You would think that Michael Griesbach would have been privy to an advance screening of the Netflix series Making a Murderer, the 10-part true crime documentary that is sweeping the nation.
After all, Griesbach was part of a team of assistant prosecutors in Manitowoc County, Wis., that sprung Steve Avery, the criminal in question at the center of the series, from prison in 2003 after it was discovered the wrong guy was convicted for a 1985 sexual assault.
“They told me I would get an advance copy to watch at home, but it never came and so I watched it, like everyone else, through Netflix,” said Griesbach, 55 years old and the married father of four, in an interview from his home in Manitowoc, Wis.
When Avery was convicted of the 2005 murder of a 25-year-old woman two years after his release from prison, Griesbach wrote a book, The Innocent Killer. It came out in 2014 as the production of the Netflix documentary was wrapping up. The book covered both the mistaken conviction and the murder conviction. It got little attention.
But since Making a Murderer launched Dec. 18, Griesbach’s life has been upended and his career as an author has been given a nice shove into overdrive. The phone doesn’t stop ringing with media requests. The Innocent Killer has been picked up for UK rights by Penguin, which over the years has been one of the largest true crime publishers in the world.
Griesbach is now writing 80,000 words for a new book to be released later this year by Kensington tentatively titled Indefensible: The Missing Truth about Steven Avery, Teresa Halbach and “Making a Murderer.”
Indefensible is the story behind the story about how the documentary has misled the public into believing that Avery, after being wrongfully convicted in the sexual assault, was again railroaded in the Halbach murder.
Since 1988, Griesbach has been part of the prosecution team in Manitowoc County, a county of 80,000 whose northern border is 88 miles from the southern border of Michigan’s upper peninsula.
He’d always enjoyed writing, with his bachelor’s studies in history and English.
“The reason I did The Innocent Killer was because I was so close to the story,” he said. “I was pretty upset about what happened in the first case and I knew this story was one of a kind, where someone exonerated gets picked up for a murder. I thought it would work as a book. It was something that would appeal to a number of audiences: True crime, criminal justice and the public.”
After being refused by a handful of agents, Griesbach found representation in Ron Goldfarb, a former prosecutor and true crime author, who had read of the case in the New York Times.
“I just couldn’t imagine a more interesting case,” Goldfarb said.
After talking to Griesbach, Goldfarb asked a simple question: “Can you write?”
The Innocent Killer was refused by major publishers, part of a myopic industry bias against the edgy genre even as television audiences demand more true crime programming, from big budget Dateline presentations to smaller but often well-done shows on Investigation Discovery.
The Innocent Killer was published in August 2014 by the publishing imprint of the American Bar Association, its first venture into true crime. And there it sat — the victim of poor marketing. The ABA did not return an e-mail for this story.
The case — and the book — had scant interest outside Wisconsin, where the Halbach murder dominated the news. Although there were a couple of documentarians running around, doing something…
|A Conversation on Making A Murderer, with Attorneys Dean Strang & Jerry Buting
March 20, 7 p.m.
Strang and Buting, Steven Avery’s attorneys in the Teresa Halbach murder case, host a “moderated discussion regarding the systemic failures of the criminal justice system as well as the broader implications of the Steven Avery case.”
Griesbach had done interviews over the years with the directors of Making a Murderer, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, so he had a heads up on the Netflix series launching in December. He told the ABA about it, maybe a good time to push the book. But there was little effort.
“I had the sense it would get big when the Netflix series hit,” Griesbach said. “No one had much notice that it would do this. But this is just the power of television, or video. If this situation with Avery had happened in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, it would have been huge the whole time. It is a one of a kind case. And Avery was this personality. When he turns from victim to villain overnight, it really should have gotten more attention.”
Not from a book, though. It took the buzz and national hype of a streaming documentary. Dollar signs lit up all over the New York publishing industry and all of a sudden, true crime isn’t such a wordsmithing pariah. With the mounting hype, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting — Avery’s attorneys in the Halbach case — roll into DeVos Performance Hall for a ticketed discussion on the case.
And there is finally someone — the haplessly dim Steven Avery — to represent the victim of a corrupt legal system in backwoods Middle America. That’s the entertainment version made for Netflix viewers, at least.
For readers, there will be the other side, the one carried by Griesbach, who no doubt confuses the do-gooders and finger-pointers who are sure the system is broken. He was part of the effort to free Avery. And now he’s a detractor from the masses who believe legal lightening struck twice in Wisconsin.
“Avery was innocent in the sexual assault and guilty in the murder,” Griesbach said.
If Avery were set free, would he be a danger to the public?
“Yes, he would,” he said. “He was set free before and we all hoped things would be alright for him. He has some things in his favor, a real personality, but there’s a Jekyll/Hyde aspect to him. He had a real sense of entitlement when he was set free and he is a very disturbed person.”
The Innocent Killer: A True Story of a Wrongful Conviction and its Astonishing Aftermath
by Michael Griesbach
Available locally at: Schuler Books & Music, 2660 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids