Like everyone else in the world (everyone else a week ago?), I finished Netflix's Making a Murderer this weekend, and entered a state of stupor-grade bummed-out. It was a dark cloud that did not abate until I had to go review a crazy experimental play last night and I could transfer my attention from our deeply broken criminal justice system (and the confusingly crush-worthy <3 Dean Strang and Jerry Buting <3) to whales. Like you do.
There are a lot of reasons to feel depressed after finishing Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi's 10-part true crime series. But I kept coming back to this depressing phrase uttered by former state prosecutor Ken Kratz: "little girl."
A "little girl" is how Kratz described homicide victim Teresa Halbach, who was in fact 25 when she was killed, and whose murder Kratz and the state worked tirelessly to pin onto Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey. Avery had previously been targeted for a crime he didn't commit 18 years ago, and Dassey is currently still serving time because of a confession he gave under duress that was clearly coerced. Again. Plenty of reasons to be troubled. But I kept coming back to that odd description, indicative as it was of such bizarre condescension toward a homicide victim. Why would Kratz call a grown woman a little girl?
The weird thing is that I don't think he misspoke. Watching Making a Murderer, I wanted to dry-heave every time I heard Kratz's throaty, simpering quaver as he expounded, full of righteous passionate intensity (in a bad way), upon the supposed evil of Avery and his nephew, an idea of evil cast in stark contrast with the idea of innocence—not anyone's legal right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, of course, but the archetypal innocence of a "little girl."
Even though the only little girl in this case is the one in Kratz's imagination.
The worldview encapsulated in that weird little phrase strikes me as being almost absurdly paternalistic. Those men are evil. That woman isn't even a woman, she's a little girl. It would seem to suggest that Teresa Halbach's death is only tragic if she's reduced to a virginal, childlike figure, a pure scrim off which to show How Very Bad These Men Are. This is a classic trope of dead girl narratives—fictional ones. It doesn't belong in a court of law. And it's especially strange given Kratz's—and the state's—adherence to a timeline for the crime that was pulled not from a thorough investigation but a coerced confession from a minor. Instead of any gesture towards finding out what really happened, we enter Kratz's "I am the dad!" world of absolutes.
The Halbach case is obviously a confusing mess. It's unlikely we'll ever know what happened to Teresa Halbach, and the more I find out about it (what the fuck was going on with her voicemails?), the more confusing it becomes. But what isn't a point of confusion is that Halbach wasn't "a little girl." She was an adult. So for Kratz to whinily call her anything else is unsettling, suggesting that somehow the death of a grown woman isn't tragedy enough.
Perhaps not surprisingly (since creepy paternalism doesn't exist in a vacuum), Kratz's weirdly gendered condescension also extends to text messages he used to proposition a 25-year-old domestic abuse victim in 2010, when he was prosecuting her abuser. "I'm serious! I'm the atty," he wrote in one. "I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!"
His law license was suspended for four months following the scandal. In closing: