The Unsung Heroes Of “Making A Murderer,” Ranked By How Much I Want To Hug Them

Last week, after publishing my ranked list of all the garbage people in Netflix’s “Making A Murderer,” a reader reached out to suggest that I do a followup about the docu-series’s unsung heroes. A shorter list of names*, to be sure, but I am happy to seize the opportunity to pay tribute to those who didn’t make me want to punch my laptop screen. An excuse to go on and on about my crush on Dean Strang? Don’t mind if I do!

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13. Kayla Avery, Brendan Dassey’s cousin and Steven Avery’s niece

Baby-faced Kayla was the first member of the Avery family to be interviewed by the case’s main investigators, Mark Wiegert and Tom Fassbender, shortly after Avery’s arrest. These two sure have a thing about interrogating kids, huh? After coercing a confession out of Brendan, Wiegert and Fassbender reinterviewed Kayla, and this time, confused and under pressure, she told them Brendan had confessed to her that he and Steven murdered Halbach. Well, during Brendan’s trial, Kayla had the guts to admit in front of the entire courtroom that she had lied to the police that day. Obviously, telling the lie in the first place wasn’t a great idea, but given what we’ve seen about Wiegert and Fassbender’s use of what’s called the Reid technique, it’s no wonder she crumbled. But unlike the parade of grown ass adult law enforcement officers who took the stand and lied their asses off, Kayla actually had the humility and honor to admit what she had done. And dammit, I want to give that girl a good, long hug.

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12. Aaron Keller, Reporter for NBC26 in 2005-2006

I was not particularly impressed with the journalism skills of the various local Wisconsin reporters shown in “Making A Murderer,” at least based on the softball questions we saw them ask garbage monsters like Ken Kratz. However, with 10 hours worth of bad ’90s-’00s haircuts, Ken Kratz’s skin-crawling voice, ethically reprehensible behavior and closeup shots of the filthy (sorry!) Avery Junkyard, “Making A Murderer” was in desperate need of some eye candy. Aaron Keller, a silver fox reporter covering the case for the local NBC affiliate, is what Wisconsin circa 2005-2006 had to offer. Whatever, I’ll take it.

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11. Pete Baetz, Investigator for Steven Avery’s defense team

This guy was hired by Buting and Strang to help dig up any evidence that pointed to Avery’s innocence and, I’m guessing, probably looked into alternate suspects as well. He makes this list because he seriously could not hide how appalled he was with the police investigation, and that made me feel less alone while I was bingewatching and shaking my fist at the sky.

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10. Sandy Greenman, Steven Avery’s current girlfriend

Sandy Greenman is Avery’s current main squeeze. While I get a pang of concern for any woman who finds herself writing jailhouse love letters to a convicted murderer, I admire the fact that Sandy watched the entire Avery trial and was not fooled by the prosecution’s trickery. I also think it’s sweet that love blossomed from a friendship built on mutual support, with Avery consoling Greenman as she dealt with the death of her husband. It can’t be easy being the girlfriend of a guy incarcerated for murder, but Sandy and her sensible turtlenecks handle it with panache. Plus, I can’t help but love a romance between an older woman and a younger man — the couple has a 20-year age difference.

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9. Angenette Levy, Reporter for WFRV-TV in Green Bay in 2005-2006

Angenette Levy, then a reporter for WFRV-TV in Green Bay, and the array of “are you fucking kidding me?” expressions that flashed across her pretty, spectacled face — including the look above, when Mike Halbach said he was convinced of Dassey’s guilt despite not actually listening to his confession — gave me hope that someone in Wisconsin can identify the smell of bullshit.

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8. Allan Avery, Steven Avery’s father

Putting aside the likelihood that Allan Avery has broken a law or two (the Averys do seem to cause quite a bit of trouble), Steven Avery’s father may just be my actual favorite “character” from Making A Murderer. I loved the fact that “little Stevie’s” dad refused to wear anything special to court during the trial, donning his usual overalls in a defiant display of contempt for the judicial system. I straight up bawled my eyes out when he was showing the filmmakers around his garden, proudly showing off his lettuce. Plus, he changes his look more than Rihanna:

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But most of all, I love that HE SHOUTS EVERYTHING. ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING IS SPOKEN IN AN ALL CAPS TONE OF VOICE. AND CAN YOU BLAME HIM? WOULDN’T YOU DO THE SAME IF YOU BELIEVED YOUR SON HAD BEEN FRAMED FOR A CRIME HE DIDN’T COMMIT – TWICE ?!

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7. Mark Fremgen, Brendan Dassey’s trial attorney

After the utter shitshow that was Len Kachinsky — Brendan Dassey’s first attorney, who was finally dismissed after making it too obvious that he was in the prosecution’s pocket — the quality of the teenager’s legal representation could only improve. Mark Fremgen believed in Brendan’s innocence, took on his case despite knowing it would be an uphill battle thanks to the mess made by Kachinsky, and gave a valiant effort defending him, even prepping the learning disabled to take the stand in his own defense. Also, Kratz was giving all husky, goateed white dudes a bad name until Fregmen came along and proved that the look doesn’t automatically make someone a crook.

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6. Barb (Janda) Tadych, Brendan Dassey’s mom and Steven Avery’s sister

Sure, it’s probably a given for a mom to support her child through such an awful ordeal, but Barb Tadych’s fierce loyalty to her son no matter what his story was sure did tug at my heartstrings. The Avery family was pretty much split in two after Brendan Dassey confessed to raping and murdering Teresa Halbach with his uncle Steven – Mom and Pop Avery sided with Steven as always, while his sister Barb was ready to kill him herself for roping Brendan into something so heinous. When Brendan ‘fessed up to falsely confessing, Barb did her best with the minimal contact she was allowed to make heads or tails of her son’s changing story and to remind him of the importance of telling the truth. If not for Barb watching him like a hawk, Kachinsky might have been able to get away with turning her son into a witness for State in their case against Avery. And after maintaining her cool for so long, who didn’t empathize with Barb’s outburst at the media following Brendan’s conviction? She may not always have a way with words, but Barb keeps it real. Now if only she would dump that no-good possible murderer Scott Tadych…

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5. Janine Arvizu, Laboratory Data Quality Auditor

This queen got up on the stand and was like, “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I am a SCIENTIST, I deal in FACTS and I’m not in the business of GUESSING, unlike this bitch from the FBI.” Okay, she didn’t quite put it that way, but her point was still that the State’s “expert” witness from the FBI really shouldn’t have been saying with certainty that the blood found in Halbach’s car didn’t and thus couldn’t contain EDTA. See, the FBI didn’t test all the blood, nor did they reveal how sensitive their test was, so while they didn’t detect EDTA — which would have indicted that the blood was planted — that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there somewhere. MIC DROP.

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4. Richard Mahler and Anonymous, Jurors in Steven Avery’s Trial

Last week, the filmmakers behind “Making A Murderder,” Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, claimed that one of the people who served on the jury that convicted Avery contacted them about what they said went down behind closed doors during deliberations. According to this still anonymous person, the jury could not reach an agreement, with a number of jurors believing Avery was innocent and others refusing to budge on finding him guilty on at least the most severe charge  — so they decided to compromise. The jurors delivered a guilty verdict on two counts, but not guilty on a third, which, according to this juror, was intended to “send a message” that Avery should be retried. Let’s be clear: this is an absolute moronic tactic. THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS, PEOPLE. You don’t compromise in that situation and you sure as shit don’t try to “send messages” with your vote. UGHHHH. But the thing is, according to Ricciardi and Demos, the person feared for their own safety, telling the, “If they could frame Steven Avery, they could do it to me.” And frankly, that’s a valid concern.

The Most Garbage People In “Making A Murderer"
Ranked in order of how loathsome they are, of course.

While any insights into the deliberation process, no matter how fucked up they may have been, are unlikely to result in a new trial, I commend both this person as well as Richard Mahler, the juror who was dismissed because of a family emergency but believes in Avery’s innocence, for coming forward and revealing just how flawed jury deliberation can be. As people trip all over themselves todismissed juror declare Avery and Dassey guilty or innocent, the documentary’s real point should not be lost — and that is that the justice system, from top to bottom, is massively fucked and people need to get goddamn mad about it.

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3. Dolores Avery, Steven Avery’s mom

By the fourth episode of the series, I couldn’t even look at Dolores Avery’s somber face without a lump forming in my throat. This poor woman, this heartbroken mother, has had to watch her son be locked up twice, this last time without the possibility of parole, spending more years of his life behind bars than not. Her unwavering loyalty and commitment to seeing him exonerated before her own life comes to an end is tragic on a level I cannot imagine. Every week-and-a half, she and her husband Allan – who are both elderly and have mobility issues – still make the 180-mile trek (the shortest it’s ever been, as Avery has been incarcerated at a couple prisons) to visit their son, and sweet Dolores maintains hope that she’ll someday see her son freed — for the second time.

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2. Jerry Buting, Steven Avery’s trial attorney

Oh Jerry. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. JEROME. The yin to Dean Strang’s yang, the peanut butter to his jelly, the Bert to his Ernie. One half of Avery’s dynamite defense duo, Buting has been sort of overshadowed by the thirst directed at his more emotional and earnest colleague (more on that in a second), but I think everyone can agree that they did better work together than they would have done apart. Buting’s sharp style of questioning and righteous tone hit hard as the parade of crooked officials took the stand during Avery’s trial; at times, I could almost hear his inner monologue cursing the bullshit testimony of so many of those jokers. Strang has a way with words, but Buting is no slouch, choosing his carefully so they cut deep. Since “Making A Murderer”‘s debut, Buting has joined Twitter, posting such gems as this:

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1. Dean Strang, Steven Avery’s trial attorney

What can I say about Dreamboat Strang that I haven’t already whispered passionately into my pillow late at night? People like Strang see the gaping flaws in the system, refuse to accept them and dedicate their lives fighting on behalf of those most likely to be victimized because of race, poverty and a culture that treats the police, elected officials and the courts as if they are infallible. But this job isn’t just an intellectual challenge for Strang – it’s an emotional, moral one. “Making A Murderer” threatens to leave even the most idealistic viewers in a pit of cynical depair, but Strang’s shared frustration and sadness, not to mention his deeply earnest belief in seeking true justice, offered a lifeline.

Strang has been the subject of much online swooning, with many, many female viewers crushing on his lush head of hair, normcore style (there’s even a Tumblr dedicated to his sensible cable knit and khaki wardrobe) and resemblance to Stephen Colbert. This comes as an “absurd” surprise to the self-described “quiet guy from Wisconsin,” who doesn’t use social media because he would rather get together in person for hot chocolate (no, seriously, he said that). As a Strang enthusiast, the thing I love even more than his shiny locks and Wisconsin accent is the genuine earnestness with which he seemingly speaks about everything, especially the law. It’s no wonder there’s also a parody Twitter account called @SexyDeanStrang which turns some of his best quotes into swoonworthy pillow talk:

How much do I want to hug Dean Strang? So fucking much I might as well just cover him in inappropriate kisses instead. I’m sure his (incredibly lucky and no doubt wonderful) wife won’t mind. Right?

*This is not a complete list and does not include the other solid attorneys who represented Avery and Dassey or a couple other Avery relatives that I found endearing. It also does not include the various representatives from the Innocence Project, who are straight up heroes every damn day of the week. And lastly, I have steered clear of writing about the Halbachs, as I doubt they’re enjoying the renewed attention this has already brought to their family.