Let’s face it: binge-watching is basically the greatest pastime. And 2015 was a good year for it. We had the final season of Mad Men. The beginnings of Better Call Saul and Narcos. And for the morbid-minded? Netflix unleashed Making a Murderer.
University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Shima Baradan Baughman was one of many Americans caught up in the murder mystery maelstrom. Over the 10-episode series, viewers are thrown twist after twist making convicted murderer Steven Avery’s innocence over an 1980s murder murky.
DNA evidence exonerated Avery of the 1985 murder of Wisconsin woman Penny Beernsten, for which he spent 18 years in prison, in 2003. Raising questions about why he would go on to kill Teresa Halbach, a murder he was also convicted of in 2005.
After watching the series, Baughman, who teaches criminal law, recognized the show for its potential as a teaching tool. As the series gained pop culture fame she brainstormed ways to teach her students about flaws in the legal process, resulting in the new seminar course “Making a Murderer.” The course features trial transcripts, documentary clips and additional readings designed to have students reexamine Avery’s prosecutions.
Baughman says the series is also an ideal gateway for exploring criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, professional ethics, sentencing and appellate review.
“This is a really good case study of criminal justice in general and all of the problems we have, including tainting of juries, improper investigation, DNA evidence and contamination of evidence, prosecutorial ethics, when to change venues, ineffective counsel and many other issues,” said Baughman. “Using the case as a way to teach those topics is amazing.”
As part of the new course, prominent Wisconsin attorney Dean Strang will be speaking to students on April 5. Strang represented Avery and is featured in the Netflix documentary. The lecture will be held at 9 a.m. at the S.J Quinney College of Law on the U campus and is open to the public.