'Making a Murderer' Case: What You Need to Know About Steven Avery
Steven Avery, the central figure in Netflix's controversial documentary series "Making a Murderer," has a long and tortured history with law enforcement.
Steven Avery, the central figure in Netflix's controversial documentary series "Making a Murderer," has a long and tortured history when it comes to law enforcement.
He spent 18 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. He is now back behind bars for the murder of a 25-year-old photographer named Teresa Halbach, a crime he also adamantly denies carrying out.
His first ray of hope for a possible appeal came this week when his outspoken attorney Kathleen Zellner won a request to get testing done on bones found outside the Avery property. They may belong to the murder victim, she said. If they do, that would undermine the prosecution's assertion that Halbach was killed and burned on Avery acreage.
Zellner sees the development as strategic to getting her client a new trial. Previous appeal petitions have all been denied.
So how did Avery come to be arrested for the killing of Halbach? Here's what you need to know about the case.
In 2005, Avery was arrested for the murder of Halbach, a photographer for the website Auto Trader. She had an appointment to photograph a vehicle that Avery's sister was selling at the family's 40-acre junkyard called Avery's Auto Salvage. His then-16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, was also arrested.
Dassey, in a videotaped confession, said he had helped rape and kill Halbach, at Avery's insistence. Two years later, both were convicted in separate trials and ordered to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
The teen's four-hour confession contained horrifying details. Halbach was "roped up to the bed and ... her legs were cuffed. And then he told me to have sex with her, and so I did because I thought I was not gonna get away from 'em cause he was too strong, so I did what he said," Dassey told investigators of Avery.
Afterward, Avery untied her and took her out to the garage "and then he stabbed her and then he told me to," Dassey said. "And, after that, he wanted to make sure she was dead or something, so he shot her five times, and while he was doing that I wasn't looking, because I can't watch that stuff," Dassey said.
The two burned Halbach's remains, along with her clothes, Dassey told authorities.
However, the teen later recanted the confession, which was given without a lawyer present. It was claimed Dassey was coerced and intimidated by investigators. Attempts by Dassey's attorneys to have his confession overturned have bounced through state and federal courts since his conviction.
"Without his confession, there wasn't much of a case," Brian Leslie, a forensic expert specializing in coercive police interrogation and interviewing techniques, told InsideEdition.com. With a suspect like Dassey, with reported intellectual disabilities, interrogators often try to build a rapport so the suspect will see them as being good guys trying to help, Leslie said.
"Especially in someone as young as Dassey," he said. "You can convince a 16-year-old of anything, especially if they're in a vulnerable position."
In 2016, a U.S. magistrate overturned Dassey's conviction, saying his constitutional rights were violated because authorities made false promises to him about what would happen if he cooperated. A year later, a federal appellate court reinstated his conviction, saying Dassey had not been intimidated by his questioners, who offered him drinks, food and restroom breaks.
Dassey's attorneys took their appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos spent 10 years filming and gathering information about Avery. When "Making a Murderer" debuted in 2015, as a 10-part true crime documentary, it quickly became a household name. More than 20 million viewers watched the series within 35 days of its release, according to Netflix.
The series examined the judicial and law enforcement processes surrounding the case, and suggested evidence could have been planted by law enforcement officers, and that Dassey's confession, which blew the case apart, was obtained by pressuring the teenage suspect.
As a result, a great many people came to believe Avery and his nephew had been wrongly convicted. More than 400,000 people signed a Change.org petition asking then-President Obama to pardon the men. A separate initiative at Whitehouse.gov gathered another 129,000 signatures.
The White House had to issue a statement explaining the president cannot grant pardons for state criminal convictions.
Not long after, critics began speaking out against the series, saying it was manipulative and omitted key evidence that bolstered the prosecution's case and also omitted Avery's history of violent behavior. He was convicted in 1982 of animal cruelty for pouring gas on his family's cat and watching it burn in a bonfire. He was sentenced to jail and was released in August 1983. In January 1985, his cousin testified Avery had rammed her car and forced her off the road. He pointed a gun at her head and accused her of spreading rumors about him, she said.
He was charged with endangering safety while "evincing a depraved mind" and with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to six years.
But what happened six months later would change the entire course of Avery's life. In July, a woman named Penny Beernsten was attacked and raped while jogging along Lake Michigan. She picked Avery from a photo lineup and a live lineup. He was convicted and sentenced to 32 years in prison.
He adamantly maintained his innocence. And he was proven to be right. In 2002, using DNA testing that wasn't available in 1985, the Wisconsin Innocence Project proved the assailant was really a local criminal named Gregory Allen, who was already behind bars for another assault.
Allen and Avery were very similar in appearance, officials said.
In 2003, Avery was released from the Stanley Correctional Institution amid much attention from local and national media outlets for being wrongfully convicted and losing nearly two decades of his life.
Two years later, Halbach was murdered. Avery and his nephew were arrested after her car was found hidden on Avery's property and her charred remains were discovered in a pit at the salvage yard. The burned remnants of her purse, phone and camera were also found in a barrel outside the salvage yard's office, authorities said.
Ricciardi and Demos read about the case in The New York Times and were very curious about Avery's latest entrance into the criminal justice system. They wanted to document the trial, and interview those involved, they said. Both ended up moving to Wisconsin as their work stretched over a decade.
Avery's family stood by him.
But investigators learned later that Halbach had been to the Avery property at least 15 times to photograph cars for sale and that she told her employers she didn't want to go back because she was "creeped out" by Avery, who once answered the door wearing only a towel, prosecutors said.
The judge ruled those details could not be presented to the jury because "the date wasn't clear and few details were known about the alleged encounter," The Associated Press reported.
Avery specifically asked for Halbach when he booked an appointment on Oct. 31 with Auto Trader, and used the name of his sister, Barb Janda, saying she had a red minivan she wanted to sell, prosecutors said.
He allegedly did so to lure Halbach to the family business, authorities said, and phone records showed he placed three calls to her cellphone on the day she disappeared, using the *67 feature to hide the number he was calling from.
On Nov. 9, in a videotaped interview with Det. Mark Wiegert of the Calumet County Sheriff's Office and Thomas Fassbender of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Avery said Halbach arrived between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Halloween, photographed his sister's van, and he paid her $40 cash. The encounter didn't last longer than five minutes, he told the officers, and the last he saw of Halbach, she was in her car, headed toward the end of his road, with her left turn signal on.
He also told the investigators that all of the evidence found on his property, including Halbach's car, her belongings and her car key must have been planted in order to frame him.
From the beginning of the Halbach case, Avery claimed local authorities were trying to frame him because he had sued Manitowoc County for $36 million over his wrongful conviction. His attorneys had been taking depositions for that civil suit when he became the focus of Halbach's murder investigation.
Zellner, Avery's post-conviction lawyer, said investigators and prosecutors acted improperly in not sharing bone fragment evidence found off the junkyard property. The fragments were instead given to the Halbach family without undergoing DNA testing.
Monday's ruling allowing Avery a new day in court was seen as a major victory by Zellner, who tweeted "We Won!!!!!" after learning her client's case was being sent back to Wisconsin's circuit court, where Zellner will request that DNA testing be performed on the bone fragments.
She hopes the hearing, which has not been scheduled, will pave the way to a retrial for her client.
On her law firm's website, Zellner writes, "Our goal is to vacate Mr. Avery's 2007 conviction and sentence."
She vows to pursue that goal no "matter how long it takes, what it costs or what obstacles we have to cover come — our efforts to win Mr. Avery's freedom will never stop."
Meanwhile, the second season of Netflix's "Making a Murderer," which chronicles events after his trial, is streaming on Netflix.
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