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Judge Rules Against Netflix, Says Former Detective’s Defamation Suit Against ‘Making A Murderer' Can Proceed

Former Manitowoc County Sheriff's Det. Andrew L. Colborn is suing the streaming service and the makers behind the popular docuseries, arguing he was unfairly portrayed as a corrupt investigator.

Steven Avery

A federal judge has ruled against Netflix, determining that a retired detective's defamation lawsuit against the streaming service and the filmmakers behind the "Making a Murderer” docuseries can go forward.

United States District Judge Brett H. Ludwig ruled on May 26 that former Manitowoc County Sheriff's Det. Andrew L. Colborn adequately pleaded claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The former detective had filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin in 2018, claiming that the series portrayed him unfairly. 

The lawsuit argues that the popular series falsely blamed him for planting evidence to frame Steven Avery for the killing of Teresa Halbach, WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin reported in 2018. The first season of the show, released in 2015, raised questions about the convictions of Avery and his nephew Brandon Dassey, both of whom were sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for the murder of Halbach, a photographer, two years earlier. The documentary suggested that police might have planted evidence on Avery’s property and that investigators took advantage of Dassey’s limited intellect in order to coax him into confessing. It has led many to believe in the innocence of the two convicted men. Colborn claims that the widely popular series was misleading in a way that injured his reputation.

"Defendants omitted, distorted, and falsified material and significant facts in an effort to portray [Colborn] as a corrupt police officer who planted evidence to frame an innocent man. Defendants did so with actual malice and in order to make the film more profitable and more successful in the eyes of their peers," the lawsuit states.

Because Ludwig denied Netflix and the filmmakers’ motions to dismiss the lawsuit, that means it will move forward in federal court. “Making a Murderer” filmmakers wanted the case to be thrown out, claiming that Colborn failed to serve them in a timely manner with his complaints, according to WBAY. They also pointed to the statute of limitations, but the judge disagreed.

“Whether Colborn can muster sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Netflix and the other defendants defamed him with 'actual malice' remains to be seen. But until the summary judgment record is complete, it would be improper for the Court to resolve this issue,” Ludwig stated in his ruling, according to WBAY.

Meanwhile, Avery's post-conviction lawyer Kathleen Zellner continues to fight for Avery's appeal. In April, she said a new witness claims they saw Bobby Dassey —Avery’s nephew and the brother of Brendan Dassey — pushing Halbach's vehicle in Avery's junkyard hours before it was discovered by investigators. During season 2 of "Making a Murderer," Zellner pointed to Bobby Dassey as a possible suspect in the murder.

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