The attorney for a Wisconsin inmate featured in the hit Netflix series “Making a Murderer” filed a motion Friday seeking permission to perform extensive testing on evidence she believes will show he’s innocent.
Steven Avery was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison in the death of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach, who disappeared after a visit to the Avery family’s Manitowoc County salvage yard in 2005. Avery has argued he was framed.
His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, told reporters awaiting her filing outside the Manitowoc County courthouse that she wants to date blood and DNA found at the scene to see if it was planted. She promised the results will show that Avery isn’t guilty and that someone else killed Halbach.
Her motion notes that forensic science has advanced dramatically since Avery was convicted. It asks for testing and re-testing on an extensive list of evidence, including Halbach’s vehicle key, which was found in Avery’s room with his DNA on it; Avery’s blood found in the vehicle; and a pair of women’s underwear found in the yard to see if they belonged to Halbach and contain male DNA.
“The most reassuring thing is that we are going to get to the bottom of who killed Teresa Halbach,” Zellner said. “And we firmly believe that we will establish it was not Steven Avery.”
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is handling post-conviction activity in Avery’s case on behalf of county prosecutors. A spokesman for the agency didn’t immediately respond to an email Friday afternoon.
Avery, now 54, was charged in November 2005 with sexually assaulting and killing Halbach, who disappeared that Halloween after traveling to the salvage yard to shoot photos for a car magazine. Investigators found her charred remains in a burn pit in the yard.
Avery and his then 16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, lived on the property. A jury in 2007 convicted Avery of being a party to first-degree intentional homicide and a judge sentenced him to life in prison.
Later that year, a separate jury convicted Dassey of being party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilating a corpse and sexual assault. He, too, was sentenced to life.
The case fascinated the public.Two years before Halbach’s death, Avery had been released from prison after spending 18 years behind bars for rape that a DNA test later showed he didn’t commit.
Avery contended police framed him for Halbach’s death because the rape exoneration embarrassed them and he had a $36 million wrongful conviction lawsuit pending against Manitowoc County. That lawsuit collapsed when he was arrested in Halbach’s death.
Avery has alleged that investigators planted blood taken from him during the rape case and planted Halbach’s DNA at the scene.
He argued an appeal that he should have been allowed to blame others for Halbach’s death, that police illegally searched his trailer and that a judge improperly replaced a juror during deliberations. A state appeals court rejected those arguments in 2011.
Avery and Dassey burst back into the public consciousness late last year after Netflix aired “Making a Murderer.” The series raised questions about investigators’ integrity in the Halbach case. Prosecutors insisted the show was one-sided but it still created a national groundswell of support for Avery and Dassey.
A federal magistrate judge overturned Dassey's conviction this month, ruling investigators coerced him into confessing. The state Justice Department has 90 days to appeal or decide whether to retry him. If the agency chooses to do nothing, he will go free.