Two months ago, I watched the entire season of “Making a Murderer” over the course of two days. I watched because the story is fascinating and because I have an affinity for the accent and approach to adversity found in the areas I have traveled from Milwaukee to Green Bay. I’ve spent a good amount of time up that way and have never met people who treat tragedy in such a seemingly unemotional manner.
Regardless of reminding me of the particular idiosyncrasies of people from Manitowoc, the show reminded me of something that I have seen several times in my practice. Inconceivable facts, facts that sound ridiculous upon first hearing them, sometimes turn out to be true. Only by investigating those seemingly preposterous issues, can it be determined whether, indeed, the unexpected is true.
I had a client who came to me convinced that her church was conspiring against her in a relatively simple trip and fall case. She said that between the time she fell and her return to church, the staircase was fixed, but that nobody would acknowledge the defect. Around the time we filed her Complaint, the church destroyed the steps and replaced them with a ramp. It was only upon deposition of the church elders that I really began to believe that my client’s suspicions were valid. The Elders were evasive and presented with foggy memories any facts that would help my client’s case. At binding Arbitration they presented new and elaborate testimony claiming facts that my client outright denied as being true. These facts were in direct conflict of their deposition testimony.
On other occasions, during discovery, it has turned out that the inspection log regarding a tripping hazard, or even a video of the incident, has been destroyed. In most cases I have confronted witnesses who fabricated answers in response to the records that they were responsible for creating. Rather than just acknowledging that the record reflects the facts, many people attempt to explain away that which they believe would put them or their employers in a negative light.
If nothing else, “making a Murderer” does a remarkable job of showing that our preconceived notions of justice and the fairness of the legal system depends a lot upon the players involved, the biases they have, and the incentives placed upon witnesses in order to get them to tell their version of the truth.