Prosecutors and policemen also watch television. Like everyone. But, for a while now, maybe with more attention. Because, apart from entertainment, they can take a gift: a new clue to investigate. On March 5, 2020, in the first session of the trial to billionaire Robert Durst, accused of the murder of his friend Susan Berman, a fragment of The Jinx. His arrest, after all, had been based on that “I killed them all, of course” that he pronounced at the end of the series. Although, according to his lawyers, the phrase was manipulated by Andrew Jarecki, creator of the HBO documentary.
It was March 2015 when The Jinx aired its last episode. And it changed Durst’s life. That same year Making a Murderer, broadcast by Netflix, showed the world the controversial process that put Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey in jail for the murder of Teresa Halbach. There was such a stir that even President Barack Obama was forced to clarify why he could not pardon Avery. Since then, the success of the so-called series of true crime has shot up. And, with it, also its consequences, as real as the events that count. Justice sometimes discovers errors or indications and takes up closed cases. But the old scars of the victims are also reopened, often without their approval.
Well told, these series are powerful and beneficial tools. But, at the same time, it is extremely dangerous to go for media crimes without a strong reason ”, reflects Justin Webster, director of the documentary I will be killed and the series Death in Leon Y Nisman: the prosecutor, the president and the spy. Instead of true crime, the filmmaker prefers to speak of “non-fiction narrative on crime themes”. And from Netflix, whose catalog is overflowing with these formats, they insist that they only look for “good stories, far from any pattern.” But the truth is that these documentaries have multiplied, at the same rate as their audience grew. So much production, however, raises doubts about the average quality. And also dilemmas: Should a series replace a judge? Is it ethical to trap the public with an alien tragedy? Where is the limit between rigor and sensationalism?
“Human beings process trauma through our nervous system. If it remains entrenched, when you connect with that moment your body reacts as if you were suffering it now. I would not recommend exposing oneself again, through a series, but whether it is invalidating or not depends on how the process of overcoming has been ”, clarifies Laura Panzano, specialist of the El Prado psychology clinic. Maybe that’s why Mindy Pendleton and her entourage begged Netflix not to go ahead with I Am a Killer, docuserie that narrated, among others, the murder of his stepson Robert Mast. The platform, however, kept its plans, as recounted by a report of Time. Just like he did with The disappearance of Madeleine McCann, although the girl’s parents did not want to collaborate. Or with your own Making a Murderer, despite the statement from Teresa Halbach’s family: “We are saddened to know that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and profit from our loss.”
The hikers who have visited the Alcàsser girls ‘grave since the show’s broadcast are not likely to alleviate their parents’ trauma. And Andrea Muccioli regretted so much participating in Sanpa, the docuseries about the controversial figure of his father Vincenzo, who has just sued Netflix for defamation. Whose story is it? Who has lived it or who has it? Or the perpetrator? That should be said by the theorists at the university. I have narrated cases with the permission of victims and relatives and some without it, but with their consent. We have discarded others because these conditions were not met, “says Carles Porta, the journalist behind Crims, the radio series and now broadcast by TV3 in prime time that recovers events that have terrified Catalonia.
“I think you always have to ask the victims, because in the end it is their story. And often the perspective of the executioner ends up being told ”, adds the psychologist Panzano. But reality multiplies the options: Fernando García, father of one of Alcàsser’s girls, participated in the series by Ramón Campos and Elias Siminiani, while other parents did not. The emision of The Keepers it served so that more victims of sexual abuse dared to report them. And Kevin Sova was moved to discover that the series Unsolved Mysteries recounted the mysterious death of his brother Kurt: it seemed to him the demonstration that many still remembered him, according Time.
Crims often provides material for these discussions. In one chapter, revealed that Ramón Barranco, after serving 13 of his 30-year sentence for raping and murdering Maria Carme Castell, has located his new life a few kilometers from the victim’s family. The program showed Barranco’s photo while Jeroni Castell recounted his chance encounter with his sister’s rapist in a local bar and accused him of still being “capable of anything.” “It’s free? Yes, and we say it. Did he do what he did? Also. Are we saying go get him? Everyone reads that. That Jeroni ran into him near his house, and on top of that he was forced to leave the bar, is to give information. Are you not talking about how we treat victims? ”Says Porta.
In another episode, the dilemma even ended in court: with new evidence, Crims reopened the case of Helena Jubany, murdered in 2001 in Sabadell. The Barcelona Court, however, has just reversed the decision. “If citizens organized to find witnesses, it is because justice did not do it. But we don’t want to replace it at all. And the power of the audience has good and bad points: judges, police or prosecutors perceive if there is a strong interest in solving a case. But, what happens to others who also deserve it and do not have as much public? ”, Adds Porta. In a 2016 article, titled The Making a Murderer effect, Jeremy Gans, an expert in criminal law at the University of Melbourne, said that these series have awakened the critical spirit of citizens, who better understand the trials and look at them with a magnifying glass: “The courts are losing the monopoly of information.”
If citizens organized to find witnesses, it is because justice did not do so. But we don’t want to replace it at all
As long as, yes, the series is well done. All agree that these works – many cite the podcast as a precursor Serial, 2014— have culminated a long narrative evolution of the documentary. And they have imposed a rigorous and attractive way of counting crimes. “It must be a great story. It is difficult to summarize it in two hours. The protagonists have to speak, not the experts. And although it is possible that crime is used to sell more, it is not about doing it to invoice, it depends on the way you do it, ”says Porta. “Epistemology with murder is better than without murder,” said Webster, quoting director Errol Morris. And he adds: “A death takes away your nonsense. You focus on wanting to know the truth, with honesty and respect ”.
A filter that is not always met. It is true that Laura ricciardi Y Moira Demos, directors of Making a Murderer, they spent 10 years researching and recording. But such a compromise is rare. So hungry for true crime, rush and curiosity can be tempting. “The danger is that we are going to something slum. They are buying a format and a theme. But what has generated this special and sustainable success is not that. The theme is 5%, ”emphasizes Webster. This newspaper sent several questions to Netflix about these risks and their criteria for producing true crime, but the answer was limited to “there are no specific patterns.” Porta is also critical: “In Spain there is too much rush, rather reports are made. The authors are in the second row. In the United States, screenwriters are stars; here, starry. The story is often superficial. ” The pain of the victims, however, never is.
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