In the fabrication of mercuric iodide room temperature radiation detectors, as in any semiconductor process, the quality of the final device can be very sensitive to the details of the processing steps. Each processing step can either reduce the intrinsic defects and those extrinsic defects introduced by earlier steps, or it can introduce new defects. In mercuric iodide these defects can act as trapping and recombination centers, thereby degrading immediate device performance or leading to long-term reliability problems. With careful study and monitoring of each step, the process can be modified to improve the end product. In this work we used several techniques to study processing steps and their effects. Photoluminescence spectroscopy and photoionization revealed defects introduced during processing. One critical step is the formation of electrical contacts, as both the material choice and deposition method have an impact. Four point probe sheet resistance methods were used to characterize the loss of material from the contact as it reacted with or moved into the bulk semiconductor. Ellipsometry was used to characterize the intrinsic optical functions of the material, and to study the effects of surface aging on these functions. Results from this work provide suggestions for the modification and monitoring of the detector fabrication process.