Making a Murderer “omitted, distorted, and falsified material and significant facts” to portray a detective as a “corrupt police officer who planted evidence to frame an innocent man,” said a lawsuit filed against the show’s creators on Monday.
Former Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office police officer Andrew Colborn was featured in the documentary about Steven Avery, a Wisconsin salvage yard operator who was convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder in the death of photographer Teresa Halbach.
Coverage of Making a Murderer on Globalnews.ca:
That story became the subject of an acclaimed two-season Netflix documentary that raised questions about the investigation into Halbach’s murder, as well as Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey’s convictions.
Colborn has filed the lawsuit against Making a Murderer directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, as well as Netflix, the directors’ companies Chrome Media and Synthesis Films, executive producers Lisa Nishimura and Adam Del Deo, and editor Mary Manhardt.
The lawsuit, posted to the internet by Green Bay, Wis., TV station WBAY, alleged that “pertinent and significant aspects of Making a Murderer are not true as represented and are, instead, false and defamatory toward plaintiff and others.
“Material and significant facts known to the defendants were omitted and distorted. Despite overwhelming evidence proving Avery and Dassey’s guilt and the utter absence of evidence supporting defendant’s accusations of police misconduct, defendants falsely led viewers to the inescapable conclusion that plaintiff and others planted evidence to frame Avery for Halbach’s murder.”
The filmmakers “heavily edited” portions of Colborn’s testimony during Avery’s trial “in order to manipulate viewers to falsely conclude that he and other officers planted Halbach’s SUV at the salvage yard,” the lawsuit alleged.
At one point, the documentary showed Colborn testifying about Nov. 3, 2005, the day that he drove to Avery Salvage Yard to look into Halbach’s disappearance.
There, he called police dispatch so that he could confirm the model, make and licence plate of Halbach’s vehicle, according to the lawsuit.
The vehicle was reportedly discovered at the salvage yard two days later.
Defence lawyers had contended that Colborn and other Manitowoc County officers planted Halbach’s vehicle at Avery’s property, the lawsuit noted.
As Colborn testified, defence lawyers played his call to the dispatcher to convince the jury that he had seen the vehicle in an undisclosed location on Nov. 3, two days before police said it was found at the yard.
Avery’s lawyers suggested that Colborn was looking directly at the vehicle when he called dispatch that day — a “baseless and false” claim, the lawsuit asserted.
According to the lawsuit, the documentary showed Colborn being asked, “well, you can understand how someone listening to that might think that you were calling in a license plate that you were looking at on the back end of a 1999 Toyota?”
The documentary allegedly showed him answering “yes.”
This, the lawsuit noted, “removed plaintiff’s affirmative answer to one question and inserted it as his answer to a separate question.”
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The state objected to that question, and it was sustained — meaning Colborn never said yes to it, according to the lawsuit.
The question that Colborn answered “yes” to, the lawsuit contended, was asked as follows: “This call sounded like hundreds of other license plate or registration checks you have done through dispatch before?”
The lawsuit went on to allege that a key moment in the documentary — in which a vial containing Avery’s blood showed a hole in its rubber stopper — was manipulated to convince viewers that Colborn “and other county law enforcement officers framed Avery for the murder.”
A phlebotomist took a specimen of Avery’s blood and stored it in the vial in connection with a 1996 post-conviction motion regarding a separate case in which he was wrongfully convicted, the lawsuit contended.
“The procedure necessarily resulted in the creation of a hole in the rubber stopper,” it added.
The phlebotomist was ready to testify about this, according to the lawsuit.
Ricciardi and Demos, it alleged, “were aware of the routine nature of the hole on the vial’s rubber stopper and that the phlebotomist who drew the specimen from Avery was prepared to testify.”
But they “manipulated the facts and the significance of the blood vial’s discovery as part of their overall effort to convince viewers that plaintiff and other county law enforcement officers framed Avery for the murder,” the lawsuit states.
Another important moment in the documentary concerned a key for Halbach’s SUV that had been found in Avery’s bedroom.
The lawsuit alleged that the filmmakers led viewers to believe the key was planted by “failing to include essential photographic evidence that would have given viewers a complete view of what occurred,” among other allegations.
Colborn, Manitowoc County Lt. James Lenk and Calumet County Deputy Daniel Kucharski all believed that the key had fallen out of a crack in a bookcase after Colborn put a binder there, the lawsuit said.
They were led to believe that Avery hid the key there “with plans to retrieve it later and dispose” of Halbach’s SUV, and they testified to this, it added.
Ricciardi and Demos were present for testimony when photos showed a crack in the back of the bookcase, the lawsuit contended.
But these photos “were not shown to viewers of Making a Murderer,” it alleged.
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Colborn’s lawsuit also claimed that the documentary left out numerous facts, such as the discovery of Avery’s DNA on the hood latch of Halbach’s SUV.
Other allegedly omitted facts: a bullet with Halbach’s DNA being linked to a firearm hung on a wall over Avery’s bed, Avery giving “several different statements about his interaction with Halbach on the day she was murdered.”
“Had these material, significant and known facts been included in Making a Murderer, a reasonable viewer would have found Avery’s guilt obvious and would not have concluded that plaintiff and other law enforcement officers planted evidence to frame him,” the lawsuit alleged.
Colborn is seeking a jury trial in connection with these allegations. The complaint, filed Monday in Wisconsin state court, contains allegations that have yet to be proven in court. The defendants have yet to file a reply in court to the allegations.
Netflix did not return a request for comment from Global News.
It declined to comment to Variety.
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