated body language consistent with lying. The witnesses from the county being deposed in Avery v. Manitowoc personified those telltale signs as exhibited in Hargrave’s presentation. Although I would argue that it wouldn’t take a body language expert to come away with the strong impression that there were veracity issues surrounding this sworn testimony.
As crucial as deposition transcripts are, there is no doubt that they wouldn’t have had the same impact for the prosecution as the videos did in this case. I found myself wondering how pleased counsel for Avery must have been for having added a videographer to the Notices of Taking Deposition.
The power of video is indisputable. While court reporters create crucial verbatim transcripts of everything spoken in legal proceedings, words alone do not record body language, intonation, facial expressions and gesturing. As well, words far less effectively capture important dynamics such as agitation, hesitation or disrespect.
Look no further than Episode 2 of “Making a Murderer” to demonstrate how insanely powerful it can be to add video to your next deposition.
For more information on legal videography or to add it to your next deposition, contact Paradigm Reporting and Videography at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-339-0545.