Last night, I finished watching the Netflix series Making of a Murderer. It’s the real life drama that captures the story of convicted murderer Steven Avery. As with other series, like last year’s runaway podcast hit Serial, there’s plenty of debate and controversy about the role editors have played with the facts of the case. Did they get it right? Did they tell the story to make Avery appear more innocent than he actually is? This is why it’s so popular. You watch the series and you just don’t know.
As a Facebook friend pointed out to me, the point of the series isn’t to determine if the parties are guilty or not guilty. The series is asking the question, “Did the defendants get a fair trial?”
Somewhat lost in the Steven Avery narrative is the young man put on trial alongside his uncle, Brendan Dassey.
As a lifelong youth worker I was left frustrated about the treatment of Brendan. Whereas no one may ever know if Steven Avery killed Teresa Halbach the questioning, subsequent arrest and conviction of his nephew should have never happened. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The only thing that connected him was his own statement… a statement he should have never given if he’d had better representation.
I’m left wondering…
- How does a 16-year old (a juvenile) get interviewed by police for several hours without a lawyer?
- How is it that a person with a sub-80 IQ is questioned without someone there to help him understand what’s happening to him? Aren’t there laws that protect people with disabilities?
- Yes, his mom waved her right to be in the room when her son was being questioned. But did she know he was confessing to a murder? Or did she think he was a witness to something her brother was being accused of?
Teenagers Need Advocates!
Late last night, as I finished watching the last episode of Making a Murderer, I just kept thinking… Brendan Dassey isn’t alone. There are probably thousands and thousands of people convicted of crimes (big and small) as the result of a system that is tilted away from justice for them. Had Brendan Dassey not come from an impoverished, uneducated home, he never would have been in that interview room… much less convicted of that crime.
Where was Brendan Dassey’s advocate? Who was there protecting him? No one. No one told Brendan that he didn’t have to make a statement, that he was under no legal obligation to answer any of those detectives questions, and definitely not required to incriminate himself. Someone should have told him that. But no one was there for him, he was left on an island to himself, left to put himself in prison until 2040.
Who is there for thousands of teenagers with similar deficiencies? Who stands up for teenagers when they can’t stand up for themselves?
If you know me, you know that I’ve long hoped that youth ministry would expand outside of a definition surrounding work at a local church or parachurch ministry, running a program.
I’d like us to consider what youth ministry would look like as a more holistic ministry to teenagers in our community. Perhaps, in that larger definition of youth ministry, that might include advocacy for teenagers in education and the criminal justice systems?
You may say… “Well, I’m already busy enough. I’ve got a lot to do.” Yes, you do have a big and important job.
My invitation is to think broader about your role.
Consider this: Is it possible that God has placed you in your community to advocate for His children?