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Like the rest of the country, Kathleen Zellner watched Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” about the case of Wisconsin man Steven Avery — and now the attorney believes she’s the one who will set him free.
The explosive documentary, which premiered in 2015, recounted the story of Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who were convicted in the 2005 slaying of photographer Teresa Halbach. Avery and Dassey are serving life sentences.
Halbach’s remains were found in the Avery family’s Manitowoc County salvage yard. Avery, 56, insisted he was framed. Dassey, 29, has argued detectives coerced him into confessing that he helped Avery rape and kill Halbach, 25.
Dassey was 16 years old when he confessed to Wisconsin authorities. His attorneys insisted he is borderline intellectually disabled and that police manipulated him into confessing, but the Supreme Court refused to take his case in June. Avery was denied his request for a new trial last October.
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The documentary won Avery and Dassey legions of fans and spurred demands for their release. While those who worked on the cases claimed Emmy-winning filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos left out key pieces of evidence and presented a biased view, the women defended their work.
The 10-episode “Making a Murderer Part 2,” which was released Oct. 19, follows their appeals.
Zellner, who’s famous for exonerating wrongfully convicted people, told Fox News Avery feels he will one day walk free.
“My experience with my clients… has been that someone who’s innocent just never stops trying to clear themselves,” she explained. “I’ve always said if Steven Avery were offered a deal tomorrow, that if he would admit to the murder he could serve one more year and be free, but convicted of the murder, he would never do that. He would rather die in prison… He believes very strongly that if the evidence, the correct evidence is presented, that the system will eventually work.
“As you can see from the second series, it’s just maddening how many times you have to try, and then you get rejected and you have to keep trying. But statistically, it’s a known fact that the people who don’t give up, the people who are innocent… are the people that prevail. He will never give up.”
Zellner added Avery has been willing to take on any testing to prove his innocence — something she claimed a guilty person would never do.
“The chances are so high that… you’re going to discover evidence that further implicates them,” she said. “They’re never going to want you to do all of the testing he’s wanted us to do.”
Zellner first learned of “Making a Murderer” through her client Ryan Ferguson, who was accused of beating and killing newspaper editor Kent Heitholt on Halloween in 2001. Newsweek shared that while he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder, he maintained his innocence. Zellner acted to have Ferguson’s 2005 conviction overturned and he was released in 2013.
“I could tell there were just huge problems with the case,” said Zellner about Avery. “I decided we would take his case pro bono. I... ended up hiring 10 experts from across the country, people that are nationally renowned, and people who primarily testified for the prosecution. What we’ve done over the last two and a half years is dismantle the case forensically.”
In part two, Zellner alleges it was Dassey’s brother Bobby and their stepfather Scott Tadych who could have killed Halbach. In a phone call between Avery and Dassey’s mother Barb Tadych heard in the documentary, she declared he will have “a dead sister,” implying she couldn’t take the accusations anymore. Scott, who is also heard on the line, also denied having any involvement with Halbach’s death.
The Daily Beast reported that according to Avery’s court filing, Tadych’s “previous experiences with the court system show him to be a violent and impulsive person, particularly towards women.”
Zellner also said there is evidence which shows Bobby downloaded violent porn, a major red flag.
“We’re trying to show motive, opportunity and a link to the crime, and we’ve presented an abundance of evidence, including all of the violent pornography of young women being mutilated, chopped up, tortured and sexually assaulted on the Dassey computer, which never made its way to trial,” said Zellner. “Steven Avery had no violent porn on his computer. We haven’t changed our allegations, and if anything, we’re continuing to investigate. We’ve developed more evidence... to support our allegations.”
“Investigators acknowledged the importance of violent porn because they kept searching Steven Avery’s trailer looking for porn, violent porn,” she added. “They found a few naked pictures of him with his girlfriend, but there was absolutely nothing like that. We attached over 35 peer-reviewed articles in our pleadings about the well-established connection between viewing violent porn and murder. There’s a federal and state case in Wisconsin where the court said possession of those kinds of images establishes a motive. We thought that was huge. The appellate court thought it was huge… It’s an issue the appellate court will have to sort out.”
Zellner also shared the horrifying images were “of young females in the age range of Teresa Halbach” who also resembled the victim. Zellner has also received affidavits from three of the Dassey brothers against Bobby.
“Wayne said that Bobby was the primary user of the computer and it was in his bedroom,” Zellner explained. “Brian said that Bobby lied at trial and said he didn’t see Teresa leave the property, and he did see her leave and [Bobby] left immediately behind her.
"Then we have the half-brother Brad, who gave us an affidavit saying that Barb Dassey… told him that she’d hired someone to remove images. When we got the computer, finally got our hands on it… There'd been a huge number of images removed, but we had the underlying raw data, and that’s how we were able to see all of the violent images.”
Zellner said there's an investigation taking place to further explore her allegations.
“They started in November 2017 reinvestigating,” she said. “They were re-interviewing Bobby, they interviewed Scott Tadych twice. It appears to be an open investigation that they’re at least looking at these claims. Then where we are procedurally is we’re filing a brief with the appellate court Dec. 20, so we’re just starting the appeal process with all of this new evidence.”
Avery may be behind bars, but Zellner said the growing interest surrounding his case has been reassuring to him.
“So many people have written to him, there’s been such an outpouring of support for him, that I think… he’s happy about it,” she said. “There’s a strong correlation, and there’s data on this at the National Registry of Exonerations, between cases that get a lot of publicity and cases that are overturned.
"There’s a strong correlation for the cases that tend to get a lot of publicity, maybe not at this level, but get a lot of publicity, do tend to have more favorable outcomes just because of public awareness.”
"Making a Murderer 2" is currently available for streaming on Netflix.