Yes, I too, was outraged by Making A Murderer.
Probably like many people, I spent my last Christmas vacation binge-watching the Netflix miniseries, quietly steaming at injustices in our justice system. In the weeks since, the initial wave of righteous indignation at Steven Avery's conviction has faded, but there's no denying the impact it had. A Change.org petition to get him out of jail garnered more than 500,000 signatures (making it the site's second most popular criminal justice petition of all time), his two defense lawyers became dreamboat Internet memes, and for a hot minute we all remembered that Wisconsin was a state.
That outrage was still simmering when, weeks after watching the miniseries, I saw a Craigslist ad seeking participants for a mock jury. Finally, I would have an outlet to dispense my judicious insight. I suspected that bringing this sobriety to the mock jury could, in a small way, act as retribution for Steve Avery and all the other Steve Averys who get raw deals. Make no mistake: This gesture is about as socially responsible as watching Blackfish and thinking you're God's gift to whales if you've never personally captured and enclosed a whale, but my brain allowed the illusion of grandeur to stand.
Also, the ad said that participants would be paid $100 and that lunch would be provided. I wondered what they'd serve. I guessed it'd be Panera Bread. It's always fucking Panera Bread.
I arrived at a downtown private law office that specializes in personal injury. The receptionist handed me a sticker with my name printed on it and directed me into a room behind her. There were a couple participants seated strategically apart. The room itself was drab, but a large one-way mirror on one wall gave it a sinister undertone.
Once everyone arrived we assessed each other in silence. Being grouped with strangers is always a nightmare because it's when I find myself at my most judgmental. This reaction is illogical and knee-jerk, but I can't help it. In my mind, the physical appearances of others dictate mental allegiances and relationships. As a person who can turn any grouping of strangers into a desert island scenario, I want to be on good enough grounds with Team Attractive/Popular that they'd let me tag along in the event of a schism within the group.
I began assigning names to jurors based on superficial qualities. Among the group there was Tall Guy, Camo Shorts, Coffee Lady (who was keen on the free coffee), Teacher Mode, Yoga Pants, Cardi Girl, and LOL (loud old lady). I wondered how many of these people had also signed up based on Making A Murderer.
A tired-looking man introduced himself as the moderator of the mock jury. He explained our purpose—to determine whether the lawyers for The Little Guy had represented their case as concisely and as effectively as possible. This was, purportedly, a real and ongoing case. "So," said the tired man, "I want you to all swear that you won't talk about this with anyone." This verbal pinkie-swear was the extent of their non-disclosure precautions.
Not that that the case itself is interesting enough to break that super-duper promise: Basically, The Little Guy was injured on Big Organization's property, and we were to determine who was at fault.
The personal injury lawyer representing The Little Guy strolled to the front of the group, thumbs tucked neatly into his waistband like he owned the place (which he probably did, given his name on the building). He wore jeans, a t-shirt and cowboy boots. He asked questions to loosen us up—questions about what we did, whether there were safety precautions established at our places of employment and how we felt about Big Organization. He often departed from his inquisitive bro-seriousness when directing slightly more flirtatious questions toward Yoga Pants and Cardi Girl.
He moved on to the opening statements—explicitly vying for emotional manipulation by detailing The Little Guy's injuries. At one point, LOL sobbed and then sniffled loudly through the rest of his statements. I rolled my eyes and decided then and there that LOL would not be on our team (right, Yoga Pants and Cardi Girl?).
Lunch was Subway.
I used the break to ask people if they'd watched Making A Murderer. Yoga Pants said yes, and that it was one of her motivations to participate. "Me, too!" I said.
Finally it came time for us to decide on a verdict. LOL fought dramatically with the only black person in our group and then admitted her expertise in being able to imagine the scenario because she was a "short fiction writer," and I never have wanted to kill myself more.
When it got to me, I gave my opinion, but contributed little to the ensuing conversation. One of my weaknesses is my silent arrogance during times of conflict—I think I'm right but won't speak up to defend it. And I didn't want to further provoke LOL. My Subway had given me a stomach ache and I just wanted to get out of there. I became more agreeable to expedite the process. I would venture that this quality is not unique to me, but that thousands of cases have been mishandled due to people who are more apt to go with the flow than cause conflict.
Sorry Steven, I let you down. The system is fucked.
Ryan is the author of Horror Business. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford