Netflix has been streaming Steven Avery’s story since 2015. It is entitled Making a Murderer and is 10 episodes long. In case you aren’t familiar, Avery was convicted of a sexual assault in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and served 18 years, only to be freed after DNA proved he was innocent. That’s lousy. The interesting codicil however is that in 2005, Avery did worse – he allegedly murdered photographer Teresa Halbach. He was again convicted, this time in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The case is under appeal as of January 2016. The public is torn between Avery’s possible innocence and possible guilt. I suspect this reaction stems from a number of reasons: that Avery has already been incarcerated for another crime he didn’t commit.; his low IQ could make him susceptible to agreeing with police officers that he committed a crime he didn’t commit; he already has a criminal record. Is it really possible that a person could be wrongly convicted twice? That would take quite a roll of the dice. But then again, nothing is entirely impossible within the justice system.
Avery was born in Manitowoc County. He has an IQ of 70, officially making him mentally handicapped. People who knew him stated he “barely functioned in school“. In 1982, Avery met single mother Lori Mathiesen, and they married in July 24 of that year. They had four children: Rachel, Jenny, and twins Steven and Will. In March 1981, at age 18, Avery was convicted of burglarizing a bar with a friend and sentenced to two years in prison. Avery served ten months in the Manitowoc County Jail, was placed on probation for five years, and was ordered to pay restitution. In 1982, at age 20, Avery and another man were convicted of animal cruelty for pouring gasoline and oil on Avery’s cat and throwing it into a fire. For this sick act, he was sentenced to prison for nine months. Avery said “I was young and stupid, and hanging out with the wrong people.” Well, sure hanging out with the wrong people does tend to lead to extreme animal cruelty in most people.
In 1985, Avery was charged with assaulting his cousin after he ran her off the road at gunpoint. The cousin had complained that Avery exposed himself when she drove past his house. Avery was sentenced to six years for endangering the safety of another person. According to Avery, the gun was not loaded, and he was trying to stop her from spreading false rumors about him. At every step Avery’s crimes were worsening.
The Sexual Assault
On July 29, 1985, at approximately 3:50 p.m., Penny Ann Beernsten was out running along the Lake Michigan shoreline and was apprehended by an unknown man who forced her into a wooded area and sexually assaulted her. Based on a physical description of Beernsten’s attacker, police provided a photo array of nine men. Beernsten selected the photograph of Steven Avery, who was arrested the following day. At trial, Beernsten identified Avery as her attacker. A state forensic examiner testified that a hair recovered from a shirt of Avery’s was consistent with Beernsten’s hair.
Avery presented 16 alibi witnesses, including the clerk of a store in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who recalled Avery, accompanied by his wife and five children, buying paint from the store. In April of 2002, attorneys for the Wisconsin Innocence Project obtained a court order for DNA testing and using the FBI DNA database, it linked a hair to Gregory Allen, a convicted felon who bore a striking resemblance to Avery. Allen was then serving a 60-year prison term for a sexual assault in Green Bay that occurred after the attack on Beernsten. On September 11, 2003, a request brought by the Manitowoc District Attorney’s Office and the Wisconsin Innocence Project to dismiss the charges was granted and Avery was released.
On October 31, 2005, Teresa Halbach met with Steven Avery at his home on the grounds of Avery’s Auto Salvage to photograph his sister’s minivan for a sales ad in Auto Trader Magazine. She went missing the same day. In the weeks leading up to the murder, Avery had contacted Halbach and repeatedly asked her to attend his garage to take the pictures. Halbach had complained to her boss that she didn’t want to go out to Avery’s trailer anymore, because once when she came out, Avery was waiting for her wearing only a towel.
Dassey informed investigators that Avery brought him into the bedroom of his trailer where a nude Halbach was tied to his bed. She begged Dassey to save her life. Avery detailed how he planned on murdering Halbach. Dassey participated in her rape as Halbach begged for her life. Halbach was stabbed and strangled to death. Avery also mutilated the woman’s corpse.
On November 11, Avery was charged with the murder of Halbach after her car and charred bone fragments were found at the salvage yard. That’s about as damning as any evidence as prosecutors will get in a murder trial. On March 2, 2006, Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, was charged with being an accomplice to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and first-degree sexual assault after confessing to investigators. He was convicted in a separate trial. The Making of a Murder series seems to have proven that there was a tremendous amount of police misconduct in the case. At least one piece of evidence pointed to the police planting evidence against Avery. However, Dassey, in a phone call from prison with his mother, stated Avery had indeed murdered Halbach and that Avery had forced him to participate.
Avery’s son, Bill, gave an interview to People Magazine where he protested, “I don’t think he did it.” However his twin brother Steve Jr., stated “Only one person can answer that and that is Teresa. But she can’t answer it no more.”
Bill stated, “I just see him as a complete stranger. I know that he’s my father, but I grew up without a father for so long that it just kind of feels like I don’t have (one).” Making of a Murderer casts doubt on Avery’s conviction, suggesting that Avery was framed by authorities in retaliation for filing a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County after the wrongful conviction for rape.
Avery’s former fiancée, firmly believed that Avery killed Halbach, stating “he threatened to kill me, my family and a friend of mine….he’s sick….he’d beat me all the time, punch me, throw me against the wall….I couldn’t leave. I had nowhere to go.” She described Avery’s abusive behaviour and admitted she’d been involved with him for two years. She also claimed that Avery began hitting her one week after they began a relationship. Why this woman chose to become intimate with Avery is anyone’s guess. She also described an incident where she called police as he choked her and dragged her into his car. He was arrested and ordered to stay away from her for three days. She refused to see the Netflix “documentary” about Avery because “don’t want to….I don’t want any part of it and I don’t want to be in it.”
Currently there are two websites that offer petitions visitors can sign in order to pressure the federal government into ordering Avery’s release. One site is Change.org. Part of the petition reads:
Avery’s unconstitutional mistreatment at the hands of corrupt local law enforcement is completely unacceptable and is an abomination of due process. Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon, and the Manitowoc County officials complicit in his two false imprisonments should be held accountable to the highest extent of the U.S. criminal and civil justice systems.
No doubt the Netflix series is responsible for casting significant doubt on Avery’s guilt, police misconduct or not. However the evidence taken from Avery’s garage, including her camera and palm pilot that was found in a garbage can on his property, speak loudly to his guilt. I’m inclined to believe that this time the man has been rightly convicted.