Friday, January 8, 2016

Murdering a Dress

I want to combine two popular/compelling internet events: 1) The debate of what color "The Dress" is, and 2) the Steven Avery trial that is the subject of Making a Murderer docuseries.

What the two have in common is simply the complete polarity of opinions despite equal stimuli. The dress debate was if the colors were Gold and white, or Black and Blue. The actual dress was a tint in the range of black and blue. But the photo was clearly gold and white to me and many people. When seen in a different photo I can clearly see it is black and blue. But in the controversial photo I clearly saw a tint of white and gold. I don't mean popcorn white and Aztec gold, but a tint in the range of gold and white. Just like the real dress is in the range of black and blue. There are many shades of black and blue and gold and white. off-white, greyish black. etc. Many many shades, but in general I could polarize the picture into gold and white. But the dress is actually not remotely gold and white. The dress only appeared white and gold to me. This was an optical illusion that caused a divide in opinions that captivated people and is still being studied. This demonstrates the infinite range of experiences and how humanity is still learning about our own perceptive abilities/sensitivities. 

This is not to be confused with preference such as with the new Star Wars movie. Some people love it and some people hate it. But at least we can all agree on the color and shape of the principal characters as they appear to us.

Sensitivity is the exact topic I want to discuss as it applies to the Steven Avery murder trial because there is a parallel that I'm detecting in how sensitivity polarizes perception. Are you with me so far? Here's a link to a good site that has some bias, but doesn't edit the testimony. Lots of good reading there.

Now, individual sensitivity is not uniform and even perception is now demonstrated to be vastly different. Why? Well, I'm not going to investigate 'why' because my budget is not that big, but I want to demonstrate that there is a parallel between the perception of the dress and the conclusion of innocence or guilt in the Avery trial. Will I accomplish this? I think so because it's not very complicated. I merely want to draw the parallel so that further study on this disparity may progress.

The Dress:
This is simply an optical illusion.
Oggy sees a black and blue on the left and white and gold on the right...but it's the same dress, folks. Some people see both as equal colors, which is true.
  There is an issue here with how we perceive colors when the backdrop is a certain color and in certain lighting then certain people see different colors. This is indisputable and sort of makes sense since we are all different, but the difference really captivated those with time on their hands this past year. I could use another example of optical illusion but modern internet users might respond to this example better, because there is some element of this debate that goes beyond simply our individual sensitivity to colors and shades and light. I think it raises a question about how different, to what degree is our perception different...and that isn't an easy question to answer. We want to believe the differences  are minor, but this case in color sensitivity with the dress demonstrates that the differences are not minor, they are major. Black is not a shade of gold. White is not a shade of blue. Sure, we all see a would be odd if someone said, "I see an alligator." But I'm not hallucinating if I simply see a different colored dress than someone else. My eyes react differently or my brain is distressed by the abuse of modern news. Something is different about my perception or maybe my interpretation or even how I define words like Gold or Black. Something is fundamentally and irrevocably different. I can't squint or move back ten feet and see different colors even though my eyesight is fading. I immediately see shades of Gold and white. But those are not true colors and other people see the true colors immediately and have no idea how I can see gold and white. 

I will rest my case here, simply demonstrating that individuals have responded differently to equal stimuli. No one really cares about a dress, but the broader subject is human interpretation of equal stimuli has definitely been challenged by this simple dress. The bigger topic is important, but the dress is basically harmless.

Steven Avery Case:
Murder is not 'basically harmless' and I don't know how to quickly do justice to this case. The details can be summarized but that will leave out many specifics. And if I include all the specifics I know then that will take forever and still leave out a bunch of details. There is a ten hour docuseries (Making a Murderer) that follows a recent tradition of true-crime murder mysteries. It's a well done docuseries because it does not sensationalize the events or use some ominous narrator and commercial breaks to sell me calming antidotes after watching grisly and emotional footage. It's biased (in a way that I agree with) but it's not more gratuitous than it has to be. It's not exploitative of the appeal for lurid scandal. This is at least one method of media that appeals to me. 

I don't want to scare anyone into venturing outside your personally isolated bubble of invincibility. Lord, that would be awful! I regularly ponder if isolated ignorance is preferable to realistic anxiety. For instance, when I go swimming I am probably surrounded by deadly Manta Rays hiding inches from my feet in the sand. But I am ignorant and swim around and surf on the boogie board, happy, content. But when I actually SEE a big Manta Ray flapping a few feet from me in the surf, and when a Ray's tail or fin touches me lightly I freak out like the world is ending and run over the surface of the water to the safety of the beach. But, the two scenarios are the same. I suspect I am always surrounded by Manta Rays, and am fine until my suspicions are confirmed at which point I freak out. Never mind that the odds are very remote that I will be lashed by a shark or Manta Ray. I already know it's remote and I already know my chances of being killed in 5 feet of water do not increase because I see a Manta Ray, since the Rays I can NOT see are more dangerous to me. So, it's a paradox of insanity. I prefer the ignorance of swimming and not seeing the deadly animals around me and I can understand a person's desire to remain ignorant of deeper social ills. You are not distressed by your ignorance and you are not distressed by things you don't know about. I would call that a 'default citizen' and you are in good company. It's definitely better (for you) to remain ignorant. With that said, you should NOT watch Making a Murderer or do any other research into this case because you might accidentally learn something that will be the moral equivalent of seeing Manta Rays in 4 feet of water near your naked toes, slithering in your direction, jaws gnashing.

But if you want to get dirty with the demons of the modern world then do some research. The docuseries is merely one option but the court transcripts and interrogation videos are all available. I've been working on a larger essay comparing several wrongful convictions but my self destructive lack of creativity and hypocritical nature has prevented me from finishing it. I will now add the first and second conviction of Steven Avery to the list of wrongful convictions along with the Ryan Ferguson case and the 'Paradise Lost' West Memphis 3 case and the Anthony Graves case and also the Cameron Willingham case. These 5 different cases are chilling to me for reasons I will get into, but they represent the classic pattern of wrongful convictions and more importantly the wrongful kidnapping and incarceration by the state.

A summary of the Steven Avery case is that Avery was prosecuted in 1985 for assault based on witness ID and "possibility of a hair on Avery's shirt belonging to the victim". Avery had proof he was in another part of town and over 10 witness alibis but was convicted anyway. They called him evil and were glad to rid the world of this scum. He maintained his innocence even when his parole depended on 'displaying remorse'. So, they would let him out of jail if he said he was sorry...admit he did it...and since he maintained his innocence they kept him in jail. These bait and switch conditions sounds like something a sick sadist would pull, but it was done by the Wisconsin justice dept. Fast forward to 1995, 10 years after Avery is in jail...another inmate admits to the assault...someone reports this admission to the Sheriff dept. The info is buried. Nothing is done until 8 years later when DNA from the assault kit is tested again and the person who admitted to the assault, Gregory Allen, turns out to have left his DNA on the victim...and was being investigated at the time of the assault for other assaults...AND had actually assaulted someone on that exact same beach location a few years earlier. And incredibly, the judge and prosecutor who heard that earlier assault WERE THE SAME judge and prosecutor who were in Avery's trial. It's an incredible case of blind justice but not in a good way. The judge and prosecutor actually heard all the evidence in both cases and failed to connect the two...and finally Allen and Avery are physically similar although the Witness got the eye color correct in her original description...and when that didn't fit Avery she decided, or was convinced, she had been wrong. Ooops.
So, Allen is already in jail so he is there, hopefully forever, and Avery is released. There's a back story that's important here but it's complicated. Avery is uniformly hated by law enforcement in the area. So, he's released after 18 years of wrongful imprisonment and, amazingly, law enforcement still think he's guilty. They can not admit they were wrong. They admit nothing. Allen was 100% innocent and the state called him evil and guilty for 18 years and blocked all his appeals and had no new trials and did everything to ensure his pleas for justice were ignored. When they received information that corroborated his claims, they buried it. They investigated no one else even though Gregory Allen was a prime suspect according to the city police originally and even though Allen was the one who admitted to the crime in 1995. The sheriff dept. wanted to incarcerate Avery and they didn't want to wait for him to commit a crime so they focused on him and prosecuted him and a jury convicted him with what turned out to be an incorrect witness identification and flawed/corrupt/tampered DNA evidence. Or, there was a conspiracy to put Avery in jail at all costs. Either way he spent 18 years wrongfully imprisoned.

Avery gets out of jail and sues the sheriff dept. for $36 Million. Because officers knowingly withheld information back in 1995 the insurance company says they aren't paying it because it was misconduct, there was an intentional conspiracy to keep Avery in jail despite the possibility he was innocent, and it turns out he was innocent and the information the police had was accurate and never reported. The sheriffs, who are still employed, could be personally responsible for the settlement. 

In 2005, a few weeks before this whole law suit was going to culminate in some decision a woman named Teresa Halbach goes missing after taking some pictures of Avery's sister's van. Her car is discovered on Avery's salvage lot. Avery says the woman took the pictures, got paid, and left but no one saw her after that although her car indeed drove away. Investigators tear the place apart and find a burn pit behind Avery's trailer with charred and crumbled bones. They claim the bones are Halbach's.

It irks me that Halbach's death becomes less important than her life in my essay. Why am I more interested in the tragic aftermath than the mundane or common life that preceded it? To bend this essay back to my original thesis, I think some people respond to events differently. Some would focus on Teresa and make an attempt to find her killer(s) but in the framework of pro-active living. Others react with vengeance against the world and tear everything apart in a quest for justice but sort of lose sight of the original victim. And others use this event purely for selfish reasons. I think the range of reactions is infinite and the docuseries demonstrated many reactions. I think I have a default human response to these kinds of events, basically "what a tragedy, I hope they catch the person who did this so it will never happen again." And then I force myself to do some research and by digging into it a little I start to reveal bigger topics and connect other events and it's like I'm trying to see the story behind the story. The Avery case is a tool I use to piece together the bigger story of humanity reacting to existence. And since that story is too big I have to ignore some details in favor of other details. These true crime mysteries are easy to use as surrogate experiences that are supposed to fulfill some instinct for our private study of good and evil. That's the draw we have to crime mysteries like we are drawn to fictional drama. We know there is a bloody battle between good and evil but it's too muddy most of the time and the good crime mysteries make it very clear so we respond as though our fears or suspicions are confirmed. Also, it's a test of the current state of justice. We pretend we have a good justice do we? Another important element is the discussion or 'venting' process that is taking place by myself and others. I've noticed awful vitriol on the internet but this kind of anonymous and long distant proxy commentary is relatively new phenomenon. Internet etiquette is still developing and these kinds of debates are helping develop that debate. I don't post on Reddit but the threads and moderation rules I've read suggest a trend toward maturity and substance. People are being encouraged to be honest, and pro-active, and make comments that are productive. At this stage, I think that's as much as can be expected from anonymous internet users but one day these forums may solve crimes. God knows, the smartest/most impartial investigators are not always employed as investigators. 

It's very easy to be casually flippant or annoying or ironic or constantly relieve emotional tension by inciting other emotions like anger or laughter. For instance, Al Jazeera wrote an article questioning how proactive it was for people to make jokes about the armed activists in Oregon. They claim to direct the article at "Liberals" but there's no evidence only Liberals make these snarky jokes. Well, the whole premise of the article is to dissuade people from making flippant, unhelpful, public, snarky remarks about a serious invasion of federal property. So what does Oggy do? Write something snarky in the comment section, of course. I am conflicted, because while this is funny, playing the game of twisting Al Qaeda traditions into rural bible belt language, I am also ashamed I stooped to the level of infantile responses...and did it in an article admonishing things like "Y'all Queda" or "Yee Hawd." It's flippant in an article questioning the use of flippancy. It's snarky in an article asking people to stop being snarky.
Real helpful, Oggy.
Instead of "Allah Akbar" these domestic terrorists shout that they will see-you-at-the-bar. What's wrong with me? I think I'm desensitized and at heart not helpful or even confident that anything can change such a large topic. I'm an asshole, fine. I admit it.

Where was I? Avery...I was writing about Avery getting arrested for the disappearance of Teresa Halbach. He was the last person she visited in her photo assignments on Halloween 2005, her car was found a few days later on his property...eventually her car key was found in his bedroom and although the only DNA on it was Avery's this key was not found by other investigators until, and this is chilling, two local Sheriffs who were directly threatened by the $36 million lawsuit went to Avery's trailer and 'found' the key. Amazing. Remember the Sheriff who received the call that Gregory Allen was the one who committed the assault that Avery was in jail for? That Sheriff never acted on that information and his misconduct was why the insurance companies breathed a sigh of relief that they weren't responsible for the compensation. That Sheriff was in the room when they found the key that tied Avery to the Halbach murder. That Sheriff was also in the garage when they found a single bullet. They took that bullet and claim Halbach's DNA was on it, but, ooops, the lab technician has contaminated the bullet and it can never be retested. Did it ever contain any DNA? Only she knows.

6 very conspicuous splotches of blood are found in Halbach's car. These are determined to be blood from Avery and when Avery's lawyers examine the blood sample from the 1985 trial they find the evidence box has been tampered with and there is evidence the sample was used to take blood from. The last person who had the evidence box was, amazingly, the same person who found the key and the bullet. These two sheriffs Lenk and Colburn were both specifically instructed not to participate in the investigation because of the obvious conflict of interest with the wrongful conviction lawsuit. They not only participated but they magically found the only two pieces of evidence presented at trial. And one of them, Lenk, was the last person to hold that evidence box with Avery's blood that had been tampered with. When you have a reputation of corruption and ineptitude then it is not jumping to conclusions to suspect more corruption and ineptitude.

At this point I think it's fair to return to my original thesis about the dress. I think that some people will see a gold and white dress in a photo and if they are told the dress is actually black and blue they will either say, "No way. that's impossible" or they will say, "Possibly, in this lighting I see gold and white but in real life it might be black and blue." See, people not only interpret the stimuli and light and evidence differently, but they also react differently when they are presented with contradictory statements.

So, I am biased and wrote a biased summary. I try to manipulate the evidence to favor my conclusions. I've been abused by police and have seen abuse of power and heard lies and horror stories that are chilling. Due Process is dead. I know the police operate outside the law and are trained in pre-trial, extra-judicial executions. So I excluded some things like Avery once abused a cat...and angrily confronted his cousin and stole some quarters from a bar. I want to convince by readers and I have a theory not only about the fallibility of perception and interpretation but I also have an opinion about the second wrongful conviction of Avery. This bias affects my writing. Maybe I should've been more plain with my summary like this: Avery was exonerated of one crime after 18 years in jail. The outstanding and honorary sheriff dept and judicial system was overwhelmed by regret although because of being understaffed they kept Avery in jail 10 years after they had received not-credible evidence he was innocent. He selfishly sued them and he was later prosecuted for a different crime, the horrendous and sadistic murder of Halbach, but was caught by the heroic investigation of two devoted and loyal sheriffs who were unjustly financially responsible for the original wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Is that more fair and balanced? No, you could say that my presentation of this information includes background lighting designed to create an illusion which will influence your eyes/ethics.

One of my favorite movie quotes is by Nick Cage, "I ain't no freakin' monument to justice!" because it comes in response to Cher's perfectly reasonable suggestion that it's not Johnny's fault that Cage's fiance left him after his hand was maimed.  

The screenwriter must've bounced this conversation around a few times...and decided to keep the hero, Cher, as the emotionally balanced one, despite her own loss. Cher is being reasonable...her comment is exactly what everyone in the audience is thinking, Cage is simply calamatizing the events in his favor to justify his self-pity, and there's a long pause because the script can go almost anywhere after Cage's narration of his tragedy. Cage's response to Cher is theatrical and hysterical but he's got enough comedy in his reaction to keep the speech grounded, he's finally got a new audience and he's milking it, but underneath the hurt he simply wants another chance at love. It's Cher's role to tame the wolf to find the hidden lamb, whom she turns out to love. Aspiring screenwriters should take note that this is a critical moment in the film and this specific grievance is very important to the plot and character and Cher has quickly gotten to the bottom of it and destroyed any mystery and he has caught Cage in his feeble and selfish life's narration. Where other people might say, "Aw, that's horrible, how terrible of your brother..." to placate Cage, to demonstrate false sympathy, Cher does nothing of the sort and she honestly says, "So? It's not Johnny's fault." thereby announcing Cage's worst darkest impulse, that it was not Johnny's fault, and demonstrating the heart of both their characters. Johnny is authentically hurt and Cher is not interested in placating anyone with false sympathy. Nor is she blaming Cage. It's simply in the past and she wants to think about the future. It's beautiful. And that's my response to you if you think I should be more analytical or dispossessed or cold in my summary. I ain't no freakin' monument to justice. I call it as I see it: the Manitowoc sheriff dept. had a vendetta against one man, they conspired to put him jail, buried evidence that would've released caught in their 18 year long conspiracy, panicked, and quickly found a way to get out of the $36 Million compensation by making sure Avery went to jail again (He accepted $400K to pay his new defense lawyers). The only coincidence I see is that someone else murdered Halbach for completely separate reasons, put almost all the evidence on Avery's property and basically handed the Sheriff dept. what they needed to dress up. It still wasn't enough in my estimation but I wasn't on the jury. Remember, they already convicted Avery of something he never did, they have a history of wrongful convictions. And the same people responsible for his original wrongful conviction were also responsible for the second wrongful conviction. So, don't tell me it's too far-fetched since it's already proven to have happened in 1985. The Manitowoc Sheriffs had the motive, the opportunity, the means and their character history is rock bottom.

And that's a good spot to draw the parallel back to The Dress. I see the original dress picture as white and gold. Shades of white and gold. Yes. No doubt. I have no doubt that I see it as white and gold. The photo appears to be white and gold. Others see it as black and blue. They immediately see the dress as black and blue. The dress is actually Black and Blue. my perception is wrong and theirs is right. Something is different with our perception and interpretation of stimuli. In the case of the dress I am completely wrong...the dress only "appears" white and gold. In reality the photo makes the appearance to be not accurate to what its colors are in real life or in a different photo. My reaction to the discrepancy is not anger or resistance. I think, wow, there is some fundamental difference in how I perceive these colors and it appears that this difference is not unique to me. 

Likewise, with the Avery case, I immediately see deception and conspiracy on the part of the prosecutor and the judge and the investigators. I won't even go into the coerced confession they got from a neighbor. Not only was the confession utterly implausible and never substantiated by any evidence, it was also obviously fake and coerced and has been recanted many many times. When a coerced confession is part of an investigation that corrupts the whole dept. in my mind because it demonstrates a culture of basic witness abuse and kidnapping and badgering. The police basically kidnapped Brendan Dassey and abused him and lied to him until he gave them a statement that was not only coerced and false but it was also impossible and there is no evidence anything he said is true. But because there was so little evidence in the case there was also very little to prove what he said was a lie, except for the complete absence of any evidence to support his coerced statement. Avery was the smartest choice to prosecute given the details of the lawsuit, but anyone could've been convicted given the level of ignorance of the prosecutors and the jury. To me, the dress is gold and white.

On the flip side, there are people who can watch the exact same docuseries and reach the opposite conclusion: the dress is black and blue. They have no problem with the conviction. They see no deceit in the prosecutor. They see nothing wrong with the judge. They see no evidence of mistrial, they see no evidence of misconduct. No sheriff is deceitful or evasive. No lawyer is narcissistic or badgering or manipulative or dishonest or failed their client. When there is no evidence for an event they willingly accept an ominous tone of voice in its place. The prosecutor says at one point in his closing statement, "Reasonable doubt is only for innocent people." to me, this is a classic mind fuck and grounds for mistrial and disbarment; to others this is totally normal courtroom rhetoric. To others Brendan Dassey's confession is honest and genuine and voluntary. No, there is no evidence to substantiate any of it, but that's only because a kid with a 69 IQ managed to cover up and clean away all the evidence while he was playing video games and watching tv. The dress is black and blue.

There's a larger topic here that I want to end with. Some people, not me, can perceive objects in bad lighting in a photo and still see the true colors. I definitely am not one of those people because I see the dress and white and gold when I accept it is actually blue and black. I don't know why. However, I do think I can see other things not readily obvious to other people. I can see deceit and I can see manipulation and I can see deception. I do not see these things in Avery and Dassey. They are default people and prone to nothing so aberrant as sadistic mutilation and murder and rape. However, the prosecutor and the sheriffs of Manitowoc and the numerous judges who have demonstrated their incompetence and criminal misconduct in 1985 have not changed at all in my estimation. They demonstrate identical failures in critical thinking and oversight and self-reflection again. They say a criminal will repeat offend and I say, 'so will a corrupt state.' In this case, the jury rewarded corruption with another conviction. They forgave the grievous errors in the investigation in order to convict someone. The state officials demonstrate high levels of deceit in my estimation. The prosecutor Kratz demonstrates high levels of manipulation in his voice, it's pure theater to him. He is being deceptive to a high degree, he is using language that is intended to deceive. He frames sentences as a master manipulator. He appears narcissistic. The investigators appear dishonest, their statements are designed to protect their own interests. They have simply been well trained in abusive and manipulative interrogation methods. The jury either ignored this, denied it, or rewarded it. They will not acknowledge the lack of evidence to support the coerced confession. They will not acknowledge the confession was coerced. They see the dress as perfectly black and blue. There is no hint of white and they will not accept the possibility of it being white and gold. Outside observers who hear all these statements can still 'believe' or even 'know' Avery is guilty despite the lack of evidence. If I simply had to convict someone or be put in jail myself then, sure, I would pick someone in Wisconsin. If forced to choose either Avery or some random person then I'd flip a coin. Halbach is gone and her car is at Avery's salvage yard and that is enough for some people to confirm Avery's guilt, mostly on the strength of him being the only defendant. The Green Bay Packers football team could've been on trial for the same murder and I suspect the jury would've found them guilty simply to go home with a pat on the back. Another jury watched parts of Dassey's confession, even without any substance, without any evidence to confirm it, and decided it was accurate. 

No one but Avery and Dassey 'know' what happened, although 11 years after the fact their memories are probably hazy, but the rest of us are asked to speculate and conclude based on a protocol called due process. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos are the makers of Making a Murderer and in my mind their premise was to expose criminal conduct and repeated incompetence and child abuse and kidnapping in the Manitowoc Sheriff dept. that was sadly rewarded by the jury. The title of the series is fitting because if Avery is guilty then his criminal intent was created partly by a wrongful incarceration. And if he's innocent then the Manitowoc Sheriffs simply manufactured a murderer by their own design. Someone was murdered and they manufactured a reason to focus on Avery, they 'Made" him become a murderer in the eyes of the jury even though he is innocent. Either way, the filmmakers succeeded in my estimation and one could say that with methods such as child abuse, coerced confessions, planting evidence and badgering witnesses and lying prosecutors then for every one guilty person convicted you probably net around 40 innocent victims. Is that something to reward? Science will eventually reveal that either the bones are not Halbach's, they were never actually burned on Avery's property...they would require a much bigger inferno in order to crumble to dust like they did...Avery's blood was planted in the car...there are fibers from Lenk and Colburn in the car and on the key...Colburn will confess to planting evidence, someone else will confess...some other evidence or tip will reveal the true killer. Or maybe the real killer will simply confess after he's caught for another crime. Far too much weight was placed on "Likely DNA matches" in this case. We need to reassess how credible these tests are that deal in microscopic, subjective analysis of possibility. You take a family of 10 and test only one sample and decide there's a possible match? Well, did you test all 10 to see if it matched any others?

18 years in prison probably did not 'make' Steven Avery a murderer because that's not a realistic theory. A more believable theory is that a determined sheriff dept. with the help of a determined prosecution and an impressionable jury can convict anyone of any crime regardless of the truth and they can do it not only once, but twice to the same man.
To some, the black and blue dress is always black and blue. 

There is a parallelism here that my budget doesn't allow me to explore further as Happy Hour at the Tiki Bar starts in ten minutes (and tonight is lady's night). I will conclude that in something like a murder trial where the defendant is either completely innocent or definitely guilty there are some people who can sort through the evidence and reach an absolutely correct answer: the dress is black and blue. And there are others who will sort through the exact same evidence and determine the dress to be white and gold. Why? I leave it to humanity to explore in the ever developing comment thread of life. Hell, in the spirit of discussion, I'll even open up comments here in case the public wants to dispute my theories, but keep in mind the bigger topic of this essay is the theory that some people can indeed see the truth better than others. The actual specifics of the case and the dress are merely tools I have brought up to demonstrate the parallels in perception. 

I'll end with an anecdote: as an Industrial Electrician I learned that it's a very easy job because either you know 100% what has to happen or you don't go forward. There is no guess work or speculation in Industrial Electrical work. Dealing with 480V and 200 amps of any kind of voltage is not a place to speculate or guess or start talking about some other circumstance where something worked. No. None of that applies. You either know what to do in this exact instance, today, under these exact conditions, with the personnel and material that you actually have available TODAY, or you don't know and you don't go any further. That's it. End of story. You either know, or you don't. That's why if someone shows you a photo and asks what color you don't say, "The color is Gold and White." No, you say, "It looks Gold and White." IT LOOKS. Because you don't know. You only know a photo. There are many factors and we can agree that looking a the same photo will reach different conclusions, so you don't know. You can speculate, but would you bet your life on it? With criminal justice, I think, it should be no different. You either know, or you don't know. And if you don't know, and you are speculating and using ridiculous theories and timelines and witnesses and "There is a 76% chance this hair is that of the defendant..." then you are dealing with life and death and if you are an Industrial Electrician then you get a red light if you are even 1% unsure of what to do. 99% certainty is not good enough when dealing with 480 volts. No, because your heart will stop if you fuck up. It's very much like you are strapping yourself to an electric chair with a wet rag on your head and if you are 1% wrong then you get a conviction, death sentence and execution before you can blink. So, you only get a green light at 100%. I think many criminal justice trials are dealing exclusively with lawyers who have no problem flipping the switch at around 15% certainty. They will SAY "I'm 100% certain." They will SAY "I bet my life on it." but, no, they are not betting their life on it, and neither are the jurors, and neither is the judge. Industrial Electricians do indeed bet their life on it and they are all 100% certain before they pick up tools. 15% certain is what the apprentice is who is handing tools to the guy in charge, and that is fine because the apprentice doesn't have to know. But the Master Electrician is at 100%. However, these lawyers are real casual when they have nothing major invested in the outcome and the Avery case is nowhere near 100% for any suspect and when two people are convicted with maybe a 10-25% chance they were responsible then that translates into a possible 75-90% prison population who is innocent and that translates into 75-90% of crimes actually not being solved, but the media reports them as solved and since the real criminal isn't going to confess any time soon you could say the perfect crime is committed by the Sheriffs and the Prosecutors because they control the perception of guilt. 

I'd be on a job site and the Master Electrician would explain to me what we were about to do and ask, "That sound good?" 

and I would say, "Well, what if a vulture is flying overhead, and that vulture is hit by a rare cloudless bolt of lightning, like a random burst of solar radiation and that vulture falls from the sky and knocks my wrench out of my hand and the wrench pulls loose from the drop cord and falls off the scaffold and misses a hundred obstacles to hit you in the head? What then?"

And the master electrician would say, "Then it's a good day to die."
Because that scenario is BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT not going to happen. It might happen, but it's so far-fetched that we can't include that in our equation. We are still 100% sure about what to do and if the lightning and vulture scenario plays out then we'll talk about it on the stretcher to hell. But when that far-fetched scenario plays into our plan, is required for our repair plan to go into effect then there is a problem. And that's what happened with Avery. He's days away from the start of multi-million dollar litigation, personal lawsuit, he's totally been cleared and he knows he's going to win something, at least revenge on the people who conspired to keep him in jail...he knows it is going to take time but he's in no hurry, his girlfriend is getting out of jail soon, he has to help sell his sister's van and calls the same auto trader people he has used for years and mentions this appointment to multiple people and has it next to his house in the middle of the day. And then when this photographer arrives he kidnaps and kills and burns her body twenty feet from his house, plants her vehicle on his property, hides her vehicle key in his bedroom...and manages to call his girlfriend in jail during all this, burns her body in full view of all his neighbors and with his neighbors actually standing next to the body. No motive, no reason, just purely a momentary breach of sanity, a transformation from a normal junk yard mechanic into a diabolical homicidal genius and then back in the span of 20 hours. Sure. Leaves no trace of this person in his house and since he is immediately suspected of being responsible and questioned he lies convincingly and sincerely even though her charred bones are right behind him. And the gun that law enforcement claim killed the woman is hanging over his bed in his bedroom, where they claim she had her throat slashed without any trace of evidence, except a bizarre, spoon-fed comic book story told by a terrified, babbling nephew, that is later recanted. But the world can not agree that this scenario is far-fetched since it was the exact scenario used to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Avery killed Halbach. But I see this as incredibly far-fetched, akin to a vulture being hit by lightning and falling out of the sky to hit my hand and knock a wrench loose that falls onto a control panel and electrocutes me. Am I 100% this scenario happened? Ha! I'm 99% sure that scenario didn't happen. I don't know what happened, but no way does that scenario pass my reasonable doubt test. But the beauty of the DocuSeries is that it emphasizes the fact that the very people who investigated and manifested this ridiculous far-fetched theory were the same inept people Avery was suing in the first place. The same people who were responsible for the previous wrongful conviction, the same people who denied they did anything wrong then, the same people who fucked up that investigation, the same people who proved they can't do their jobs. THEY never got fired, but they got sued, and now their only hope to get out of the line of justice is to make sure Avery goes back to jail or is killed. Jesus, that doesn't sound far-fetched to me at all. That sounds totally plausible. They are proven incompetent, a reputation of shady crooked investigations, and when it comes to answer for it they double down and get away with an even bigger crime. Yes, and they can only get away with it because they are the only people who can investigate themselves, and since they won't do that the official comment is "We're perfect. We always get the bad guy." Well, when the bad guy is the guy writing the official comment then it's always going to work out in their favor, isn't it? When the case needs to be closed then the person who opened the case will close the case. It doesn't matter if the case is actually closed. It's crazy that law enforcement can orchestrate a complete frame job but it's less far-fetched than Avery turning into a criminal mastermind who leaves almost no clues to his one and only murder, but also burns the bones of his victim in plain sight outside his door, a few days before he can seek justice after serving 18 years for a crime he didn't do.
The scenario alone is far-fetched, but when you include the compromised team of crooked investigators, proven to have conspired to put Avery in jail once before, then you do have to make some hard decisions. Because either an entire state Sheriff department is crooked or you have to believe an incredibly far-fetched murder scenario cooked up by that same Sheriff department. And the evidence to support that crazy scenario is supplied by the same Sheriff department. And if that crazy scenario did not happen exactly when it happened then that Sheriff department is in deep shit from a lawsuit filed BY THE SUSPECT IN THE INSANE MURDER SCENARIO. Like someone on Reddit wrote, "If one can escalate from rape to murder, then why not escalate from framing someone for rape to framing them for murder." Since the Sheriff dept. had one proven frame job under their belt by 2005, it's easier for me to believe they attempted another one. The first frame job took 18 years to unravel and before they were held accountable for it they went ahead and did another to the same person. That's been 11 years they got away with this one but something this twisted can't last and that's why the story is so compelling. Either way, a complete far-fetched scenario has come true. A vulture has been hit by lightning and knocked a wrench out of my hand. Either Avery is guilty of a scenario that is completely beyond belief, or else the same Sheriff Department orchestrated two twisted frame-up jobs on the same person and got away with it both times. I wouldn't bet my life on either scenario being true, but I know that one of them must be true.

There's a subtopic that I want to touch on involving criminal deterrent. Prison sentences are arguably not about revenge, but about demonstrating to future criminals that the society is intolerant to crime. The problem is that whether a guilty or innocent person is in jail for a crime is actually irrelevant to the criminal deterrent. Only the guilty person will know they got away with a crime, but the rest of the society will think the guilty person is in jail, thus the deterrent is as effective, as actually imprisoning the guilty person. They are equivalent. The only time the theory falls apart is in an acquittal, because then everyone knows the guilty person got away with it. The court failed to get a conviction, maybe the person was innocent, maybe guilty, but there was no resolution and no deterrent factor. It's like the system is psychologically in denial about wrongful convictions because it makes no difference if an innocent person is convicted, since society still benefits from the deterrent effect of a conviction.

It's odd that kidnapping and falsely imprison someone for 18 years is not a crime as long as the state says it was only an honest mistake. investigators, D.A., prosecutors, judge, attorney general, Governor, and jury all make a giant mistake and are given a free pass. In terms of criminal deterrent there is no motivation to convict the correct suspect. 'Proven beyond a reasonable doubt' actually means, 'the slightest hunch or suspicion.' Because we are trained to believe a conviction is a genuine deterrent to future criminals. It might be, but if we continue to raise the bar on what is "reasonable doubt" then we are turning criminal justice into a farce controlled by money. Can criminal justice ever be as exact as Industrial Electrical work? At this rate, with this approach, no. I guess the question is if you are happy with a 20-25% chance a prisoner is guilty and would you hire an electrician or a mechanic who was 20-25% confident he could do the work? And why are we willing to accept less than 100% in either?

update: It's been a few months since I wrote this and my activity on Reddit, reading, pondering, pontificating, speculating ,theorizing, reading theories has slightly broadened my view. It's hard to express. What I'm seeing is still an incredibly implausible murder scenario no matter what happened. That's the trouble. It's simply an incredible and implausible scenario no matter what actually happened. I've always reserved a small possibility that Avery and Dassey are guilty, and they are simply so bumbling and moronic and also criminally diabolical that they've managed to appear totally innocent only because they are so unskilled at murder that they don't even know how to tell the truth or to lie convincingly. It's really a case of inexplicable insanity with no reasoning or justifying it. I guess many murders fall into this category: inexplicable madness and I'm not alone in finding this hard to swallow. But it happens. Many murders have motives and scenarios that are plausible in the realm of human emotions. But some are beyond explanation. Of course it doesn't help when prosecutors concoct an utterly insane scenario, that may actually be totally wrong because now I must reject the scenario given in court, yet still leave room for another scenario even more implausible that no one can describe. For me, the initial horror at what I watched has simply grown more specific. Yes, the investigation was painfully corrupt, misleading, dumb, maybe criminally one-sided, but they might've accidentally caught the right person. Yes, they ignored countless other suspects, but maybe they got lucky. Yes, that's the only word for it. Luck. The Sheriff dept was about to go down in flames and they got lucky that Avery had a mental collapse and became a murdering lunatic a few days before the Sheriff dept. was about to be held accountable for their blundering incompetence that kept Avery in jail for 18 years for something he didn't do and they knew he didn't do it but managed to fit the round peg in the square hole. And they were sincerely prepared to go down in flames honestly, but an incredible scenario appeared that saved them: Avery had a psychotic break and murdered someone and then bled conveniently on the victim's vehicle, hid it on his property, burned her bones next to his trailer, hid the key in his bedroom, and also got his nephew involved. And this badly concealed murder came at the last moment to save the whole Sheriff dept. from going down in flames. Phew! Well, it's very very implausible and that's why I reject it. But it might be true because I have no clear contradictions, no obvious lies. Yes, I have a strong hunch that there is no way the Sheriff Dept. would be this lucky, but do I have any other clear contradictions? Yes, there is a conflict of interest, probable mistrial, jury tampering, incompetent prosecution but a junkie drug fiend, many witnesses who I suspect lied, but I don't have concrete evidence of a frame-up. And after months of reading all the theories, I still don't have any concrete evidence. I even allow the theory that someone else, totally unrelated to Avery and the Sheriffs managed to frame Avery even as the Sheriffs were investigating. Yes, that's possible and far more plausible than Avery's psychotic breakdown, and even more plausible than the Sheriff's involvement.

The most plausible scenario involves Halbach being killed by some totally random person, hides the car at Avery's, flees, and then the Sheriff's take that opportunity to frame Avery to escape the wrath of justice. That makes perfect sense to me and it's plausible. Yes, it's incredibly lucky that the Sheriffs were given this opportunity a mere week before Hellfire rained down on them, but I think it's plausible. The next most plausible scenario is the Sheriff's actually murdered Halbach themselves because that makes it much easier to control and they are guaranteed of convicting Avery and escaping the lawsuit. I have to remove the luck factor and this scenario accomplishes that. Halbach is the collateral damage in the Sheriff's desperate attempt to make the lawsuit go away. It's improbable, unprecedented, but it's plausible and makes sense on a human level. The least likely scenario is the one that prosecutors convinced the Jury of...Avery went completely insane a few days before his lawsuit would give him some justice after spending 18 years in jail because of a proven conspiracy to keep him in jail, he called a woman on his phone to get her to come to his trailer (luckily his sister had a van she was selling at the same time to give him an excuse), he told everyone she was coming to his house, attacked her, got his Nephew to rape her, killed her, burned her body outside his trailer, cleaned up all the DNA evidence of a lengthy kidnapping and butchering with his Nephew's help, hid the car on his property, but only after successfully hiding it for a few days. Then he hides the ignition key in his bedroom, cleans all the DNA off it except his own, and proceeds to lie convincingly to everyone who asks him about this, and his whole strategy is to take a small settlement on the lawsuit and use all that money to defend himself in the new murder trial. Unfortunately, his Nephew confesses everything, with the help of two criminally incompetent defense attorneys, whom Avery could never have predicted would enter the picture. This scenario is so implausible that I reject it, but I still will grudgingly accept there is a possibility. We might as well propose the scenario that Avery wanted to go back to jail, and decided to take the most diabolical and twisted road to prison and concocted this insane plot to not only get back in jail, but do it in a way that would ensure he never saw any money from the lawsuit he had been organizing for 2 years. Yes, that's the scenario I have to accept for Avery to be guilty: the Sheriffs were simply the most lucky incompetent idiots in the history of corrupt law enforcement, and Avery had a psychological breakdown at a perfect time, but managed to almost conceal a horrific and inexplicable murder in such a way that all the evidence points to him.This is probably why most people can't accept his guilt. As far as I've seen the speculation has simply been pointing out obviously implausible and lucky elements of the prosecution's case. There are so many coincidences and bumbling or biased elements of the investigation that they are impossible to overlook. Yes, the Avery is Guilty scenario is totally implausible and very difficult to accept, but then add to the timing and the blatant bias, the elements that don't add up and you have a contingent who reject the conviction. But, I've only seen speculation and circumstantial evidence that Avery is Innocent. Yes, it's more than enough for me to doubt the conviction, but it's not enough to prove an alternate scenario. So I'm left with no resolution except I'm resigned to some very implausible scenarios that I've already mentioned. There is no scenario that is probable. If Avery is guilty then it exposes a level of insanity and self-destruction that I don't want to admit exists in humans. But if he's innocent then it also exposes a level of self-deception and criminal misconduct within Law Enforcement that I also don't want to admit exists. If LE were involved in the murder or not, they managed to be so incompetent that they were deceived by the real person who framed Avery. But when I consider the pending lawsuit, I can't casually accept the timing of this frame-up was unrelated. If someone is involved in litigation then the defendant is ALWAYS a suspect when the plaintiff dies. ALWAYS. Especially a week before it goes to trial. This happens all the time! This is a no-brainer. When the number is $36 Million it is automatic to suspect that the plaintiff has been killed by the defendant. In this case, the lawsuit would continue if Avery was killed, so anyone who wanted this suit to go away would have to frame Avery, not kill him. Who would that be? The Sheriff dept. They had no alternative to avoid the lawsuit, so they would have to frame him for something. Maybe they waited and waited for someone to die who could be tied to Avery and Halbach either accidentally died (which seems incredibly lucky) or they could not wait any more and killed her. That's something that seems totally plausible, but since the people who killed her were also involved in the cover-up and investigation and are still employed by the Sheriff dept. then it's actually a perfect crime. They can never be proven guilty because even a confession by a Sheriff will be discredited as someone who simply has gone crazy and is babbling lies. They would need physical proof, and that is surely all destroyed. This is a far more plausible scenario than the one that prosecuted Avery, but at this point one can only speculate. 

One can only conclude that it's a mess, the conflict of interest with the Sheriffs who were getting sued is absolutely the central problem. Anyone involved with the lawsuit had to be barred from any involvement with the investigation to avoid specifically this kind of speculation. Indeed the neighboring Sheriff dept took the lead, but then negligently allowed many of the principal characters in the lawsuit to participate in the investigation, and they found the really damning evidence. So is that another coincidence, another blindingly lucky element? Avery really is guilty, but the very people who were officially barred from investigation actually snuck through the barrier and found the evidence needed to prove Avery is guilty, and at the same time became heroes for squashing the lawsuit, in which they were defendants? That's a coincidence that I can't swallow, because the scenario also involves Avery losing his grip on reality for a period of one day. And it means that the Sheriffs, who were blatantly incompetent in keeping Avery in jail for 18 years, were also going to go down in flames without a fight. Wow. They were being sued by an innocent guy they knowingly kept in jail and they were ok with being sued and would never do anything to hinder that lawsuit?? Really? Because that doesn't sound reasonable at all. Far more likely they would do anything in their power, including killing someone and framing the plaintiff, to make sure that lawsuit died an early death. But this is speculation and conveniently the only people who can investigate this crime are the people who committed the crime, so I won't hold my breath for any kind of resolution. I'm curious about the case only as a human interest story, how people defend one conclusion or the other. The cold evidence points clearly to Avery, but the whole scenario points only to the Sheriffs. Either conclusion requires a specific set of assumptions and arguments, but one set is totally and completely wrong. I think I'll always be peeling back different layers to this case because it reveals human behavior as my perception matures. It really is in league with the dress because it's about differences in perception and linguistics and individual reasoning.

It's getting hard to find a place to add edits, man what kind of writer simply adds developments to the end of an essay? Pitiful I've really lost me spark to write something valuable. Anyway, my latest debates have given me a clue to why this case bothered me so much. As I proposed, this is about how different people can see the same evidence and reach different conclusions. One person's definition of 'reasonable' is different. One person guesses but considers it an educated guess, or the only logical guess. It's a guess but they don't want to call it a guess, while accusing other people of making 'wild guesses' based on nothing. So, why is an educated guess different from a wild guess? We're really splitting hairs here and I like it.

My latest argument has been with someone who will not back down from accepting the evidence as purely authentic. I tried to suggest it did not meet my standard of credibility, but he would not budge. So I did an interesting thing that changes my whole approach: I accepted the evidence as authentic. Despite all my suspicions I accept it all as authentic, so I should naturally conclude Avery is guilty? No, that didn't happen. What I found was the fundamental problem I see with the case and I hadn't seen it before. The murder case must prove motive, and intentional homicide. Well, there's no motive proven but let's accept Avery simply decided to kill Halbach that day. Ok, it's a guess, but I accept the motive was there. Now how did he kill her? Well, they only had a box of charred bones to work with so it's like asking how your plate of BBQ pork ribs died. You want to speculate? Maybe a gun, maybe a knife, pass the sauce. Jeez, it's late, I'm getting tasteless. But there's evidence the skull was shot with a .22 rifle. Ok, let's call that the cause of death. Are we sure? No, but why would someone shoot a burned skull? Ok, so the .22 rifle was the cause of death. Ok, it turns out Avery owns a .22 rifle and the ballistics are a match. Hey! Remember that this is the same crime lab that tested Avery's shirt in 1985 for cement dust after he was pouring cement all day and found none, but he really was pouring cement dust. Did they test it for beach sand, since they were accusing him of raping someone on the beach in that shirt? No, of course not. They only tested what would contradict his story rather than what would support their theory. Ok, so they got that test completely wrong because he really did have cement dust on his shirt, but the test failed. But let's accept that they tested the rifle and the bullet and not only found Halbach DNA on the bullet, but also confirmed the bullet came from Avery's rifle. I accept all this, and it looks pretty bad, but then comes the final part: Prove he pulled the trigger on the kill shot. It's a simple thing. We'll skip the part about a motive, call it an impulsive thrill kill, and we'll accept the forensics got everything right, so now prove to me he pulled the trigger on the kill shot. That's the critical detail, the person who pulls the trigger to kill Halbach. If they can prove all these other things then can't they prove Avery pulled the trigger? Well, no, they can't. They didn't. There is no proof he pulled the trigger. I can accept the gun killed her, and I can accept he bled on the vehicle, but what evidence is there he pulled the trigger to kill her and what evidence is there he transported the body with the vehicle? What evidence is there he burned the body? And actually, these critical details, the entire heart of the prosecution, come down to a guess. And this is the whole reason that I've been resisting a guilty verdict; I can't guess on something as important as the cause of death, transporting the body, and burning the body. Yes, there is proof he knows more than he admits, but is there proof that he pulled the trigger on the kill shot, transported the body by driving the vehicle, burned the body? No, there's no proof. A guilty conclusion is reached by three deductions based off a guess: Guess #1) He bled on the Rav4, so he must've driven it with the body in the back. Guess #2) The bones were found burned near his trailer, in a location he was known to frequent, so he must've burned the bones. Guess #3) Avery's gun fired the bullet that killed Halbach, so Avery pulled the trigger.

I would not feel comfortable with three guesses about anything even minor, but these three details are actually the critical details that are the bulk of the conviction and they all require me to guess an affirmative to conclude guilt. The argument is that this guess is harmless and logical and educated and follows reason. Sure. Avery's gun killed Halbach, so the owner should be the biggest suspect. But does the evidence demonstrate Avery pulled the trigger? No. It's still a guess. And it's a guess about something as important as who pulled the trigger on the kill shot. 

Now, I could accept that guess if Dassey had testified against Avery. Fine. But Dassey didn't testify. I could also accept that guess if a complete investigation had been done by Sheriffs I had reason to trust, had other trigger men been dismissed? But the investigation was focused on Avery and did not effectively dismiss other suspects. So now I'm required to guess Avery was the trigger man and also ignore the lack of effort to prove he wasn't. That's too much guessing and ignoring. I can't do it.

So, this latest development has been liberating because now I see why at the most basic level, even accepting everything the prosecution laid out in evidence, there is still no proof he pulled the trigger. That's one part the prosecution must ask you to guess about and it's the one part I can't guess about. They can place the gun as the murder weapon, and place the weapon in Avery's bedroom, but can they place the weapon in Avery's hand as it shoots Halbach? No. That part must be guesswork. Sure, it's not a wild or insane speculation to think the owner of the gun used the gun as a murder weapon when the gun was tested as the murder weapon. No, not insane, but it is the reason I balk at a guilty conviction, because I know this is where the bridge ends, the trail of crumbs stops, and I need to keep going on faith. But this is the piece one can not accept on faith, this is the murder weapon and the trigger man, and I'm expected to reach this conclusion on faith that the absolute most simple explanation is true and no other slightly more complicated scenario actually happened. No other person shot Halbach? No other person drove the vehicle? No other person burned the bones? I don't see an investigation broad enough that would dismiss other scenarios, so I can't embrace the single scenario that was suggested. And I can't guess about details like the trigger man and transporting the body and burning it. That's the latest development for me.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.