In addition to the widespread attention the 10-part Making a Murderer documentary has brought to the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, and the broader problems with America’s criminal justice system, an interesting phenomenon has emerged: Several of the show’s more tertiary characters have become mini-celebrities online. Women in particular seem to love Steven Avery’s defense attorneys (“Dean Strang is the Coach Taylor of the Wisconsin legal community,” one Twitter user writes; “If I had one of those lists of celebrities you’re allowed to bone with impunity, I would put heartthrob Dean Strang on it,” writes another). And then there are the two breakout reporters from the press room scenes in the documentary: “silver fox” Aaron Keller, and Angenette Levy, the bespectacled, no-nonsense local journalist with a knack for asking tough questions of both the prosecution and the defense.
Levy, who now lives and works in Ohio, recently chatted with Rolling Stone about evidence that was left out of the show, why she’s surprised it took so long for the case to become a national story, and what it’s been like getting all this attention from random people on the Internet.
What’s it been like watching this case unfold on-screen several years after the fact?
It’s strange for me to watch it. I feel like I’m watching it from a completely different perspective than someone who’s seeing all of this for the first time. It’s interesting to see it all consolidated and condensed into ten, one-hour episodes.
Do you feel like the show presents the cases fairly? Did it track with your experience of actually being there?
[The filmmakers] had such incredible access to the Avery family, and they had tremendous access to the defense attorneys, with all of the behind-the-scenes footage. And, you know, they’re using Steven Avery as their main “character,” so I think you’re going to see more of the case through their eyes.
I read an article with the filmmakers where they said they included the state’s best evidence, and I think I’ve heard the defense attorney say the same thing. I did notice there were some parts of the state’s theory, and some other things that weren’t discussed in the documentary. I’m not sure why those items were left out.
Yeah, there’s been some grumbling online about that: that Making a Murderer viewers weren’t presented with some of the evidence in the case. Did you find any of that problematic?
Well, I was surprised that there were some things that weren’t in there. For instance, there were some things that weren’t in there about Steven Avery requesting Teresa Halbach that day…
You mean that Avery requested Halbach, specifically, to come out to the Avery car lot, right?
That’s correct. There was testimony to that effect during the trial, that he had specifically requested her, and that she had been there many times before, photographing the vehicles. I don’t want to go back and forth about whether or not it was fair. I feel like that’s best left to the attorneys. There were certainly some things that I didn’t see in there that were presented during the trial. But it was a six-week trial. There was a lot that went on during that trial.
I mean, it’s pretty riveting. I’ve talked to people who watched one episode, and they can’t stop. It’s definitely binge-worthy, and certainly appears to be very entertaining.
How do you feel about that – the fact that people are so entertained by this true-crime story, sort of like they were with the Serial podcast? People are just eating it up, and some of them are even trying to investigate the case themselves.
I was always shocked that there wasn’t more interest in the case when it was going on, because it was such an interesting story. It was a very sad story, it was very compelling, it had all of the elements of a whodunit. You had a sympathetic victim, but you also, in a lot of ways, had a sympathetic person being accused of the crime, because [Steven Avery] had been wrongly imprisoned.
[Now], it’s huge, and that doesn’t surprise me, because it has all these crazy things that happened in it, these twists and turns. You have this guy being arrested for this crime, and then people wondering, “Did he really do it?” and then you bring in the nephew, who… his case in particular has always saddened me.
I don’t know about all of this online sleuthing. I can see why people are chatting about it. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad, because you’re not going to have all of the information in front of you.
You told Jim Romenesko recently that this case “is a tragedy on so many levels.” What most disturbed you about it?
The fact that the Halbach family was only left with bone fragments to bury from their daughter. I thought that was just absolutely horrendous. It’s just so sad to me.
It’s also sad to me that a 16-year-old boy became involved in this, in whatever way he was. I know he maintains that he was innocent, and I know Steven Avery maintains that he was innocent. But I think it’s a tragedy what happened in the beginning, in 1985, when he was wrongfully convicted. I think it’s clear that what happened in that situation was wrong, and the fact that he went to prison for 18 years for something he didn’t do, that was wrong. And then he gets out and it seems like he was having some trouble adjusting to the outside world, as I would imagine anyone would after spending time in prison, and then he’s charged with this crime. I find that to be very tragic, if he did indeed do it, as he was convicted of doing it. And I think the situation with Brendan Dassey, the fact that he’s not eligible for parole until he’s, what, 56 years old – I think that’s very, very sad.
Having actually been at the trial – as opposed to the rest of us, watching this on Netflix – did you come away with a strong sense of whether the police planted evidence in Avery’s home, or Dassey’s confession was coerced?
No, I didn’t come away with a sense about whether or not the evidence was planted. I think people are always going to have questions about things like the key that was found in Avery’s bedroom. People are always going to wonder about that. I don’t know.
Brendan Dassey’s confession… It’s three or four hours long. It’s a pretty long tape, and I don’t think the actual confessing starts until you get maybe a half hour or 40 minutes in. You didn’t see all of that in the movie. I don’t know if that statement was coerced or not. I just don’t know. There were a lot of weird things in it, but the jury believed it.
Now that the documentary is out, people on the Internet are kind of obsessed with you. I saw a headline this morning that says “The Reporter In ‘Making A Murderer’ May Be The Hardest Crush I’ve Ever Had In My Life,” and this blogger goes on to say, “Making a Murderer is a true crime tale about a brutal and horrific killing followed by the very fishy court case, but the moment Angenette Levy came on screen the main crime became theft of my heart.” That’s pretty weird! What’s that been like?
I’m very shocked when I read these things. It’s kind of amusing, kind of weird. It’s certainly been really surprising. I had no idea I was going to be in this documentary, so it’s taken me by surprise quite a bit.
There have been a lot of nice people who have tweeted me and messaged me. People have been really nice to me, which is refreshing, and then you have people who ask, “Why didn’t you ask this? Why didn’t you ask that?” and I’m thinking to myself, “We asked a lot of questions back then.” I mean, we really did.
I think that comes through. It seems like part of what people are responding to is the fact you came off as very no-BS.
Well, I try, and I tried to ask tough questions of both sides. This was a very serious case. I mean, this was literally life-and-death. It may come across as entertaining in the documentary, but this was serious. These are people’s lives at stake.
Has anyone recognized you?
Last night I was out reporting a story, and I was interviewing a woman, and she said, “Oh my gosh, is that you in Making a Murderer?” and I said, “Yes, it is,” and she said, “I knew that was you!” So that was kind of weird, and I’ve been getting people tweeting me who I went to high school with who said, “I thought that was your voice, and then I saw your face!” So it’s been kind of strange. I mean, it’s been kind of interesting, but it will fade.