Zachary Klein

zach1ProfileWhat’s important about Making A Murderer ( MaM) isn’t the fate of the defendants in and of itself, but what it exposes about the cancerous underbelly of our criminal justice system. We read or watch the ongoing news reports about police shootings of unarmed citizens and the mass incarceration of people of color, but what MaM brings to the table is the gut shock of knowing that this case is no isolated incident. Rather, some variation of theme happens somewhere, maybe more than one somewhere, all across our country every day.

I’m no stranger to conspiracy theories. Researching an aborted espionage novel way back when, I pored through the 1975 United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (Church Committee) and, the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (Pike Committee). These hearings made public the “family jewels”—that is, the CIA’s clandestine and covert actions throughout much of the world—which left little doubt that, at times, conspiracies do indeed exist.

But my relationship to conspiracies didn’t turn out to be purely academic. While working for a number of national law firms as a trial and jury consultant I was asked to spend most of a summer investigating the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City in an attempt to discover whether the Federal government had any foreknowledge about the attack. (Another story for another time.)

And my connection to conspiracies didn’t stop at alleged federal malfeasance. I also spent years with different law firms uncovering an entire industry’s lies to its workers, the government, and the public for more than two decades about the lethal effects of its manufacturing processes and some of its products. Thousands upon thousands of documents were unearthed, clear evidence that major players from different corporations within that industry conspired to keep virtually all negative information buried.

Still, despite my library time and personal experience, I’m really leery and usually react with skepticism when I hear people talking or writing about one conspiracy after another. It all begins to feel like Mad Magazine. So, when I first read about Netflix’s original documentary, Making a Murderer, I had, as usual, a raised eyebrow.

Filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi spent ten years working on this series which traces Steven Avery once he was freed from prison after spending eighteen years incarcerated due to a wrongful rape conviction. (Project Innocence and DNA were responsible for his exoneration.)

Thirteen months after his release, October 12, 2004, Avery brought a thirty-six million dollar federal lawsuit for a wrongful conviction against Wisconsin’s Manitowoc County, its former Sheriff, Thomas Kocourek, and former District Attorney Denis Vogel. About a year and change after filing suit (November 9, 2005) Avery was arrested and charged with the murder and incineration of a young, twenty-something photographer, Teresa Halbach. Eventually his sixteen year old nephew, Brendan Dassey, was also charged along with Steven.

The series explores the incredibly sloppy, manipulative, and likely illegal police work that went into Avery’s first conviction and, subsequently, MaM takes a hard look at the police, Manitowoc’s sheriff, and DA as they build the Halbach murder case against both the uncle and nephew.

In stark terms, the documentary raises the question of whether the defendants were flat-out framed in response to the lawsuit which might have ruined the county’s finances and exposed the extraordinary incompetence and/or outrageously illegal police behavior.

About halfway into the documentary, the police’s unwillingness to look at any other potential perpetrators, the hinkiness of evidence discovery and collection, the refusal by the Sheriff’s office to stay away from the investigation despite their own self-recusel, and what appeared to be a coordinated love dance between the DA, Sheriff’s office, police, and eventually the judiciary made neutrality unimaginable—whether or not the accused were, in fact, innocent or guilty. The interrogation scenes of Brendan alone were a textbook rendition on how not to conduct an interview if one was after even a scintilla of truth. Worse, this “Reid Method” of interviewing suspects is used throughout the U.S. despite the serious and significant issues with its reliability.

(More unnerving than the police’s behavior toward Brendan, his own court appointed attorney and the attorney’s “investigator” worked hand in glove with the authorities—using the same interrogation techniques—to ensure convictions, not only for Steven, but Brendan as well. The fact that this attorney is still allowed to practice is mind-boggling.)

The scope of the series also includes the effects of the murder charges on the extended Avery family and, at least, Teresa Halbach’s brother as they react to the investigation, trials, and verdicts. Although none are folks with whom I could particularly identify, (including the two defendants), watching the toll those ten years take is excruciatingly painful.

As with any controversial work, the discussion that has ensued following the film’s release rages on. Those who believe the two men were railroaded have petitioned and demanded federal investigations of Manitowoc County. And, of course, those who are, or were, in positions of authority within the county, decry the film’s point of view claiming much of what was ignored in the documentary confirmed the State’s case, the jury’s conclusion, and the two judge’s sentences.

No matter the arguments, Making a Murderer raises huge questions about how our criminal justice system actually functions. I really don’t know whether Avery and Dassey are guilty or not. Frankly, the courtroom drama and verdicts aren’t the film’s wake up call. The Manitowoc County’s police, Sherriff’s office, D.A., and judges are worse than simply an embarrassment to a country that claims justice is blind. Blind does not mean corrupt and venal with revenge as its first order of importance which was the likely reality behind Avery and Dassey’s prosecution. The overt and clearly detailed abuse of power that rained upon the two defendants left me sickened. And this despite my “conspiracy” experience and my work with a Court appointed criminal defense attorney.

All that legal work quashed much of my respect for our criminal and civil justice system. Making Of a Murderer has damn near eliminated the rest.

“Most of what ails our criminal justice system lie in unwarranted certitude on the part of police officers and prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges and jurors that they are getting it right. That they are simply right. Just a tragic lack of humility in everyone who participates in our criminal justice system”  ~ Dean Strang (One of Steven Avery’s defense attorneys.)


  I’m not a detective, though I have made one up. But this week I’ve been re-reading the Oscar tweets and Matt Jacob ( invaded my head. Who the hell was this Oscar fellow?  Was there a real man behind the little gold? Since this year was the Awards’ 85th birthday, Oscar Sr. would no longer be with us, but that’s no problem for the man who interviews the dead. Or so I thought.

My first call went to Louis B. Mayer who initiated the awards in 1927.

Me:  “Mr. Mayer? My name is Zachary Klein and I have a series…”

Mayer:  “You think I’m stupid? Word gets around. You interview the dead—and it’s about damn time that you finally fucking called.”

Me:  “I’m sorry but I didn’t call to interview you—today, that is. Of course you are on my list.”

If I had a list.

Mayer:  “Then why the hell you bothering me? You think I got gornisht to do?  Down here, we’ve always got deals to make and people to fire!”

Me:  “I’m looking for the person the Oscar was named after and thought you would know.”

Mayer:  “You dug me up to ask that?”

Me:  “Mr. Mayer, I haven’t dug you up. It’s a telephone call.”

Mayer:  “Not that big a difference when you’re busy or sleeping, dammit!”

My temper got the better of me.

Me:  “Fuck it, I’ll find someone else.”

Mayer:  “Don’t get your shwartz twisted. It was either Bette Davis who said the damn statue looked like her uncle or columnist Sid Skolsky who claims he stole it from an old music hall joke with the tagline, ‘Will you have a cigar, Oscar?’  Frankly, I don’t give a damn and don’t know why you do either.”

I thought about explaining but his attitude continued to piss me off.

Me:  “Well, I appreciate the information and will let you go.”

Mayer:  “You coming back?”

Me:  “If you’ll let me.”

Mayer: “We’ll see.”

I guess what people say about old time movie moguls is true. They are pricks. Still, I had two leads and I didn’t need a weatherman to tell me who I was going to contact first.

No easy do. The administrators at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills were a tough crew to get past and it took my interview with Richard lll before they accepted my bone fides as an interviewer of the dead. Or maybe they were just impressed that I flew out there despite their repeated refusals. No matter, I was finally sitting on the flat stones in front of her grave-site monument. 

Divas aren’t an easy get either. But if I learned anything writing novels and chasing dead people, I’d learned persistence.

I started off with my usual calling card but nada. Then tried raising my voice. Worse, the afternoon was creeping toward 5 o’clock, when I had agreed to leave. Then I remembered going with my grandmother to her first husband’s grave-site. She’d find a few rocks to tap on his stone. Although I kept a “safe” distance, after a few moments of knocking, Grandma engaged in animated conversations.

Why not? But even finding stones was difficult, given the care the groundskeepers gave these VIPs. Once I finally wedged a couple of pebbles from the ground I began tapping away like a woodpecker. That is, until I heard a throaty voice chuckle, “Not so loud, Darling. You’re waking the dead,!”

Me:  “Is that you, Ms. Davis?”

Davis:  “Who else were you expecting?”

She emerged from the white marble and I caught my breath. Don’t know what I expected—perhaps it was because I had recently interviewed Richard III—but she was drop-dead gorgeous. Tiny, flashing blue eyes, in a striking black and grey dress, black gloves and hat.

Davis:  “Where are we going, Sweetheart?”

Me:  “Actually I promised to leave and have you back inside by five.”

Davis:  “But I began dressing when you first shouted. You do have an awfully loud voice.”

Me:  “Just trying to get your attention.”

Davis:  “Well, you have it—though apparently not for long. What is it you want?”

I knew she was upset about not leaving the grounds so I quickly explained why I’d come and told her what Mayer had recounted.  She burst out laughing.

Davis:  “Louie. What a pip! Was he smoking one of those foul smelling cigars?”

Me:  “We were on the phone.”

Davis:  “He took your call. I’m impressed. You really must have a knack for this line of work.”

Me:  “Not a lot of competition. So, was Mr. Meyer accurate about how Oscar got his name? That you said the statue looked like your uncle?”

Davis:  “Ahh, I guess we’re all growing old. Louie always remembered everything but not anymore. I never had an Uncle Oscar. That comment was made by Margaret Herrick, the Academy librarian. You tell me whether you’ve ever seen a statue named after a librarian’s uncle?

Now, my first husband’s middle name was Oscar, but all I ever said was that the statue’s ass looked like his. Ham was a wonderful musician, but nobody ever named anything after his behind.”

Me:  “What about the Sydney Skolsky story? Do you know whether that was true?”

Davis’s lips curled in obvious contempt.

Davis: “‘Will you have a cigar, Oscar?’  Please. Louie must be losing it cooped up for so long. He probably offered mini-Winchell one of his.”

Me:  “‘mini-Winchell?”

Davis:  “A nasty small minded man who used Schwabb’s for an office once he came out here. He’s nothing but a self-serving liar. Just look at his Times Square Tintypes.”

Me:  “So no cigar, no uncle, and not your husband. His middle name is just a coincidence?”

Davis:  “Just a coincidence. Frankly, Darling, nobody really knows why that award is named Oscar and nobody ever will.”

I glanced at my watch and saw it was time. Ms. Davis noticed.

Davis:  “You’re ready to leave, aren’t you?”

I saw Security walking in our direction.

Me:  “I promised and they’re going to hold me to it.”

Davis looked over my shoulder with a half-smile.

Davis:  “I’ve been known to cause a fuss, but today I’ll just go for the dramatic exit.”

I left Forest Lawn and debated hunting for Sydney Skolsky. I asked myself what Matt Jacob would do and a voice crashed through my head. “Some mysteries are better left unsolved! You just heard Bette Davis tell you that a statue’s ass looked like her husband’s. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”




ME:  Has a mani-cam which allows celebrities to show their fingernails.  Why discriminate against foot folks?  Where is the pedi-cam?

Tristan ?@TristanAriel:  Bradley Cooper mom is a real philly chick talking bout “hi philadelphia” on the red carpet lol.

Vulture ?@vultureThe @fuggirls: “The nipple darts on Hathaway’s dress are INTENSE.”Henry Schulman ?@hankschulman:  If I were on the red carpet and was asked “whom I was wearing” I could honestly say, “Why, this is from the house of Kirkland.”

Adam Goldenberg@adamgoldenberg: The #Oscars are about to be overrun by millions of dogs, all drawn to the sound of Kristin Chenoweth’s voice.



ME:  This ain’t your father’s Oscars. Which actresses showed their boobs in movies? A flying nun tonguing Sally Fields??

@HuffingtonPost: “I got a bottle of wine and some Boniva..” Seth MacFarlane as Flying Nun hits on Sally Field #Oscars” Funniest line so far.

Beth ?@thecoolbeth:  My mom just called me and asked “who is Seth MacFarlane.”

Thomas ?@thoscarpenter:  Tommy Lee Jones’s face looks like a relief map of the ocean floor.

Diane Sharp ?@DSharpie:  Bob DeNiro for pretending to be an Eagles fan. Even Philadelphians can’t do that anymore.

Michael J. Listner ?@ponder68@MarsTweep:   Better to watch #thewalkingdead. At least the zombies are fiction unlike those at #oscars.

Roger Ebert@ebertchicago:  My four stars for the breath-taking vision of “Life of Pi.”

erica@futt:  who decided it would be a good idea to play off the “life of pi” team with the “jaws” music?

Tom Storch@TomRStorch:  Best Bond: George Lazenby. So good he only needed to do one.

Anuya J@boozeandshooze:  Wow that Bond montage was as long as Les Mis.

Sabrina Kalliope@SawBreeNah:  I want to be a Bond Girl. I’m doing lunges right now.

jess.@JessWolfy:  is it sad that i only like watching the #oscars for all the #prettydresses?

michael epps@michael_epps:  Dame Shirley in the house!

Mark Estano@mje1986: The Bond retrospective just proved that Daniel Craig is the sexiest Bond girl ever.

Ben Bavalia@ben_bav:  Enjoying the use of #Jaws soundtrack to force the winners off!

mazie jacoby@mazmaxjac:  I’m only alive to watch the #oscars and Olympic gymnastics. And listen to Bob Dylan.

El Jefe@jefesural  Best Doc or ‘life is far more horrid than you know so we’re making a movie about it’.

Brit Tait Kellogg@BTaitKellogg RT @WINonline: RT @WSJ:  The median age of an Academy voter is 62. They are 94% Caucasian and 77% male. 

Gregg Pavone@LimelightSignCo:  If he doesn’t win best director, Ben Affleck should get an honorary Oscar for overcoming the J-Lo years.

Alex Fitzpatrick@alexleefitz:  I’m an asshole and even I think the Jaws playoff music is a little much.

Steve Hofstetter@SteveHofstetter:  Sacha Baron Cohen went from Borat and Bruno to kicking ass in Les Mis. I’d like to see Larry the Cable Guy try that.

George-Anne A&E@GeorgeAnneAandE:  Poor Marky Mark was in “The Departed” a few years ago and is now having to pretend to be standing next to a teddy bear.

Shelby Taylor@ShelbyxPwns:  Not gonna lie, Ted is fucking my mind right now.

Love My Ice@harglo123:  Jesus, couldn’t get a tux to fit, Wahlberg??

Tyler Vivian@tylervivian:  even Bud Selig is appalled that the #Oscars can have a tie.

Brendan Andrew@BrendanDarr:  Dudes with long hair haven’t gotten this much run since Almost Famous.

Joy Noelle@JoNoSo:  Soooo if you have a long speech you get eaten by a shark?

Konrad Johnson@KonradJohnson:  The last #oscars tie was in 1969, when Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for Best Actress.

Mitch Kinard@mitchkinard:  One day, Tarantino will be 80 years old, and there will never be a more terrifying underbite to receive such acclaim.

Charles Mayaka@TheMayaka:  Are we that sensitive to our history that we can’t even have a clip of Django?

Jordana Stein@jordanastein:   All the old people at our oscar party just died over Babs performance.

On The Red Carpet@OnTheRedCarpet:  That was the first time Barbra Streisand performed at the Oscars in 36 years.

MT @waitwait:  I know there’s probably a rule or something, but don’t you wish the tiger from Life of Pi was there in a tuxedo?

Zandile Blay Amihere@zandile:  i will always be profoundly confused by renee zelleweger’s face. always.

Dennis Lawson@gr33nazn:  Just 2 more Botox injections and Renee Zellweger’s eyes will disappear forever.

Tom + Lorenzo®@tomandlorenzo:  Chicago is now the frontrunner to win Best Picture.

Tom Bodett@TomBodett:  I’d like to go up to bed, but my legs are asleep all the way to my ears.

nick kroll@nickkroll:  Ladies and gentlemen, the academy would like to recognize one of everything!

Well folks, my legs are working but, in my attempt to bring you an overview of pop culture, I was able to watch this mind-numbing exercise until 11 P.M.–one hour longer than last year.

Must have been the naked breast song at the beginning of the show.



The lights began to slowly brighten as the movie credits rolled onto the giant screen; Jack Reacher had reached its end. We stood and I could feel Sue’s eyes rake my face.

“Okay,” I said, “it was a bad movie and Cruise was wooden.”

There, I’d done it. Bared my neck and waited for her teeth. But she was kind. Must have been because it was our mini-honeymoon (mini-moon) in Providence. Still, I couldn’t help myself.

“I’m not crazy about him as an action hero either, you know.”

“I know,” Sue replied, her voice trailing off as if she wanted to say more but didn’t.

And there it was. An agreement to disagree, debate avoided. We’ve been having this “discussion” for decades and neither of us have given an inch, so this truce was really the best I could hope for.

Ever since Dustin Hoffman won an Academy Award for Rain Man in 1988, I’d become a Tom Cruise champion. I couldn’t believe they gave the Oscar to Hoffman while Cruise’s performance was rich, nuanced, with a real and believable arc.

I hadn’t been surprised by his ability. Nor was I surprised by his willingness to play against a super strong older actor. He’d done it before in The Color Of Money with Paul Newman and more than held his own. He would also do it again. A number of times.

Still Sue couldn’t understand why I believed he should have won Best Actor.

“Hoffman’s performance was terrific and Cruise is a lightweight.”

“What are you saying? You’ve seen Hoffman on talk shows. He damn near played himself in the movie.”

“It was different enough. And you still haven’t said anything about Cruse’s shallowness.”

“Because he isn’t!”

“I suppose not–if you reduce the idea of what being a man is to brash assertiveness.”

And so it has gone. When Cruise’s name comes up and I say tomato, Sue potato. Even when she actually likes one of his films.

But I haven’t come here today to bury Susan; I’ve come to praise Tom.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t much enjoy him in action pictures—though, I thought he was pretty good in Brian De Palma’s Mission Impossible. And the only thing I enjoyed about Eyes Wide Shut was Nichole Kidman. While I’m at it, I thought Days of Thunder was a clichéd story despite good performances by Cruise, Kidman, and especially Robert Duval—it was also another film where Cruise held his own working alongside a brilliant older male actor.

Sure, there are plenty of dogs in his portfolio. But when you look at the totality of his work I think it’s mission impossible to denigrate his acting prowess:

Top Gun where he fit the role perfectly.

All The Right Moves where said: “Tom Cruise shines as a high school football player desperately trying to land a college scholarship so he can leave his small town…” And rated the movie #18 in all time best football flicks. (Personally, I’d have rated it higher but that’s me. Yes, few can beat Dallas North Forty, but I never was a Knute Rockne or William Bendix fan—except for The Life Of Riley.)

A Few Good Men. The money line was shouted by Jack Nicholson, but once again Cruise was spot on with his portrayal of Lt. Daniel Kaffee and stood strong in the face of Nicholson’s performance and fury.

Jerry Maguire. “Show me the money!!” Nuff said.

And finally, what I consider his greatest role as Ron Kovic in the amazing film Born On The Fourth Of July. Cruise handled his part with Academy Award winning brilliance, hitting just the right notes throughout the entire movie.

There are many more, but I’d like to add just one cameo appearance in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Whatever one thinks of the movie (frankly, I loved it, as dumb and crazy as it was) Cruise’s moments on camera as a Hollywood producer simply stole the show. The memory of his bald head bobbing as he danced around his Los Angeles office is forever burned into my brain.

I’m not Pauline Kael, James Agee, or Roger Ebert, so to cement my case, let me list the directors who have chosen to cast him in their films.

Franco Zeffirelli (Endless Love, 1981)

Francis Ford Coppola (The Outsiders, 1983)

Ridley Scott (Legend, 1985)

Tony Scott (Top Gun, 1986)

Martin Scorsese (The Color Of Money, 1986)

Barry Levinson (Rain Man, 1988)

Oliver Stone (Born On The Fourth Of July, 1989)

Ron Howard (Far And Away, 1992)

Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men, 1992)

Sydney Pollack (The Firm, 1993)

Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, 1996)

Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, 2002)

Michael Mann (Collateral, 2004)

Robert Redford (Lions For Lambs, 2007)

I’m in some seriously good company.

When I showed this post to Sue, she quickly eyeballed my lists. “So?”

“‘So?’ What do you mean ‘so?’ Look at that list of directors. Look at the movies he’s been in!”

“He’s still shallow.”

I shook my head, searching for a comeback. All I could finally manage was, “but you’ll never forget him skidding across the floor only wearing BVDs in Risky Business, will you?”

Don’t forget Zach’s frequent consumer protection statement: I make stuff up. –Susan Goodman