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Prosecuting attorney from ‘Making a Murderer’ talks docuseries, new book

Ken Kratz1 / 2
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Christa Lawler

Forum News Service

SUPERIOR, Wis. — Ken Kratz doesn’t live here anymore. The prosecuting attorney from the popular Netflix docuseries “Making a Murderer” had a private practice in Superior when he first streamed the show.

Then came the death threats; the Yelp hate; the man who drove halfway across the country to confront Kratz at his now-shuttered law office on Tower Avenue, then posted the video on YouTube.

While Kratz didn’t participate in the series — though he was asked to, he said — filmmakers included news footage of a mid-2000s conviction he took pride in.

And, as the show unfolded, Kratz became one of the viewing public’s villains.

In “Avery: The Case Against Steven Avery and What ‘Making a Murderer’ Gets Wrong,” published by BenBella Books in February, Kratz re-states his case and pokes at the presentation of information in the award-winning 2015 series.

“I’m writing it because the truth matters, and people get hurt when it is twisted and misrepresented,” Kratz writes in the first chapter. “More public horror has been expressed at the imagined plight of Steven Avery than at Teresa (Halbach’s) very real murder.”

He accuses the filmmakers of showing only what followed their storyline; offers a response to the show’s cliffhanger moments; shows the fallout for involved law enforcement officials; and responds to the coverage of his own sexual misconduct — bad behavior that resulted in him resigning from his position as district attorney of Calumet County.

Kratz’s book is one of a handful about the Avery case currently available including “Un-Making a Murderer: The Framing of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey” by Shaun Attwood and “Illusion of Justice: Inside Making a Murderer and America’s Broken System” by Jerome F. Buting, one of Avery’s lawyers.

‘Making a Murderer’ and its reception

“Making a Murderer” follows the curious case of Avery, a Manitowoc County, Wis., native who spent 18 years in prison after he was convicted of a sexual assault and attempted murder that DNA later proved he did not commit.

Avery filed a $36 million suit against the county and while the details were being sorted, he was charged with the murder of Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer last seen on his property. He was found guilty on multiple charges and is serving a life sentence without parole. His nephew Brendan Dassey, then-16, is also in prison for related crimes — though his case is currently in flux largely because of public attention from the show.

The 10-episode true crime series, created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, shows a case bungled by local law enforcement and pushes the theory that Avery was framed.

Viewers and critics dug in. The show won four Emmy Awards, was called an “almost Dickensian account” by the New York Times and resulted in petition to then-President Barack Obama asking for Avery’s pardon — ultimately a no-go because it was a state case, not federal.

Kratz had a different critique of the show.

He said the state’s evidence proved Avery’s guilt and that the filmmakers used deceptive editing to create questions about the investigation.

“Cherry picking, or even splicing to create an entirely different narrative and a different set of facts than what the jury had seen,” Kratz said in a recent phone interview. “It wasn’t at all what the jury had witnessed. It wasn’t inclusive of the damning pieces of evidence against Avery, and the result was foreseeable. If you watched just what you wanted to see, you’d come away thinking Steven Avery was a victim of a conspiracy.

“The reality was, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Kratz made his criticisms early — before writing the book, while the show was still new to queues.

Ricciardi responded to his claims in a January article in the New York Times.

“Our opinion is that we included the state’s most compelling evidence,” she said at the time.

Dean Strang, one of Avery’s lawyers, said in the same article: “No one’s going to watch a 600-hour movie of gavel-to-gavel unedited coverage of a trial.”

Kratz responds

Kratz consumed the series like a lot of viewers — in his home, while screaming at the TV, he said. But his own ire wasn’t over the series of seemingly shady events that landed Avery back in jail. What he saw on the show did not match what unfolded in the courtroom, he said.

“Documentaries are not supposed to be like other scripted television or like fictionalized pieces of entertainment,” Kratz said. “Documentaries are intended to show both sides, to represent in some capacity what happened in real life.”

One of his biggest beefs, evidence-wise, is the blood. The defense claimed that Avery’s blood had been planted in Halbach’s RAV4 — and “Making a Murderer” shows the moment where it is revealed that the county had a vial of it from a previous case on file. The crew finds that the seal to the box containing the blood is broken (that was done by Avery’s Innocence Project defense team in 2002, Kratz writes) and that the vial has a tiny hole in the cap.

“We do not hear that the hole in the top of the tube was actually made by a nurse when the blood was first collected from Steven Avery,” Kratz writes, “not by some phantom police conspirator.”

Kratz began writing his rebuttal less than a year ago. It’s not about the case, he stresses, it’s about the show inspired by the case.

The less-than 200 page book — with a foreword by legal commentator-TV host Nancy Grace — deconstructs the state of true crime, presents a portrait of Halbach, responds to all of the pieces of the prosecution’s claims that Avery was framed, including the planted blood, the planted key, the planted bones and more.

He also lays out a storyline of what would have to align to properly set up Avery.

The series also showed the end of Kratz’s career as district attorney. In 2009, he sent an abundance of unsolicited and sexually aggressive text messages to the victim of a domestic violence whose ex-boyfriend he was prosecuting. He later resigned.  

Kratz responds in the book by describing himself as a narcissist with sex addiction and a problem with prescription drugs. He said he has sought treatment for both, an ongoing process.

“I’ve spoken at length about my recovery journey,” he said recently. “(Viewers) need to know it was years after the case, the Avery investigation or the decision. That was a dark part of my life and to be able to have crawled out of that addiction and isolation and have the chance to help people with their own addictions — it’s been a hidden benefit.”

The fallout

As the show’s popularity grew, life got increasingly messy for Kratz who describes himself as the “chief villain of the Netflix docuseries.” He received death threats via phone and email, he said. Men said they wanted to rape and kill his daughter while he watched — though he doesn’t have a daughter.

“I’ve been ridiculed relentlessly across the blogosphere — my heavyset appearance jeered at, and my high, thin, voice mocked,” he writes in the first chapter.

There was media coverage of his Yelp page, which became a go-to for angered viewers who referred to him as corrupt, a waste of an egg and sperm and a morally bankrupt clown, Vulture reported at the time.

Just a few of the negative reviews remain, and the page shows that the law firm has closed.

Now, however, Kratz has an Amazon page where the book has a 2-star rating, where one verified purchase calls it “by far the worst book I’ve ever read” and another says it’s “far from factual.”

“To impose that kind of consequence upon a prosecutor from 11 years ago who was just doing his job is really unfortunate,” Kratz said. “I don’t believe I had done anything years ago to justify that kind of behavior. I certainly don’t think I did anything in 2015 or 2016 to attract that degree of negative attention to myself.”

Two other law enforcement officials who investigated Avery have also faced public scrutiny: Lieutenant James Lenk and Sergeant Andrew Colborn, who were involved with the investigation, were both accused of tampering with and planting evidence.

“What’s important here is the human cost to casting villains,” Kratz said. “And when a set of filmmakers chooses to identify real people — in this case Lenk and Colborn — they better have something other than a theory to make these allegations. These cops never had a blemish on their records at all.”

“Making a Murderer 2” is reportedly in the works, with likely a focus on Dassey.

“The story is still ongoing, so you will see new episodes coming sometime this year as the story continues to unfold,” Netflix VP of original content Cindy Holland told USA Today in January.

Kratz said he will watch it.

“I’m guessing I’ll have a similar response as I did the first time. Yelling and screaming,” he said.

Kratz actively retired from practicing law on Dec. 31, 2016. He’s still living in Wisconsin — though he won’t say where.

About the book

  • Title: “Avery: The Case Against Steven Avery and What ‘Making a Murderer’ Gets Wrong”
  • Author: Ken Kratz with Peter Wilkinson
  • Publisher: BenBella Books
  • Pages: 192
  • Price: $26.95
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