2016 Fishing Year in Review

Take a look at the 2016 fishing season. This video contains all the fish I got on camera during 2016. It includes trout fishing outings to Lodi Spring Creek, Big Green River, Castle Rock Creek (Fennimore Fork of the Blue River), Black Earth Creek, Kickapoo River, and the Bois Brule River as well as smallmouth bass outings on the Black and Flambeau Rivers.

The video pares down all my footage to only hookup through release. I cut out all the footage of me yakking about fluvial geomorphology and such. Enjoy!

Posted in 2ndMost: Fishing, 2ndMost: Outdoors

An Ode to Bad Two Point Conversion Decisions

Dear Readers:

Mark Dantonio’s decision to go for 2 against Ohio State yesterday was another in a long series of bad 2 point conversion decisions. It was the proverbial straw that inspired me to write a bit about this phenomenon.

Let me first state that most NFL and college coaches are terrible at this particular decision-making data point. It amazes me that, in this age of advanced metrics and years of available statistics, coaches are still making decisions without any actual framework to justify those decisions. What it usually boils down to is that most coaches make decisions that put off losing as long as possible rather than making decisions that will increase their team’s probability of winning decisively.

This is also not a “fire McCarthy” post. I have long been one that criticizes Mike McCarthy’s in-game decision making (2 point conversion decisions, decisions to settle for field goals, terrible challenges), but I have not been one to call for his firing. I am a firm believer in not making such decisions unless one has a better solution. Every better coach already has a job, so firing McCarthy is likely to fall into the “careful what you wish for” category. He does have the second best winning percentage of any active coach – Yes, plenty of that is due to Aaron Rodgers.

That all stated, let’s analyze four 2 point conversion decisions, the first being in the Michigan State-Ohio State game yesterday. The other three are decisions made by Packers head coach Mike McCarthy over the past two seasons.

Ohio State at Michigan State (November 19, 2016)

In this game, Michigan State scored a touchdown that, with an extra point, would have tied the game with about 4:40 left in regulation. Mark Dantonio decided to go for 2 in this situation. When asked about it later, his rationale was that he planned to be aggressive late in the game if the situation arose.

This was way too early to be that aggressive. There are a number factors that play into the pros and cons of going for 2 in this situation, all of which suggest that this was the incorrect decision.

If the Spartans had successfully converted, they would have been up by 1 point with over 4 minutes left in the game. The probability that no more scoring occurs at that point is pretty small. Being up 1 at that point is only meaningful if both teams score field goals or touchdowns in the final 4 minutes. In the case of trading touchdowns, Ohio State would then be forced to go for 2 that late in the game. The larger problem with being up 1 with that much time is that Ohio State’s incentives have changed. If Ohio State is down by 1 instead of tied, they now have incentive to get in position to at least kick a field goal. They are much more likely to go for it on fourth and short to keep a drive alive instead of punting and settling for overtime. Being up by 1 with that much time remaining may not actually improve the Spartans win probability – it may actually decrease it with that much time left.

If the Spartans fail to convert (as they did), they are down 1 in a situation wherein they must either kick away and play defense or try for an onside kick (or inexplicably kick short). If Ohio State gets the ball, they have a decent probability of scoring at least 3 points, which means the Spartans have to score a touchdown to win the game with roughly two minutes or less to play. If Ohio State does not score, they will likely punt the ball and leave the Spartans with (at most) two minutes to get at least a field goal.

This last scenario is exactly what happened. The Spartans had about two minutes to get into field goal range starting from their 25 on the touchback. Gaining roughly 50 yards in two minutes is not all that difficult, but the probability of getting into field goal range AND making the field goal is lower than all of the other scenarios that might have played out by kicking the extra point after the earlier touchdown.

Ultimately, the Spartan 2 point attempt was unsuccessful. One must critique these decisions on their merits rather than the outcome. The outcome was bad, but that does not always mean the decision was incorrect. In this case, the decision was incorrect because of the amount of time left in the game AND the impact of a successful conversion on Ohio State’s incentives. Stated another way, the small upside was greatly outweighed by large and various downsides.

Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers (November 6, 2016)

After the offense struggled most of the game, Aaron Rodgers kicked it into gear late in the 3rd quarter. His touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 7:40 left in regulation brought the score to 31-19. The normally conservative McCarthy decides to go for 2 here. Again, the decision needs to be analyzed without knowing the outcome.

If the Packers kick the extra point, they are down 11 with 7:40 to go. If they manage to prevent the Colts from scoring again (big if), it is still a two possession game. They can try for a 2 point conversion on a subsequent touchdown if it happens and is still necessary.

If the Packers successfully make the conversion, they are now down 10 points with 7:40 to go. They can tie it up with a field goal plus a touchdown and PAT assuming the Colts do not score again. Again, that is a big assumption given the way the game was playing out. It is too early to be worrying about that 1 point when you are already down 12.

Materially, they are in the same position whether they kick the extra point or successfully convert the 2 point play.

However, if the Packers do not convert, they are down 12 points with 7:40 to go. The Packers now have to score at least TWO touchdowns or a touchdown and TWO field goals to tie or take the lead, assuming the Colts do not score again.

The potential downside far outweighs any potential upside.

Ultimately, the decision did not really matter. The Packers never got the chance for a tying or go-ahead score when the Colts ran out the clock on them at the end of the game. They did score another touchdown, after which McCarthy opted for the extra point (to go down 5). Ironically, because of his earlier decision, going for 2 on this second touchdown would have made sense. Being down 5 or 6 is essentially the same, while the potential to be down 4 means an additional touchdown and PAT puts you ahead 3 instead of 1 or 2. That late in the game, you can begin worrying about the costs and benefits of 1 additional point.

Effectively, McCarthy made two probabilistic errors on two point decisions in that game, neither of which actually cost his team the game.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (October 30, 2016)

McCarthy made another bizarre two point conversion decision in this game. The decision could have cost his team the game, but Rodgers wasn’t able to get the offense into field goal range. The decision was ultimately moot but incorrect nevertheless.

With 3:58 left in regulation, Rodgers hit Janis for a 7 yard touchdown to go up 30-26. McCarthy opted to go for two here. Let’s analyze the decision without knowing the outcome.

If the Packers kick the extra point, they are up 5 points. If Atlanta scores a touchdown on the ensuing drive, they likely try a two point conversion to go up three. However, that attempt may fail. Either way, the Packers can tie with a field goal (if Atlanta tries and makes the two point attempt) or win with a field goal if Atlanta kicks the extra point or fails on a conversion attempt. More importantly, the Packers have forced the Atlanta coaches to make the unenviable decisions and the Atlanta players to execute.

If the Packers go for the two point conversion and make it (which they did), they are now up 6 points. The only way being up 6 rather than 5 helps is if Atlanta happens to score a touchdown and miss their extra point, in which case they are tied with a chance to win with another score. That’s a pretty small probability (unless their kicker is Blair Walsh). They obviously won’t go for two in that situation (as detailed in the previous paragraph). Regardless of outcome here, the Packers still have to kick a field goal to win (or not lose) in regulation.

Again, the downside to this decision is the real problem. If the Packers miss the two point conversion here, they are up only 4 points instead of 5. If the Falcons score again and kick the extra point, the Packers now have to kick a field goal to TIE rather than WIN the game. Obviously the probabilities become muddied after that, assuming the game goes to overtime if the Packers make a field goal.

The decision was incorrect even though they successfully converted. Ultimately, win probability is only slightly higher by kicking the extra point, but slight differences in probability are important.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (January 16, 2016)

Plenty has been written about this game. Barnwell’s article on the playoff games that weekend pretty much sums up the argument with more rigorous probabilities, so I won’t go into as much detail here.

The moral of the story is that the Packers had not one, but TWO, Hail Marys on the same drive to be in a position to win or tie the game. That alone should embolden you to go for two in this scenario. Barnwell lays out the probabilities – you’ve got a slightly better probability of winning if you go for two here than if you kick the extra point and go to overtime.

His argument is the correct one – the Packers were clearly the inferior team that day. If you are the inferior team, you have the best chance of winning a shorter game. Going to overtime lengthens the game, thus making it more probable that the better team will ultimately win. That is why the best team usually wins playoff series in all other major professional sports. The worse team can get lucky once or twice, but in the long run the better team wins the series.

McCarthy made some reference to the idea that he thought his team had the momentum. If that is the case, you don’t think Aaron Rodgers, your MVP Super Bowl-winning QB, can get two yards?

The issue here with most coaches, including McCarthy, is that they have NO SYSTEM. They spout off about momentum, being aggressive, etc. But they really have no system in place, except to delay losing as long as possible.

 

 

Posted in 2ndMost: Green Bay Packers, 2ndMost: Sports

My Thoughts on Netflix’s Amanda Knox Documentary

Dear Readers:

I just finished watching Netflix’s new documentary Amanda Knox, and I felt compelled to make a few comments on it.

What struck me initially was how similar it was in tone and storytelling methodology to Making a Murderer. Since I did not really follow this case when it was initially taking place (there were much bigger things going on in my life at the time), I was seeing it all with a fresh set of eyes. I was further struck by the similarities of this case to the murder of Teresa Halbach.

In both the Kercher and Halbach murders, there was very little to no physical evidence to tie those convicted to the murders. What evidence existed either did not support the prosecutorial narratives or was obviously tainted and/or found under suspicious circumstances.

The only physical evidence that potentially tied Raffaele Sollecito to the murder of Kercher was found after 47 days. This is a direct parallel to the bullet fragment and key fob found after numerous searches and much time had passed in the Halbach murder investigation. That clasp apparently had the DNA of four other unknown males on it, which means one of three things:

  1. There were multiple assailants who were never found.
  2. It was contaminated by all of the numerous people who were in and out of the crime scene without properly changing gloves or having any protection at all.
  3. Kercher was really not the pristine asexual angel she was portrayed to be and had numerous men in her life who had opportunities to remove or touch her bra, thus adding to the pool of potential murderers with obvious motives such as jealousy and heartbreak.

The other specious piece of physical evidence was the knife that was found at Sollecito’s apartment after many days had passed in the investigation. This apparently had Knox’s DNA on it (big surprise if it is a knife she might have used while it was at his apartment) but also a small trace of Kercher’s DNA on it. On Appeal, it was argued that the sample was so small that it was most likely DNA that ended up on the knife from contamination – shoddy forensic and police procedure. This again was very similar to many of the pieces of evidence in the Halbach case, such as the DNA on the bullet fragment and on the one bone fragment (the only evidence that actually suggests Halbach is, in fact, dead).

The other obvious parallels in the two cases include:

  • False confessions by suspects in the investigation (Knox and Dassey) obtained under obviously coercive and borderline obscene circumstances. These confessions are primarily what lead to the various convictions.
  • Investigators/prosecutors with a stunning amount of certainty in their cases and equally stunning lack of humility.
  • Investigators/prosecutors whose tunnel vision result in a very poorly conducted investigation with little work done to check alibis of all potential suspects or follow all plausible leads.
  • Prosecution of the cases in the media, thus making an impartial jury or courtroom environment virtually impossible.
  • Stunning lack of knowledge or certainty in what actually happened and who really committed the murders.
  • Injustice for both the wrongly convicted AND the murder victims themselves.

I think it is possible that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were involved in the murder, but there is much more than a reasonable doubt. That is exactly my opinion of the Steven Avery conviction. We simply must not reward police and prosecutors for terrible investigatory practices.

The only other major thought I had was about the Daily Mail “journalist” who is interviewed in the documentary. I won’t even bother using his name because he is rightly getting bashed on social media and just about everywhere else. Much of the journalism profession is trying to paint him as an aberration or lowest common denominator of their field. I think most of us realize that, even though he really is the worst kind of slimeball, he really is representative of a profession that has long since surrendered any sense of objectivity and striving for the greater good. I wasn’t shocked by him, and that says it all.

What are your thoughts? “Guilty or Innocent?”

Posted in 2ndMost: Movies and Television, 2ndMost: Pop Culture, 2ndMost: Reviews

Mirror Lake Paddle

On Saturday, September 3, 2016, a group of Madison Area Outdoor Group members joined me for a pleasant day on Mirror Lake in Sauk County, Wisconsin. We covered a lot of ground, including paddling up into Dell Creek under the 23 bridge. I captured this video with my GoPro Hero 4 Session. The group camped at one of the group sites at Mirror Lake State Park.

Posted in 2ndMost: Outdoors, 2ndMost: Paddling

Paddling the Waupaca River

On Saturday, August 20, 2016, a group of Madison Area Outdoor Group members joined me for a pleasant day on the Waupaca River in Waupaca County, Wisconsin. We paddled 7.75 miles from the County Q launch to Brainard’s Bridge Park in Waupaca. The trip took a total of 4 hours, which included about a half hour snack stop at the covered bridge. I managed to go for a swim in the last set of pitches before the take out. Water levels were a little above average, which made for a slightly less technical paddle through the limited whitewater on the trip. Below is a 10 second time-lapse I captured with my GoPro Hero 4 Session.

Posted in 2ndMost: Outdoors, 2ndMost: Paddling

The Colin Kaepernick National Anthem Debate

Dear Readers:

I finally decided to weigh in on the maelstrom surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem at last week’s preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. This is my attempt to purge it from my system so I can cease letting myself be annoyed by the situation and attention it is being given. Before you start, I am keenly aware of the irony.

To wit:

Colin Kaepernick has every right to protest what he views as systemic injustices in any way he pleases so long as he doesn’t physically hurt anyone. However, the rest of us have the right to view him as a hypocritical douchebag and ignore his message because of the ham-handed way it was presented. Our flag and the blood spilled on its behalf impart these rights to us.

If one claims that the United States and its flag are responsible for the systemic oppression of people of color while making $19 million per year under the protection of that nation and its flag, one surrenders the right to be taken seriously. One looks like a dilettante at best and an ill-informed idiot at worst.

Prima facie, the charge is mostly untrue. Has extensive systemic oppression, racism, and inequity existed in the past? Yes. Does some of it still exist today? Yes. However, I invite Kaepernick to go play for the NFL in Uganda, Syria, Iran, or Turkey. I invite him to enjoy all the freedoms enjoyed by inhabitants of those countries. Silly me, I forgot. They don’t have professional sports teams. In fact, in some of those countries, you get your hand cut off because touching the skin of a pig is a crime. You’ll get a good workout dodging the gas shells being lobbed by the Syrian military against its rebels (and little kids). Maybe Erdogan won’t decide to put you in jail. You know, just because it’s Tuesday. Try having some real problems. We are far from perfect. But we don’t have to be remotely close to perfect to have the best system in the world.

Many pundits in both sports talk radio and politics have weighed in to express dismay at the form of the protest but supported him overall because he has “sparked a conversation” about these issues. But has he really? If you ask me, he has set any conversation about race, injustice, and oppression back significantly. Nobody is actually talking about these issues just because of his actions. They are simply talking about the implications his actions will have on the debate itself, the NFL, the 49ers, and his career. No high-minded conversation has been started because he refused to stand. If anything, he has given actual racists ammunition and validation for their views.

Moreover, was there a lack of debate and conversation on the topics of systemic oppression, racial injustice, and criminal justice inequities this year? Did I miss something? Have these topics not been at the forefront of our national discussion for about two years now, dating back to the Zimmerman trial? Have we all suddenly discovered our national voice because Colin Kaepernick decided to weigh in? Thank God we have him as our moral compass. I guess he got bored kissing his biceps and using the N word during games.

Another view that has been expressed is that one is a hypocrite if they supported Muhammad Ali’s outspoken nature but are opposed to Kaepernick’s protest. That is just intellectually lazy. Ali usually spoke out about very specific situations and had facts to back up his views. Kaepernick painted with a very broad, diluted brush in his comments. It’s easy to spout off about vague notions of oppression. I want to hear him actually discuss real issues, not narratively incorrect straw men. If you are worried about cops killing black men, for example, how about some equal indignation over the far higher rate at which black men kill each other. Failure to bring up specifics makes him no better than the worst race-baiting politicians.

In addition to the strategically ineffective nature of the protest, refusing to stand and show respect for the flag during the National Anthem is tactically counterproductive when those in uniform (and those with utmost respect for those in uniform) represent a large share of the NFL’s fan base. Kaepernick has stated that his protest was not meant to mean any disrespect for our veterans and others who have served our country. What he and others fail to grasp is that for many of these veterans, police officers, and others who have served, disrespect for one IS disrespect for the other. One cannot separate the two in the minds of many. We can debate whether demonstrations of allegiance or piety should be compulsory or encouraged. What we cannot do is expect those who have served to just turn a blind eye to disrespect of the very institutions and symbols they shed blood to protect. I think most veterans will agree that it is his right to do so, but that still doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.

Personally, I couldn’t care less what any sports figure thinks about anything. Athletes are no more an authority on world affairs than any Hollywood celebrity. I watch sports as an escape FROM precisely this sort of debate and stress. If listening to sports talk is no different than listening to political talk, I am part of the group that will tune out. My love of the Green Bay Packers unites me with many people with whom I disagree politically. It’s nice to set aside our political or personal differences for that 3 hours every Sunday and root for the same outcome. I have the rest of the week to mix it up about the really important domestic and international issues we face.

PSA: Kindly remove your hat during the Anthem.

One last thought about this mess: I have read or heard comments disparaging Kaepernick from people who have been at graduation ceremonies I also attended. These people were among the overwhelming majority (like 95% or more) who did not remove their mortarboards during the National Anthem. The only headwear that should not be removed during the Anthem is a military cover while saluting the flag. That a mortarboard is a pain in the ass to put back on is not an excuse to avoid showing respect. I see plenty of people at sporting events not remove their hats and caps, too. So let’s be a bit careful throwing stones if we live in a glass house, people.

 

Posted in 2ndMost: Green Bay Packers, 2ndMost: Politics, 2ndMost: Pop Culture, 2ndMost: Rants, 2ndMost: Sports

Analysis of Federal Relief of Dassey’s Habeas Petition

Dear Readers:

This past week was quite a week in the legal world. No sooner had I (finally) posted my take on Making a Murderer and the Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey cases than U.S Magistrate Judge William Duffin had granted Dassey’s habeas petition. The news dropped while I was having drinks with my brothers-in-law prior to my stepsister’s wedding rehearsal dinner.  I was a bit shocked it was actually granted given the obtuse nature of the state courts’ handling of the case at every level and the fact that habeas petitions are only successful about 1% of the time.

Before turning in Friday night, I found the decision and order in its entirety and read through all 91 pages (find the document here). This document was a pleasure to read. I laughed out loud a few times. The judge shows proper respect to all parties involved and does not assign ill intent, yet he manages to eloquently spank just about everyone. Those familiar with legal language will recognize how forceful some of these rebukes are.

The first 43 pages are not necessary reading unless you have no prior or extensive knowledge of the case – it is just briefing material. Page 44 is where the important information begins. There, the judge begins to lay out the framework for how a decision could be reached. He cites the relevant framework, noting that applicable federal laws and Supreme Court decisions make granting of habeas relief a very rare occurrence. Essentially, the judge points out that habeas relief may only be granted in two instances:

  1. The state courts essentially failed to follow the U.S. Constitution, existing federal law, and U.S. Supreme Court precedent when ruling on a case.
  2. The state court decisions, while following existing federal precedent, failed to make reasonable determinations about the facts in light of that precedent.

To further simplify: the state courts either violated federal law and the constitution or came to objectively unreasonable decisions given the facts of the case.

The judge lays out why habeas relief is so difficult to obtain. It may not be granted just because the federal courts disagree with a decision. It may not be granted due to minor errors or procedural issues – essentially providing great deference to appellate courts. It may not be granted just because public opinion favors it.

Quoting from page 47, he cites the following (emphasis is mine):

“Federal habeas review thus exists as ‘a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.’” Id.(quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-03).

Remember that phrase: “extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems.” That will be important.

The judge next lays out Dassey’s claims for relief. The two claims are:

  1. He was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of council.
  2. His March 1, 2006 confession was involuntary and a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.

Ineffective assistance of council

The judge covers this claim in detail, but the important points are easily lost in the language. Essentially, the judge refuses relief under this claim for two reasons:

  1. The request for relief cites the Sullivan decision rather than the Strickland decision, thus allowing a more forgiving standard for attorney conduct (less likely to result in relief).
  2. The state appellate court’s decision was not technically incorrect under the Strickland standard (which was cited on appeal).

More simply, had Dassey’s appellate attorneys cited Strickland instead of Sullivan and operated under that framework, relief might have been possible. This is a bit like my favorite saying about computers: Computers do what you tell them to do, not want to you want them to do. The court won’t just make that leap of logic for you. This was a tactical error by Dassey’s appellate attorneys in crafting the writ. The judge gently chides them for not citing the relevant case.

So there will be no relief granted under this claim, but the judge has many things to say about Dassey’s representation, summed up by the following from page 50 (emphasis is mine):

Although it probably does not need to be stated, it will be: Kachinsky’s conduct was inexcusable both tactically and ethically. It is one thing for an attorney to point out to a client how deep of a hole the client is in. But to assist the prosecution in digging that hole deeper is an affront to the principles of justice that underlie a defense attorney’s vital role in the adversarial system.

“Them’s is fightin’ words!” That is some pretty incendiary language given the overall eloquence and deference the judge demonstrates in his prose. He acknowledges how egregious this is, but ultimately that alone is not enough to grant relief.

Involuntariness of confession

The judge then moves on to address the second claim for relief on page 60. The claim is that Dassey’s confession was involuntary under the Fifth Amendment, federal law, and Supreme Court precedent. The judge lays out how he understands the Wisconsin appellate court decision that refused to overturn the conviction. He then discusses the interrogation in great detail. He then cites relevant cases and why or why not relief was granted.

As previously mentioned, he discusses the actual interrogation in exhaustive detail. I think that part of the document rises to a crescendo when discussing Wiegert’s statement that “honesty is the only thing that will set you free.” To those of us with normal faculties and understanding of idiomatic language and pop culture, this statement is innocuous because we recognize it to be a cliche. But, the judge writes on page 82:

And, especially relevant here, testing revealed that idioms were an aspect of abstract language that Dassey had difficulty understanding.

The judge argues that, when one combines Dassey’s limitations with the nature of the interrogation (“totality of the circumstances”), the entirety of the confession was clearly involuntary under all applicable federal standards and, more importantly, common sense and reason.

In short, he acknowledges that the appellate court’s decision was not incorrect if one takes any individual part of the federal standards for voluntary confessions into account. Any one statement in isolation does not imply coercion. However, he takes issue with the kind of tunnel-vision and cherry-picking used in reaching that decision.

Thus, the judge grants relief on the basis that the appellate court was unreasonable in finding of fact pursuant to federal precedent. While being careful to show all due deference to the state courts, he writes the following on page 89:

Once considered in this proper light, the conclusion that Dassey’s statement was involuntary under the totality of the circumstances is not one about which “fairminded jurists could disagree.”

That is a British Questions for Parliament-style smackdown. He basically states that the state appellate court was both incorrect AND unreasonable in ruling that the confession was voluntary. That jibes with what anyone who watched any part of it in Making a Murderer or elsewhere concluded.

The salient sentence in granting relief is as follows on page 88:

While the circumstances for relief may be rare, even extraordinary, it is the conclusion of the court that this case represents the sort of “extreme malfunction[] in the state criminal justice system[]” that federal habeas corpus relief exists to correct.

Whoa, baby. I think that one is pretty clear, and I told you it would be important above. Ultimately, the judge grants relief while also mentioning that he does not “ascribe any ill motive to the investigators.” (page 88) He walks the line between stern rebuke and respectful deference at all times, which is no easy task.

The actual order details that Dassey is to be released within 90 days unless the State appeals the grant or makes the decision to retry the case. One hopes that the State is smart enough to take its chips and walk away from the table. Nothing good can come from retrying this case in the wake of the sheer ubiquity of people’s knowledge of it. It will be impossible to get an impartial jury at this point regardless of the other tactical issues involved.

So that’s it. We’ll keep an eye on the case. What do you think? Does the judge’s decision make sense to you?

Posted in 2ndMost: Movies and Television, 2ndMost: Politics, 2ndMost: Pop Culture

My Thoughts on Making a Murderer

I am obviously a bit late to the party on posting about Making a Murderer, but I felt I needed to compile my thoughts into one place. I recently watched the entire series again, and I have collected my analysis below. Spoilers follow, so if you need the suspense of not knowing what happens as you watch the show, stop reading.

Let me preface my analysis of the series and the Avery and Dassey cases by disclosing my personal understandings, biases, and assumptions about the law, law enforcement, and where we are as a society.

  • I believe that police officers and members of the criminal justice system are, by and large, decent and honorable public servants. I will generally give them the benefit of the doubt absent any evidence to the contrary. I have personally witnessed abhorrent and unethical behavior by police officers, but those couple incidents were the exceptions rather than the rule. There are bad apples in every barrel.
  • My political views are generally libertarian. Where I part ways with libertarians is in my views on international geopolitics, national security, and criminal justice. Most would call my views on these topics “conservative.” I believe most libertarians are a bit naive and overly idealistic when it comes to these areas. When it comes to criminal justice, I definitely want to “throw the book” at a criminal if there is overwhelming certainty in that criminal’s guilt. However, I am a strong believer in the system and due process. I believe the damage to society is greater to convict an innocent person than potentially let a guilty person go free.
  • It is clear from the debate over Making a Murderer that most Americans really do not understand how the system is supposed to work. The words innocent and guilty are, in particular, heavily misunderstood. There is only “guilty” and “not guilty” under the law. If one is found not guilty, the legal system is merely acknowledging that a reasonable doubt exists as to the defendant’s guilt. It is not actually an acknowledgement of innocence. It is possible to find a defendant not guilty even if you actually think he or she committed the crime.
  • There is no such thing as proof. There is merely strong evidence in favor of a verdict, theory, or idea. The concept of proof is reserved for those with no sense of humility, which leads us to…
  • “Lack of Humility” is the name of one of the episodes of the series. It is a reference to one of the comments Dean Strang makes during that episode. He hit the nail right on the head. This stunning lack of humility goes much further than law enforcement in this case. It is a larger problem with our culture and politics today. There is a level of certainty and lack of humility that pervades our national conversation. Everyone is so certain they are correct or that their political and other views are valid and operative. I may think my world view is pretty solid and accurate, but I have the humility to concede that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the information I need or want. I may be wrong. Our internet-fueled culture promotes this lack of willingness to seriously consider other views and concede someone else may be right.
  • I can understand how a community can come to be biased and prejudicial against a family or individual. Steven Avery and family might have avoided some of the trouble in which they have found themselves by not making a nuisance of themselves to the community. They probably did need to be removed from the gene pool, as Len Kachinsky’s investigator wrote in an email. But this is not Nazi Germany. Dirty, dim-witted, inbred rednecks have every right to live their lives provided they don’t commit serious crimes. In fact, this is probably the only nation on earth where that is true.
  • Lastly, I do not have a law degree nor have I ever served in law enforcement. My understanding of the criminal justice system comes from observation, extensive reading, talking to police officers and detectives, and my experience serving on a jury in a criminal trial wherein we acquitted the defendant. Some of my assumptions and understandings might be wrong, and I welcome comments that refute any of my analysis. However, I did discuss the Avery and Dassey cases at length with a police detective I know and respect, and his analysis was nearly identical to my own. He called the entire situation “a tragedy and stain on the good name of law enforcement.”

Now that my views, biases, and basic understandings are clear, let’s delve into the analysis. I’ll start with this summary of my opinion of the case. I’ll follow this with a breakdown of the theories of what actually happened and how the evidence ties in to them. I’ll then address the evidence that is not covered in the series that may have swayed the jury one way or another – this is the main defense being offered by those who believe Avery and Dassey’s convictions were justified. Lastly, I’ll provide a few thoughts on the clever ways the filmmakers structured the narrative and whether their treatment of all parties was fair.

My Statement of Opinion on the Cases

I believe it is probable that Steven Avery had some involvement in the disappearance and/or murder of Teresa Halbach. I highly doubt Brendan Dassey had anything to do with it. I believe the investigation was flawed from the very beginning – there was clear tunnel vision in focusing immediately on Avery as the prime suspect when there seemed to be more obvious leads pointing to other suspects. The failure to investigate and rule out other suspects had breathtaking consequences for the investigation itself and thus how the case was prosecuted and defended (given Wisconsin’s third party liability law). I believe it is possible Avery might have been framed, but I do not believe law enforcement necessarily framed him. There was ample opportunity for anyone in that community to plant evidence. The press conference conducted by prosecutor Ken Kratz made it impossible for Avery and Dassey to get a fair trial. The coercive nature of Dassey’s confession and his inept initial representation should have been grounds for mistrials in both cases. I believe neither Avery nor Dassey should have been convicted based on the flawed, tainted, and otherwise specious evidence provided by the State in this case. There was more than a reasonable doubt sown by the defense in both trials. I believe both Avery and Dassey should have new trials and/or have their convictions vacated by Federal courts based solely on a clear failure of the process. If Teresa Halbach was, in fact, murdered, I would like to see her actual killer (which may very well be Steven Avery) brought to justice with a much higher degree of certainty for the sake of her memory, her family’s piece of mind, and the community’s safety.

Phew! That’s a mouthful! Let’s move on to all the pieces that helped me assemble my opinion.

Theories – What Actually Happened to Teresa Halbach?

First, let’s apply Occam’s razor to all of the current theories on what might have happened. Occam’s razor dictates that, all else being equal, the simplest explanation is the most likely. The key here is to ask oneself, “Which of these is the most plausible or likely?” I have these ranked in order from most likely (simplest) to least likely (most complex) in my mind. What do you think?

  1. Avery killed her in a manner inconsistent with any physical evidence (or there was none), and someone else planted evidence to frame him. “Someone else” in all these scenarios could include any of the following from most to least plausible. The Wrap has more details about each – I won’t go into much detail here. I’ll mention these in the longer analysis.
    1. Ryan Hillegas, the roommate, and/or Mike Halbach
    2. Scott Tadych and Bobby Dassey
    3. The other Avery brothers
    4. The guy in Arizona
    5. Edward Wayne Edwards
    6. A guy from Bonduel
    7. Some other random person with motive and opportunity
  2. Someone else killed her and framed Avery.
  3. She committed suicide and someone else framed Avery.
  4. Avery killed her in a manner inconsistent with any physical evidence, and law enforcement planted evidence to ensure a conviction. In this and all other law enforcement framing or murder scenarios, framing Avery solves a huge problem for Manitowoc County and some of the Sheriff’s Deputies who could lose their jobs and/or pensions due to the lawsuit.
  5. Someone else killed her and law enforcement framed Avery.
  6. She committed suicide and law enforcement framed Avery.
  7. Law enforcement killed her and framed Avery.
  8. She isn’t dead – she either wanted to disappear or was kidnapped – and she, someone else, and/or law enforcement framed Avery.
  9. Avery killed her, but in a manner not consistent with Dassey’s confession. Avery expertly removes most evidence, but somehow leaves just enough of his DNA on the Rav4 and the key fob. He expertly cleans everything in the garage but inexplicably leaves the bullet with Halbach’s DNA on it.
  10. Avery was about to get the large settlement from the State and had a decent shot at a large settlement from Manitowoc County, but he decides to risk that all and, in a fit of obsessive sexual desire, rapes and murders Teresa Halbach in a manner consistent with Dassey’s confession. He and Dassey channel Dexter and manage to expertly remove all DNA evidence (blood, semen, hair, etc.) of this horrific scene from the trailer where it supposedly took place, but somehow do not crush or otherwise clean up the Rav4 and leave it sitting in plain sight on the property. They somehow shoot Halbach in a way that spatter does not exist anywhere in the trailer or garage, but somehow trace DNA matching her profile is found on an expended bullet in the garage after numerous searches turned up nothing. Avery then manages to clean all of her DNA off the infamous key fob while leaving some of his own in the process. They manage to burn her body in a burn pit at a temperature only possible in an industrial furnace, and somehow some of her bones end up in a quarry. After doing such a good job cleaning up so much evidence, they leave the bones in plain sight in the burn pit and burn barrel to be easily discovered.

Let’s take a look at each of these in appropriate detail.

Avery killed her in a manner inconsistent with the physical evidence presented at trial and/or the Dassey confession and was framed by someone else.

This section is where I will point out the various observations and tidbits that might point to a third party being involved. I still think Avery being framed by someone other than law enforcement is the most likely situation, regardless of whether he actually killed her.

Maybe he followed her off his property and killed her elsewhere, such as on the side of the road. Someone discovers her body near her car, and now they have everything they need to complete the frame. It might explain why his blood and DNA was found in the car. Maybe she put up a struggle and he did get cut.

However, Avery is a filthy man, and his DNA is surely easy to obtain on his property. I bet there is even a bloody rag somewhere in the trailer from that recent cut he had on his hand (a little rubbing alcohol or distilled water would reconstitute it). The so-called “sweat DNA” would be easy enough to create. First of all, there is no DNA in sweat. There may have been evidence of sweat (nitrogen, salts, etc.) coupled with epithelial cells that came off with the sweat. However, that could easily be faked by just wetting a shirt Avery had worn and rubbing it on that spot. That would transfer some of the salts and nitrogen as well as some epithelial cells.

Regardless of whether Avery actually killed Halbach and was framed or whether he was just framed, all of the above still doesn’t fit with the prosecution’s narrative. Whether the evidence was in and on the car or was planted in this scenario, this now requires someone moving the car to the property, burning the body and placing it in the various locations the bones were found, planting the key in the trailer, and planting the bullet in the garage. Numerous third parties had opportunity to do all these things. There was plenty of time for any of this before the property was cordoned off by law enforcement. The site itself was not secure, with spotty logs of who entered and exited. Numerous days passed during the initial searches. Moreover, the key and bullet were only found after repeated searches after the property was released back to the family. Anyone could have planted both those items between the searches.

So who might have planted this evidence or killed Halbach? Let’s look at the people I mentioned above.

  • Ryan Hillegas – Watching him was fascinating. When is an ex this involved in someone’s life or family unless they are a stalker or otherwise obsessed? Guessing someone’s voicemail password? Give me a break. Practically pointing those ladies right to where the Rav4 was on the Avery property and giving them a camera? This could all be legit, but it is all a bit too convenient. What do cops always say when a man or woman is killed? 90% of the time, it is a current or former spouse or lover. This guy should have been the first person that was investigated.
  • The roommate – Not reporting her missing for a few days is weird.
  • Mike Halbach – I only included him as fairly probable because he seemed so tight with Hillegas. I don’t know about you, but I am not really on speaking terms with most of my sisters’ exes. They are usually exes for a good reason. That in itself is odd. Were they friends before he dated Teresa? Did they meet through Mike? Those would be the only explanations that make his prominence not odd and creepy. The other item that is off Mike is when he talked about starting the grieving process when she was only known to be missing. Way to be positive, bro! Unless he knew something they didn’t… Lastly, he always seemed way too sure that law enforcement had this covered. I would want the truth, not just the appearance of finding the truth.
  • Scott Tadych, Bobby Dassey, or the other Avery brothers – I lump these all together, because, collectively, they all seemed to tell very inconsistent stories or were just strange. Maybe that can be chalked up to the overall stupidity, awkwardness, and inbred nature of this whole clan. But maybe not. Bobby Dassey’s testimony was directly refuted by the testimony of the school bus driver. That seemed like it should have been a bigger deal. His testimony about the joke further questions the veracity of any of his testimony.
  • Some guy in Arizona – Avery’s new lawyer seems fixated on someone Halbach called a couple times before her disappearance. He was recently arrested in Arizona for sex crimes. He was apparently in the area when all this took place.
  • Edward Wayne Edwards or the guy from Bonduel – Apparently the MO of serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards is to kill people and frame someone else for it, all while watching the circus play out in real time. Apparently he lived fairly close to the area at the time of these events and he may have appeared on film in the background of a shot during the show. A former FBI agent posited that theory. Apparently a woman from Bonduel (nearby town) thought her husband had been involved and posted about it. The nature of some of the details seemed plausible. In both cases, these men could have simply helped get Avery caught and framed.

Someone else killed her and framed Avery.

This theory is mostly covered above, with the only difference being the idea that Avery was not involved at all. I’ve discussed how most or all of the evidence could have been planted. I want to reiterate the one thing I don’t see discussed anywhere. If one has access to a living space, there are any number of ways to obtain and plant DNA. A person’s clothing, underwear, bedclothes, and many other surfaces can contain blood, semen, sweat residue and epithelial cells, hair, cheek cells that were sloughed off in saliva, etc. All one needs is saline solution, distilled water, or rubbing alcohol to reconstitute any of these items in dried form. Simply brushing the key fob against one of Avery’s bedsheets would have transferred some DNA to it. If anyone has more technical details I am missing, I would love to hear them. Is my understanding of this correct? I believe it to be so because I watched Dexter (nooge!).

It is pretty easy to explain how every piece of physical evidence could have been planted if you understand what I detailed above. Halbach’s DNA would have been all over the Rav4, and Avery’s DNA would have been all over the trailer and other spaces. Just rubbing any of these items against a surface in the car or trailer would be enough to get trace amounts of DNA on the key fob, the bullet, and then allow other transfers to the inside of the car and the hood latch. Swabbing these surfaces would get samples that could then be transferred to other surfaces. This is not rocket science. And this is all not counting the testimony of the contaminated sample at the crime lab or the tech not changing gloves when looking at the hood latch. The biggest red flag, however, was the lack of Halbach’s DNA on the key fob. That is frankly impossible without being thoroughly cleaned by someone who wanted that DNA removed. Of course Avery’s DNA is on it because it is sitting on his dirty floor when “found.”

The only part of this theory that is difficult is figuring out a motive. The mysterious phone calls her co-worker testified about seem to indicate that someone was bothering and/or stalking her. Was this Hillegas? Was this the guy in Arizona? Who erased her voicemails if she wasn’t still alive and able to do it?

She committed suicide and someone else framed Avery.

This theory is closely related to the previous theory. The only difference is that this takes into account some of the strange things about her situation prior to the disappearance. The video clip that was played early in Episode 2 was chilling and strange. She talked about what would happen if she were to die, and it did not sound like idle banter. When I watched that, my first thought was that she was having suicidal thoughts and expected to find out later in the series that she did kill herself. The pestering phone calls she was ignoring play into this theory as well. Maybe that was driving her insane. Maybe Hillegas was the one who broke things off and she was obsessed with him or vice versa. Maybe she ODs on some pills in her car. Someone finds her and doesn’t want her memory tainted by suicide. “Let’s make it look like Avery killed her.” Hillegas, her brother, or her roommate would all be plausible suspects in this scenario.

Avery killed her, someone else killed her, or she killed herself and law enforcement framed Avery or planted evidence to secure a conviction.

There are a number of pieces of this puzzle that are certainly plausible. Only Manitowoc County law enforcement had clear and obvious motive to frame Avery or plant evidence. The problem with MC Sheriff deputies being involved directly when they were supposed to have recused themselves is that all evidence gathered is automatically suspect. Especially since Det. Lenk was the one who actually found the key fob, which was the most damning piece of physical evidence. The jury was asked to believe that the initial investigators were either so inept or so blind as to not find that key fob on the numerous initial searches despite essentially tearing the trailer apart. So someone is either incompetent, blind, or a liar. Any one of those calls the evidence into question. As previously discussed, planting any or all of the physical evidence used in the case would have been fairly easy.

This is also why law enforcement normally cordons off a crime scene, performs a thorough search and investigation, and releases the scene back to the public and/or owners. Once the scene is released, any evidence gathered after that time should be considered highly suspect. The most important pieces of physical evidence were found after the scene was initially released.

Lastly, there are other strange items that point to some law enforcement complicity. The most obvious one is the phone call Sgt. Colburn made to dispatch asking about the Rav4’s license plate. The only logical conclusion one can draw from that phone call is that he was looking at the vehicle at the time. The timeline of that call does not match with any theories or physical evidence proffered by the prosecution.

Law enforcement killed her and framed Avery.

I find this theory pretty unlikely. This is partially because, as inexplicably and incredibly stated by the MC Sheriff, it would have just been easier to kill Avery if they really wanted him out of the picture. Killing him versus killing someone else and framing him would indeed be easier. They’d also be just as likely to get away with it. Ultimately, if one seriously subscribes to the possibility that MC law enforcement was somehow involved, it is much simpler to assume they would just wait for the perfect opportunity to frame him. A serious crime was bound to be committed in the county at some point.

She isn’t dead – she disappeared or was kidnapped and she, others, and/or law enforcement made it appear as though Avery murdered her.

I don’t think this theory is likely, but I believe it is possible. This is closely related to any of the suicide theories. Maybe she wanted to disappear. Maybe someone kidnapped her and wanted to make it look like she was dead. Either way, she could have cut off a finger or two, a kidnapper might have cut off more prominent limbs. This would explain the presence of a couple bones with tissue matching her DNA. Of course, it would not be that difficult to just plant some tissue on a few of those bones prior to or after burning. I am pretty sure that is possible. This would also explain that piece of evidence in all of the other scenarios. Ultimately, I still think it is possible she is still alive.

Avery killed her in a manner consistent with either the prosecution’s presented physical evidence or Dassey’s confession.

Again, I think the two scenarios are highly unlikely. This is mainly because of the lack of physical evidence to corroborate any of these stories. The story told to the jury in Avery’s case was not consistent with the physical evidence presented unless you believe Avery is a Dexter-like forensic mastermind. The prosecution in Dassey’s case stuck with the story from his confession which has virtually no plausible physical evidence to back it up. Either it didn’t happen or Avery and Dassey are both Dexter-like forensic experts and cleaned the crime scene perfectly. After that expert job they manage to forget the key fob and leave a bullet and her bones strewn about.

To me, the biggest issue here is that they were able to prosecute these two cases by essentially claiming two distinct narratives. After months of finding no physical evidence to link Avery to the crime, they apparently hear this story from a former cellmate of Avery describing a brutal rape and murder fantasy. We get it: Avery is an unsavory dude. I don’t think anyone denies that. Wiegert and Fassbender then coerce and feed this confession to Dassey based on that story. The confession is used as pretext to search the property again, when much of the physical evidence is collected. The press conference is held describing this horrific scene, thus ensuring an impartial jury will not be possible. When it turns out that Dassey will be a liability to the prosecution as his story keeps changing, they decide to drop all mention of the confession in the prosecution of Avery while having found evidence by using that confession. They then come back to the confession in a separate trial to convict Dassey, when there is hardly a shred of physical evidence to corroborate that confession. Basically, they pulled a bait and switch on the community. However, having separate juries ensured the tactic would work.

Trial testimony and evidence not presented in the series

So now that I have run through most of the prevailing theories and given most of my take on those, let’s look at the various items that were not presented or that have been otherwise controversial or updated since the series was released. Most of these are used by those who defend the convictions to argue that the jury had evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. I agree with Buting that the first three of these are not as significant as the prosecution makes them out to be.

  • Complete transcript of Dassey confession – Some have argued that the filmmakers only presented us with the worst parts (including the climax) of the Dassey confession. I have read the entire transcript, and the whole thing is an unconscionable disgrace. Not once does Dassey offer any detail of the alleged crime without Wiegert or Fassbender first suggesting it or using it as part of a leading question. The few times he seems to offer information not previously fed to him, it is after repeatedly being told he was lying and that the investigators knew the truth. He was clearly searching for answers to try to earn validation and get the ordeal over with.
  • The 3 phone calls and false name – Avery apparently called Halbach three times, the second two times using *67 to block caller ID. He also supposedly provided a false name to Auto Trader. The calls don’t help his case at all, but the first call was clearly on the up and up. The second call is a little suspicious, but the third call showed that it never connected or lasted 0 seconds, which was probably a butt dial/accidental redial. The “false name” he gave Auto Trader was his sister’s name, since the minivan being sold belonged to her. Possibly fishy, but it all seems like nothing to see here. Some, including the prosecution, argued that he lured Halbach to the property. She told co-workers that day she was heading to the property, so it is clear she was not “lured.”
  • Whips and chains found – A lot of people need to be locked up if that is a crime. Moving on.
  • Ex-fiancee Jodi Stachowski changes her story – Aside from any number of possible motives to inaccurately portray Avery as a monster in hindsight (stay in the limelight, book deals, etc.), this obviously does not look good for Avery. Again, we get it! He’s an unsavory dude. I don’t think anyone thinks he is a saint. He might have beat her and done other things to her, but that still does not mean he is guilty of murder.
  • EDTA test results – EDTA is used as a preservative in many foods in addition to blood. I have read a number of articles talking about how the preservative itself can degrade in the elements and sunlight. Thus, it is still possible the blood found on and in Halbach’s Rav4 was obtained from that vial. It sounds like the scientific community has weighed in heavily on this, mostly saying the test that was used was likely imperfect and rushed. It points to an interesting faith we seem to have in forensic evidence. This faith is clearly fostered by CSI and similar shows.
  • Erased voicemails and voicemail access – The discussion over this in the trial was one of the more maddening moments to watch. It was clear someone had accessed Halbach’s voicemail after she must have already been dead in the prosecution’s narrative. The question is, who? It certainly could have been Halbach herself. However, we know the Hillegas had “guessed” her password. Did he access it? Who erased the voicemails? Is it ever possible to retrieve these lost voicemails? In the modern electronic world, nothing is every truly erased. I find it hard to believe they don’t exist on some backup server somewhere. Items like that are a key focus of Avery’s new attorney. Apparently she is also working the angle that a call was made from Halbach’s cell phone after she was supposedly dead. It is possible the evidence will show that the call was made from somewhere away from Avery’s property – such as the Zipperer property, where she was supposed to go next.

There are other pieces of evidence I did not mention in this section or in my analysis of the various theories, but these are all items that have been thoroughly covered by others who have written about and discussed this case. Nothing I can write will add to those analyses. In all cases, these additional details shed little light on what happened since they all fall into the category of odd or tainted in some way.

Were the filmmakers fair?

This brings us to the broader question of how fair the documentary was to the players in this drama. I believe the filmmakers did leave out a few items that did not support the story they were telling. I knew I was being manipulated a little bit, but I sought out answers on my own afterward. Ultimately, all footage used the words and actions of the people involved directly. Had the prosecution been more willing to cooperate, perhaps a slightly less unsympathetic view of their efforts might have emerged. I think the actions and events speak for themselves.

In the end, the filmmakers did show various pieces of evidence that add up to more than enough reasonable doubt in my opinion. There would have to be much more adeptly gathered and analyzed physical evidence, without the stain of conflict of interest, for me to have convicted either Avery or Dassey.

The final word

Maybe they did do it. But I don’t believe the State proved its case in either trial. I agree with Dean Strang: I hope they are both guilty for the system’s sake. It appears we are going to get a new round of information soon. Avery’s new attorney, Kathleen Zellner, is promising some bombshells in late August. We’ll see if any of my additions to the theories pop up!

I welcome any additions, comments, corrections, or suggestions. This whole case fascinates me on many levels, and I want to do it all justice.

Other Updates and Observations

  • 9-20-2016 – I just realized that, in the March 2 press conference, Ken Kratz mentions that Avery got a butcher knife and stabbed Halbach. Pretty sure it is impossible to stab someone with a butcher knife. Just saying.
Posted in 2ndMost: Movies and Television, 2ndMost: Politics, 2ndMost: Pop Culture, 2ndMost: Rants

Smallmouth Fishing and Paddling on the Black River

Fish on at 14:39.

A group of us from Mad City Paddlers and the Madison Area Outdoor Group paddled the Black River from Irving to Melrose on August 6, 2016. We camped on a sandbar by the Melrose landing that night. This video is a photo time lapse I shot with my Hero 4 Session at 10 second intervals. The Black is rarely very productive, but I did manage to catch that one 11 inch smallmouth bass.

Posted in 2ndMost: Fishing, 2ndMost: Outdoors, 2ndMost: Paddling

Flambeau River Smallmouth Bass on Floating Rapalas

Fish on at 1:36, 4:41, 8:00, 8:37, 10:24, 12:30, and 13:13.

Check out the video from my trip to the Flambeau River in Wisconsin on July 15-17, 2016. There are clips from a brief outing to wade a couple spots on the North Fork (Nine Mile Landing and Deadman’s Slough). I hooked into one small fish on my second cast. I got chased out of the slough by the mosquitos after missing a nice fish while swatting them away. On Sunday, my group did a paddle down the lower Flambeau from Thornapple Dam to Flater’s Resort. The fishing picked up, and I missed one and landed four fish on camera before my GoPro died. I caught three more fish in the 2 pound range after that. Overall, I landed three small fish and six in the 2 pound range over the weekend. It sounded like most people weren’t having much luck at all, so I guess I did well. I was throwing a 3.5 inch floating Rapala in each outing.

Posted in 2ndMost: Fishing, 2ndMost: Outdoors

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