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"Making a Murderer" Makes an Impression on Criminal Justice System

January 26. 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - For the many Missourians who have seen the hit Netflix series "Making a Murderer," it likely raises questions about the state of the criminal-justice system - which advocates say is a good thing.

The series follows the disturbing case of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man in prison for 18 years for an assault he did not commit, only to be convicted of murder two years after his release. Oliver Burnette, who runs the Midwest Innocence Project, said that while viewers may find allegations of police and prosecutor misconduct in the series shocking, it's important to remember that the wheels of justice don't always turn in the right direction.

"We're never going to have a perfect system, never, because we're flawed as humans," he said. "Justice is strengthened when we have the courage to stand up and say, 'These mistakes happened, so let's fix those mistakes.' "

The Midwest Innocence Project is one of 70 affiliate groups nationwide that are working on behalf of people who say they're wrongfully convicted, and serves Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Arkansas. Burnette said the organization is completely donor-supported, and currently is litigating nine cases, with another 600 on the waiting list because of budget constraints.

Studies estimate that from 2 percent to 5 percent of people in prison are innocent, which translates to as many as 7,000 people in the five-state area. Burnette said it takes an average of $325,000 and seven years to litigate one case, and many find it hard to understand what drives his team to work against the odds.

"They say, 'How come you guys are advocating so strong for these people? They're guilty in the eyes of the law. How can you stand behind that?' I say, 'I can't imagine the frustration if you are innocent and you wait all those years,' " he said.

He pointed to the case of Floyd Bledsoe, a Kansas man who spent 16 years in prison for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law, but was exonerated last month on DNA evidence that was not available at the time of his conviction.

Burnette said victories such as that help fuel his faith that change is possible.

"Not just in the work that we do to exonerate the falsely convicted, but that's anywhere," he said. "We have to speak up where we see problems. It's our obligation as citizens, as humans, to point out the flaws so we can make the system better for everyone."

More information is online at themip.org.

 
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