"This was an important story, people's lives and liberties were at stake…You wanted to make sure you were getting it right and asking the tough questions," says Making A Murderer's breakout journalist, Angenette Levy, who, at the time of Steven Avery's trial, was a reporter for WFRV-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Now reporting for WKRC-TV Cincinnati's 11 p.m. news, Levy says she is surprised—if not a little disconcerted—to find herself in the national spotlight after Netflix released the 10-part documentary last month. The bespectacled, no-nonsense journalist had "no idea" she would be in the series, and says the attention lavished on her appearance (she has been labeled "sexy" by sports sites and has stolen the hearts of many Twitter followers) is a "little creepy." "I hope people realize appearance isn't everything," she says. "Asking questions and trying to do a good job is much more important than how attractive a person might be."
Though Levy won't comment on whether she believes Avery is innocent, the star reporter takes us through her experience covering the case, revealing the biggest challenges she faced, and her thoughts on the documentary:
Below is an interview Levy recently gave to Elle.com.
In 'Making a Murderer' you stand out as someone asking the tough questions—of both the defense and the prosecution—during press conferences. People have certainly responded positively to your skepticism during those scenes. What was it like to cover the case as it was happening?
When evidence started to come in, particularly with that bullet fragment and contamination of control samples…We had heard about the bullet in a prior court hearing the summer before—the prosecutor had discussed it in a motion hearing, the fact that there was Teresa Halbach's DNA found on the bullet fragment—and once the trial started, you know, we had never heard there was an issue of contamination of control samples in the crime lab. So I was really shocked to hear about that, that it was allowed into evidence after the typical protocol of the lab was that it should be ruled inconclusive. That surprised me quite a bit, so I had a lot of questions about that. I just always have a lot of questions. I always wanted to know as much information as I could, just because I wanted to know what really happened that day. What was the evidence that pointed to Steven Avery? The bones that were found in the burn pit, because it wasn't photographed when it was first discovered, they couldn't definitively say that it was the primary burn site. Those are things you didn't know about prior to the trial, and you kind of think to yourself, 'Wow, what's going on here?' It's our job to ask tough questions of both sides and get the answers and you want to make sure you're reporting everything properly.
What were some challenges you came up against when covering the trials of both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey?
The whole thing was challenging. Everyone was scrambling to get every little story and every interview they could, and you couldn't get people to talk to you a lot of the time. Information came through court documents. There was always a challenge in just getting interviews, finding out information. They're not going to show you all the evidence that they have right up front. It was an important case, you wanted to make sure you were getting it right, exploring all the avenues and things that were being brought up. Steven Avery kept claiming he was being framed, so obviously you have to look into that and ask questions to figure it out. Not that it's our job to determine that, because it's not, but you have to keep that in mind. So we reported his claims that he was being framed, which he said from day one.
How do you think the media in general—especially prime time television news—covered the case? The documentary uses news clips that seem to say both Avery and Dassey were guilty before their trials even began...
There was a lot of coverage. It seemed like you couldn't turn on the television or read a newspaper without seeing something about the case. Even the most insignificant pre-trial motions would be reported on by the media. In the very beginning, when they charged Steven Avery, I think everyone was like, Whoa, this is crazy. This seems insane that somebody who was going to potentially be awarded millions of dollars would murder someone. Why would that happen?
So I always wanted to know from the very beginning, what really happened? It was just so weird, the fact that his blood was in her vehicle. It boggles your mind that a person, who's probably going to get all this money from a lawsuit, and then you just kill somebody? You always think about these things…Did someone else do it on the property and he helped clean up? Who knows. Steven knew how to do time in prison, he'd been there for 18 years, so was he taking the fall for somebody else? All these things kind of go through your mind. I think what changed was when Brendan Dassey was arrested. The press conference that the prosecutor held, that changed everything. We were all sitting there absolutely stunned. You can imagine what it was like sitting in a room listening to this story that he told, a horror story, it was really shocking. That really changed everything in the case. A lot of people in the general public then thought he was guilty.
The audience is left frustrated because the documentary makes clear Brendan Dassey has a learning disability, and portrays just how easily the criminal justice system can take advantage of young, uneducated people. Do you think the media did a good job of getting this point across during the trials?
We did report at the time that Brendan had a learning disability. I interviewed his mother the night he was arrested. I kind of stumbled upon her; I was knocking on doors and she granted me an interview. I felt very badly for her. She had told me Brendan had a learning disability, saying things like, 'He just does what he's told.' I know we reported it in the media, I just don't know how much weight people gave to that. I always felt very, very sad about Brendan Dassey's fate. It wasn't fair. He didn't have the money, and neither did his mother to get a really high-powered defense attorney like Steven Avery had. And I think you see that inequity in the documentary. I've never heard of a defense investigator coercing a client like that. You see how disturbing it was, what happened to him through this process.
How do you think national news media coverage can improve when it comes to criminal cases?
They need to not focus on the sensational. Instead, focus on trying to get the facts, the truth. You have to be circumspect and you have to show restraint sometimes in what you report. I don't think that every little tidbit has to be out there. You have to try and be fair. You have to be responsible in the information you disseminate, but at the same time you want to have an informed public. You want to do your job, but you have to balance that with not being prejudicial. It's a balancing act for sure.
Do you feel like the documentary presents is balanced and fair? Does what we experience, as an audience, reflect your experience of actually being there?
I think it's very clear that the documentarians had a lot of access to the Avery family. We didn't have that access. I wish we had had access to them, because I always wanted to talk to them more, but they typically didn't want anything to do with us. So I enjoyed seeing that part.
We obviously didn't have access to the defense team during the trial, either. Their main character in the story is Steven Avery, so I think you're going to see more of that side of it than you will the other side. [Avery] is the character through which you are looking at the criminal justice system, you're going to see more of that, and that's natural. There are some things [in the documentary] that weren't included, but you can't fit everything from an eight-week trial into a 10-hour documentary.
There were some things in the trail, for example, that did point to Steven Avery. There was some evidence about the garage floor lit up with luminol. [Editor's note: Forensic investigators use luminol, which reacts with the iron in hemoglobin, to detect trace amounts of blood at crime scenes.] But there was never any blood found in the garage, either. So I guess there are other substances that react with luminol and light up underneath it. [Editor's note: Luminol can also be triggered by copper, excessive cigarette smoke, horseradish sauce, fecal matter, and certain bleaches.] Steven Avery had requested Teresa Halbach that day. I know that really intrigued a lot of people during the trial, that he specifically requested her and that he had a *67 feature on his phone to hide his number. So, I think that interested people.
How do you feel about the attention you've received since the release of Making a Murderer?
It's kind of strange. I had no idea I was going to be in this documentary...People ask, Why didn't you ask this or why didn't you ask that? And I just think to myself, I probably did. It's not like they're going to put every question in the documentary. But, then sometimes I think, Maybe we didn't ask enough questions. Maybe we needed to ask more. But it's hard. Sometimes you do ask the question, but you don't get an answer.