Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The Murder of Theresa Halbach
On November 3rd, 2005, Theresa Halbach’s parents grew concerned when they haven’t heard from their daughter in a few days. The twenty-five-year-old photographer was reported missing to the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department in Wisconsin. Theresa was last seen three days earlier, October 31st, 2005. Authorities trace back her steps on that Halloween day. Theresa had been taking pictures for Auto Trader magazine that day. Police were stunned to learn that her last appointment on October 31st was at the residence of a man named Steven Avery. Steven Avery, a man in his mid-forties, was released from prison just two years earlier with the assistance of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
Theresa Marie Halbach was born March 22nd, 1980, in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Theresa graduated from Hilbert High School in 1998. She earned her degree in photography from UW Green Bay Summa Cum Laude. Theresa was an entrepreneur, starting her own business called Photography by Theresa. Theresa was a member of St. John – Sacred Parish and served as the volleyball coach for St. John – Sacred Parish school. Theresa was a loving, vibrant woman who enjoyed traveling abroad, spending time with family, and singing karaoke.
One of the 7th grade volleyball players that Theresa coaches was her very own little sister. Theresa is the daughter of Thomas and Karen Halbach. Karen was married to Richard Halbach, with whom she had Theresa and her two brothers. After his unexpected death in 1988, Karen married his brother, Thomas Halbach. Thomas and Karen went on to have two daughters of their own. Theresa was an amazing sister who adored and loved her siblings. Theresa and her siblings were raised on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin. Theresa was a happy, loving person who enjoyed listening to the Beatles and No Doubt.
A friend of Theresa Halbach states that in the weeks before her death, Theresa was getting phone calls from an unknown number that were harassing in nature. According to the friend, Theresa shrugged them off as a mere annoyance, refusing to answer the calls. According to a co-worker, Theresa told him that she had been out to photograph pictures for a client on October 10th. She became disturbed when the client answered the door wearing nothing but a towel. This client was a man named Steven Avery, who lived on a salvage yard with several family members.
On October 30th, 2005, Theresa joined several of her family members to celebrate her grandfather’s birthday, which was on Halloween. She spent the day with her family and siblings. That night, Theresa joined her family in milking cows. She then joined her sisters at her parents’ home to watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition, one of her favorite television shows. She left her parents’ home around ten o’clock that night. It was the last time her family saw her alive.
Who was this client of Theresa’s, Steven Avery? Steven Avery was born on July 9th, 1962, to Allan and Dolores Avery. Allan owned a successful business called Avery Salvage. Steven has two brothers, Chuck and Earl, and a sister, Barbara. Steven went to school in nearby Mishicot and Manitowoc, where he struggled in school. According to his mother, he was in school for “slower kids”. His IQ was determined to be near 70, showing a borderline mental impairment. The entire Avery family is described as poorly educated.
In 1981, at the age of 18, Steven entered the Northern Frontier Bar on October 20th, while it was closed. He burglarized the same bar again on November 6th and 8th, this time with a friend. During the three robberies, Avery took change, a toolbox, and merchandise. Additionally, the bar owner stated in the complaint that significant damage was done during the burglaries. For these crimes, Steven was sentenced to two years in the Manitowoc County Jail, of this he served ten months. Upon his release, Steven was caught speeding several times.
In 1982, Steven met a single mother named Lori Mathiesen. Lori’s child’s father was not in the picture, so Steven says he stepped up to play that role. The two married July 24th, 1982. Shortly after they married, Steven and Lori were expecting a child of their own. In September of 1982, Steven faced a misdemeanor charge of excessive noise after driving past a concert in the park and blaring a horn to make a scene. Later in that same month, Steven and a friend of his soaked the family cat in oil and gasoline, after which Steven threw the cat into a fire. Steven was charged with mistreating an animal and animal cruelty. Steven was sent to back to jail until August of 1983, missing the birth of his first child.
Steven later said of his first two incarcerations, “I was young and stupid, and hanging out with the wrong people” (Wikipedia). It’s important to note, however, that Steven was not a teenager but a twenty-year-old married man with a stepchild and pregnant wife when he set a cat on fire for his own entertainment. In December of 1983, The Manitowoc Herald Times reported that a vehicle owned by Steven was engulfed in flames while inside his garage. Intentional fire-setting and animal cruelty are linked to the development of antisocial personality disorder. “Antisocial personality disorder is a mental health condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, and violating the rights of others (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). There is no evidence that Steven Avery has ever been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
Following his release from the animal cruelty conviction, Steven and Lori welcomed another daughter. By early 1985, Lori was pregnant again, this time with twins. In January of 1985, Steven was angry with his cousin Sandra. Sandra, who was married to a police officer, alleged that Steven engaged in lewd conduct including standing naked and masturbating in his yard as she drove by. She had told a few people about the incident in local taverns, which upset Steven. On January 3rd, Steven ran Sandra off the road, pointing a firearm at her. Steven claims the firearm was not loaded, but news reports state the weapon was loaded. Sandra states she was forced into Steven’s vehicle and believed that Steven was planning to harm her. He let her go, however, when she pleaded that her infant daughter was going to freeze in her vehicle on the cold January day. For this crime, Steven was charged with endangering the life of another person and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was released on bail while those charges were pending.
On July 23rd, 1985, Steven and Lori welcomed their twin sons to the world. Just six days later, on July 29th, 1985, a woman jogging near Lake Michigan was savagely attacked, sexually assaulted, and left for dead. The woman, who was prominent in Manitowoc County, survived and was able to provide a description of her assailant. According to the now famed documentary, Making a Murderer, the original description provided by the victim did not match Steven Avery. However, a deputy who was friends with the cousin that Steven ran off the road months earlier, felt as if the description matched Steven Avery.
The documentary explains that a composite sketch was developed of the assailant, and it is believed that the sketch artist was shown a photo of Steven Avery prior to developing the sketch. Following the development of this sketch, the victim picked Steven Avery out of a photo line-up. He was arrested the following day. When his twins were just days old. Steven, who was twenty-three years old at the time, was charged with attempted murder and sexual assault.
In August of 1985, the victim testified that her assailant held her at knife point and threatened to kill her. When she fought against the sexual assault, the assailant punched her in the face and began choking her. During the struggle, the victim kicked her assailant in the groin, at which point he began savagely beating her. In this preliminary hearing, the victim pointed out Steven Avery, identifying him as her attacker.
Steven’s defense presented sixteen alibi witnesses that included his father, a supermarket employee, and Steven’s wife. According to Steven’s father, Steven was helping him pour concrete from 11am – 4 pm. Following this, Steven’s wife testified that the couple took their children to Green Bay to the supermarket, which an employee confirmed. The States Attorney, Dennis Vogel, countered by questioning the reliability of the alibi witnesses and calling Steven a habitual and dangerous offender.
The case went to trial in December of 1985. Several alibi witnesses testified for the defense. Additionally, the defense presented a time-stamped receipt from the supermarket, backing up Lori’s testimony that her and Steven were together in Green Bay. Despite this, the testimony of the victim in which she identified Steven as her attacker was just too much for the jury to overcome. A state forensic examiner also testified that a hair found on one of Steven’s shirts was consistent with that of the victim. Steven was found guilty of sexual assault, attempted murder, and false imprisonment. He was sentenced to thirty-two years in prison. He was also sentenced to six years in prison for the charges pending against him as a result of running his cousin off the road and holding her at gun point.
Steven Avery was sent to a Wisconsin prison to serve this sentence, still maintaining his innocence. His parents remained convinced of his innocence, stating that the officers just didn’t like their son. Steven appealed his conviction over and over, but all of his appeals were denied. During his time in prison, Lori divorced Steven. He did not take this well, writing threatening letters to her in which he threatens to “get her”, “kill her”, and “make her pay”. He even tells his children in Easter cards that he hates their mother. Lori and Steven’s divorce was finalized in 1988. Lori went on to marry Peter Dassey, the ex-husband of Steven’s sister Barbara and father to her four boys.
In 1995, Avery’s defense obtained an order to test DNA from under the victim’s fingernails. The testing showed that there was a profile of an unknown person found under the victim’s nails. The judge ruled that since the DNA was not identified as anyone in particular, however, it was not enough to overturn Steven Avery’s conviction. Eventually, the Wisconsin Innocence Project agreed to stake Steven Avery’s case. By 2002, there had been significant advancements in forensic science including the use of DNA technology. In April of 2002, the attorneys obtained a court order to test 13 hairs found on the victim. Of the 13 hairs, only one was viable for testing. This hair was matched to a convicted felon, currently in prison for sexual assault, named Gregory Allen.
On September 11th, 2003, the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department and Wisconsin Innocence Project requested the charges against Steven Avery be dismissed. The request was granted, and the media documented the reunion between Steven and his family. This case was a highly publicized exoneration, covered extensively by the media.
Gregory Allen was a habitual offender that Manitowoc County authorities had been well aware of in 1985. Allen had a history of sexually deviant behavior. In fact, police actually had Allen on surveillance in the days leading up to the 1985 attack. At the time of the attack, however, they were not watching Allen. Inside the case file from 1985, for which Avery was convicted, was documentation of a similar attack committed on the same beach by Gregory Allen in 1983. Gregory Allen’s name was never presented to the defense as an alternate suspect in the case, something the Avery family felt showed bias by the Manitowoc County Sherriff’s Department.
Another report regarding Gregory Allen, dated October of 1985, alleged lewd and lascivious conduct. There were three other reports of indecent exposure against Gregory Allen. These reports were all noted to be in the possession of the Manitowoc County Sherriff’s Department. Additionally, in 1995 a deputy from the Brown County Sherriff’s Department contacted the jail in Manitowoc County to inform them that a suspect they had in custody had confessed to an attack in Manitowoc County in which another man was imprisoned for. The jailer receiving this call suggested that the deputy speak with a detective and transferred the call. No report was made on this call nor was there follow-up to determine the validity of the claim.
An article from 2016 in The Reporter, suggests that Gregory Allen is suspected of an attack in 1993 in which a woman was attacked with a knife and raped. In 1996, Gregory Allen entered a women’s home. As her child lay in the next room, he threatened to kill her if she screamed. He savagely raped her. For this crime, Gregory Allen was convicted and sentenced to sixty years in prison. He was never charged for the 1993 crime or several other Green Bay area attacks for which he is suspected.
Gregory Allen remains incarcerated according to his sex offender registration. However, it should be noted that he was charged in 2007 and convicted of criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota. It’s unclear when the crime he was charged for in Minnesota had occurred. Allen is known to be a heavy drug user with a penchant for violence against women. As it would turn out, the man who confessed to a Manitowoc County assault in 1995 was indeed Gregory Allen, but his statements were largely ignored by authorities. Allen remains incarcerated as of May 2023.
Freedom & a Civil Suit
Following the exoneration of Steven Avery, the Wisconsin Department of Justice was tasked with investigating the way that Manitowoc County authorities handled the 1985 case. A report from the Attorney General determined that there were no ethical or criminal acts committed by the Manitowoc County Sherriff’s Department. The report pointed to the fact that the victim identified Steven Avery as her attacker, determining that this gave the investigators and District Attorney reasonable evidence to continue with the prosecution of Steven Avery.
For his wrongful conviction, the State of Wisconsin was required to pay Steven Avery $450,000. After the Attorney General’s report was released, Steven Avery hired a civil attorney to pursue damages from Manitowoc County, the Sherriff in 1985, and the prosecutor who convicted him. Steven’s team was asking for $36,000,000. Similar cases averaged approximately S500,000 per year for wrongful conviction. Given this, Steven Avery likely stood to receive between six and eight million dollars.
Supporters of Avery, as well as several media outlets, reported that Avery spent eighteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit. However, the reality of the situation is that Steven Avery spent six of those eighteen years in prison for running his cousin off the road and holding her at gunpoint while she had an infant in the car. Despite this fact, twelve years in prison for a crime that he did not commit was twelve years too many. Depositions for the civil case began in early October 2005.
On November 3rd, 2005, authorities from nearby Calumet County, Wisconsin came to the Avery Salvage yard to question Steven and the others who lived in the forty-acre property. According to the secretary at Auto Trader magazine, Theresa had three stops that day, including one at Avery Salvage yard. Her phone records show she was near the Avery property between 2:30pm and 3:00 pm. The other two stops were done prior to this final stop. When the caller requested photos be taken of a van that was going to be listed, the caller asked for “the same girl as last time”, which was Theresa Halbach. Theresa had been out at the Avery property approximately six times in the past six months. The caller gave the name Barb Janda during the phone call, although it is believed it was Steven who made the request as it was not a woman.
On October 31st, 2005, phone records prove Steven Avery called Theresa Halbach using the *67 feature to block his number at 2:24 pm and 2:35 pm. Bobby Dassey, one of Steven’s nephews who lived on the property, testified that he saw Theresa Halbach pull up, take pictures of the van, and walk towards Steven’s trailer between 2:30 pm and 3:00 pm. Possibly contradicting this testimony, the bus driver who dropped Brendan Dassey off between 3:30 and 3:45 pm that day states she saw Theresa taking photographs of the van. No time after this do any witnesses state they saw Theresa Halbach.
As soon as the media realizes that police are at the residence of Steven Avery as part of the investigation into the missing woman, they flock to the area. On November 3rd, Steven is interviewed and immediately suggests that if police happen to find anything on his property, they must have planted it. He does allow the police to search his property but is already suggesting that he is being framed despite not being announced as an active suspect in the case.
Friends and family of Theresa Halbach came together to form a large search party. They are searching the areas around Steven Avery’s home and the Avery lot for any signs of Theresa, as this is her last known location. Her greenish blue 1999 Toyota Rav4 is also missing. Police were told that phone calls to Theresa were going to voicemail, but her mailbox was full. Her brother admitted to guessing his sister’s password and listening to some of the messages but denies deleting any of them. Despite this, the mailbox was noted to no longer be completely full, so clearly somehow some of the messages had been deleted.
The search party includes her parents, siblings, cousins, and former boyfriend. Her former boyfriend, Ryan, is actually leading the search party in a sense. Theresa lived with a man named Scott, who was just a roommate. Many have questioned why he didn’t notice she was missing between Monday evening and Thursday when her family officially reported her missing. Pamela Sturm and her daughter Nikole joined the search party on Saturday, November the 5th. They began searching the Avery property, full of old salvaged vehicles, for signs of Theresa Halbach’s vehicle. Within forty-five minutes, they find the Rav4 near the back of the Avery property covered in boards and twigs.
At this point in the investigation, it is announced that the Calumet County Sherriff’s office will take the lead in the investigation as Manitowoc County has a clear conflict of interest in regard to the civil suit pending against them. Despite this announcement, there is evidence that Manitowoc County police remained involved in the case. The officer who arrested Steven Avery in 1985 was now the Sherriff in 2005. As is common in small communities, many of the same officers were working for the department including the officer who originally took the call in 1995 about the man confessing to the attack Steven Avery was in jail for. This officer, along with his supervisor who had been the one to transport the evidence that freed Steven Avery in 2002, were both linked to the discovery of key pieces of evidence in the murder investigation.
Inside Theresa’s Rav4, police found several blood stains near the ignition and on the driver’s side of the vehicle. There were six blood stains in all. DNA analysis concluded these stains belonged to Steven Avery. Another stain, which appeared to have been made by bloody hair, was found in the back of the Rav4 and was determined through DNA analysis to belong to Theresa Halbach. After the Rav4 was found and blood evidence was collected, Steven Avery screamed louder to the media that he was being framed by the Manitowoc County Sherriff’s Department as retribution for filing his 36-million-dollar lawsuit.
Police search Avery’s property, which included a burn pit. According to his neighbors and family, Avery had a large bonfire the night of Halloween. Different witnesses have varied in their description of the fire. The analysis of the burn pit found steel cables and vehicle parts, which arson experts state was likely used as an accelerant. The pieces of steel were intertwined with hundreds of human bone fragments and teeth that were positively identified through DNA analysis and dental records as belonging to Theresa Halbach. Some of these bones showed patterns consistent with gun shot trauma. Police did not release this fact to the media at first.
Inside the burn pit, police also found the rivets from Theresa’s Daisy Fuentes jeans she was wearing on October 31st, her PDA, her cellphone, and the contents of her purse. This evidence left very little doubt that this is where Theresa’s body had been burned. However, some other bones were found in other areas of the Avery property and in the nearby quarry owned by Manitowoc County. The pelvic bones, which were found in the quarry, could have been transported there by the killer or by animals after Theresa was killed.
On November 8th, 2005, two Manitowoc County police officers find the key to Theresa’s Rav4 inside Steven Avery’s bedroom. In the first season of Making a Murderer, the defense team suggests that the key was not found until the seventh or eighth search of the property. However, records show that this was only the second or third true search of the trailer. Other trips onto the property were for specific items, such as the shot gun found in the trailer, and were not a full-fledged search. The firearm Steven was in possession of was also illegal as he was still a convicted felon and was not supposed to have that weapon. On the key, police find DNA evidence belonging to Steven Avery, but none from Theresa Halbach. The DNA source is determined to be touch DNA, not from a blood source.
On November 15th, 2005, after receiving results of the forensic testing, Steven Avery was arrested by the Calumet County Sherriff’s Office and charged with the murder of Theresa Halbach. His charges included first-degree homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Avery tells the media that Manitowoc County has framed him by planting all the evidence. He suggests they planted his blood in Theresa’s car and her bones on his property.
At first his fiancé Jodi sticks by him, but she quickly ends their relationship. Jodi is shown in the first season of Making a Murderer and appears to fully support Steven. She even says she talked to Steven on that Halloween night, claiming he didn’t seem stressed or busy at all. During the time when Theresa was killed, Jodi was in jail on alcohol related charges. She further gets into trouble for continued alcohol use and violating a no contact order put in place by her probation officer to keep her from Steven Avery. Eventually, she ends their relationship. In the documentary, it is portrayed that she got tired of Manitowoc County harassing her about Steven, but Jodi tells a very different story. In an exclusive interview years later, Jodi says that Steven was very abusive to her. He often beat her, threatened her, and was very controlling of her. He told her that she better make him look good in the documentary or he would kill her. He allegedly threatened to kill her, her child, and her family on numerous occasions. Legal records confirm a history of domestic violence that Steven perpetrated against Jodi. She stated that she left once she felt confident that Steven was not going to get out of jail and harm her. She calls him a “monster” and says that she truly believes Steven is guilty of killing Theresa Halbach.
In January of 2006, Steven Avery’s niece tells police that her uncle has sexually abused her and her cousin, Brendan Dassey. Although he was never charged, his niece, who was just fifteen years old, states that her uncle groomed her after being released from prison in 2003. She also states that her cousin, Brendan, has been feeling down lately, crying, and losing a lot of weight. She says she asked Brendan what was wrong, at which time she claims Brendan confessed to seeing Theresa Halbach at their uncle’s house on October 31st. She further claims that Brendan told her about seeing body parts in the bonfire on October 31st, 2005.
In order to afford his prominent defense attorneys, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, Steven Avery settled his civil suit in February of 2006 for $400,000. This was a mere fraction of what Steven Avery anticipated getting from the settlement.
Brendan Ray Dassey was born October 19th, 1989, to Barbara (Avery) Tadych and Peter Dassey. His father would later marry Steven Avery’s ex-wife. His mother is Steven Avery’s sister. He has four brothers, including one half-brother. He lived with his mother next door to Steven Avery in 2005. At the time of the murder, Brendan was a sixteen-year-old sophomore at Mishicot High School. He was enrolled in mostly special education classes and had a borderline low IQ, estimated to be between 69 and 81. Brendan was a shy kid who was known to not be of great intelligence.
On March 1st, 2006, Brendan Dassey is taken out of classes to be interrogated by the investigators in the murder case. According to police, Barbara, his mother, knew that they were talking to Brendan. However, Brendan’s defense and mother stated she was not even aware he was being questioned. Brendan was questioned for four hours without a parent or attorney. At first, his statement remained the same as originally given in October. He claimed to have been at Steven’s house that night for a bonfire but did not see or hear anything else.
During this interrogation, police continually insinuate that Brendan is lying and ask him repeatedly to tell them what he saw. They presented him with the statement from his cousin, which led to the interrogation. He continued to deny the allegations, but the authorities are very suggestive that if he tells them what they want to hear, they will show him leniency. They start to ask him what he saw, and he describes a horrific scene. However, he seems to be guessing at what the answers the officers want to hear. They ask him repeatedly what happened to Theresa’s head, holding back the knowledge that she was shot. Brendan says she was stabbed, her hair was cut, she was punched, and so on. When he fails to say she was shot, police say, “Who shot her in the head?”. They errored in giving the held back information.
Finally, Brendan makes a videotaped statement in which he says he got off the bus on October 31st, 2005. He went to get the mail and found a letter for his Uncle Steven. He said he approached Steven’s trailer and could hear screams. Steven answered the door, covered in sweat, and invited Brendan in. Brendan said he found Theresa Halbach shackled and restrained on Steven’s bed. He claimed she was completely nude. At Steven’s encouragement, Brendan said he raped Theresa Halbach as she begged for his help.
Brendan went on to say that Steven gave him a knife and told him to slit her throat. He said he did so, and Steven also stabbed the young woman. Brendan’s confession then says they took Theresa to the garage where Steven Avery shot her in the head. He said they later burned her remains in the firepit behind Steven’s garage. He described the event in great detail, including noticing Theresa’s stomach stop moving after she was stabbed. With this confession, Brendan Dassey was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, false imprisonment, and sexual assault. These charges were also added to Steven Avery’s current charges.
Immediately after giving his statement, Brendan tells his mom that he made the whole thing up. He says that he just told them what they wanted to hear so that he could go back to class. He wasn’t smart enough to realize he was implicating himself in a serious felony. His mother, Steven’s sister, urges him to recant and tell the truth. Brendan does recant, but the damage was done. From Brendan’s confession, police learn that Steven took the battery out of Theresa’s car. The hood latch to her vehicle is swabbed and Steven’s DNA is found inside.
Over the next several months, Steven Avery’s parents and family mostly turn on Brendan, seemingly angry about his confession. His mother, Barbara, says in the documentary that they didn’t come to visit him or ask about him. Steven also seems to care less about who is going to defend Brendan when his sister Barbara asks for help. Barbara seems to turn against Steven, believing he is guilty. However, she changes her demeanor several times over the Making a Murderer seasons.
In May of 2006, Brendan’s attorney tries to convince him to take a plea deal and testify against his uncle. Brendan considers this, as his attorney says he would have a chance to get out prison while still young enough to have a family. Barbara tells him absolutely not, however, and urges him to continue to deny being involved in the crime. Brendan’s own attorney hires an investigator who interrogates Brendan and gets him to give yet another confession and statement that includes drawings. Later, that investigator admits to seeking evidence against Steven Avery and therefore not truly working for Brendan. Brendan was betrayed by everyone he trusted including the police, his family, and his own attorney.
Steven Avery went to trial first, in February of 2007. The charges of sexual assault and false imprisonment were dropped as they could not utilize Brendan Dassey as a witness against him. Brendan had given too many conflicting stories to be considered reliable. Steven went to trial with a primarily circumstantial evidence case.
The evidence against Steven Avery was presented in devastating detail. Employees of Auto Trader testified that Theresa was bothered by Steven Avery when he answered the door earlier in October wearing nothing but a towel. Phone records showed he called to make the appointment that day on October 31st, using a false name. His phone records further show he called her twice that day, using the *67 feature to block his number.
Evidence is presented that Steven Avery purchased restraints including leg irons and handcuffs shortly before Theresa Halbach’s murder. These restraints were found inside his trailer. Avery admitted they were his to the police, stating, “I bought them. I wanted to try out something different with Jodi” (McBride, 2015). The restraints were consistent with Brendan’s confession, although the confession was not used at trial.
The key, found in Avery’s bedroom, had touch DNA, consistent with perspiration, that was a full profile matching Steven Avery. The defense countered this evidence suggesting that the key was planted. The two detectives who found the key were from the Manitowoc County Sherriff’s Department, who should not have been actively involved in the investigation. They also questioned how Steven’s DNA could be present but not the owner of the key, Theresa Halbach. The defense argued that this was consistent with police cleaning the key and then planting his DNA. Additionally, the defense emphasized that the key was not found on the first several searches. According to the officers, the key was lodged between the frame and back board of a bookshelf. Only when the Manitowoc office shook the bookshelf did the key fall out.
In prior interviews, Steven’s sister Barbara had said Brendan came home with stained pants from cleaning Steven’s garage with bleach. This statement supported the confession given by Brendan. In his confession, Brendan said that Steven shot her in his garage. A spent bullet was found inside the garage with Theresa’s DNA on it. However, no blood was found in the garage or the trailer belonging to Theresa. If Steven and Brendan had stabbed the woman and slit her throat in the trailer, surely there would have been blood found. Steven Avery’s niece testified for the prosecution but recanted her former statement about Brendan telling her about the murder of Theresa Halbach. She claimed she had made the whole thing up, but a phone call from prison between Steven and a family member suggests he did in fact abuse his niece.
According to search warrants, police found a plethora of pornographic material in Steven Avery’s home. Steven also had a history of animal abuse and fires. In fact, the animal abuse case involved soaking a cat in gasoline and oil and burning it alive. While he was serving his sentence for the rape in which he was eventually exonerated for, Steven drew sketches of torture chambers and told other inmates he wanted to rape and torture women when he was released from prison. He had a history of domestic batter and sexually deviant behavior including allegations of molesting his minor niece and nephew.
The forensic evidence included the hundreds of bone fractions that were charred and found in Steven Avery’s burn pit. These were intertwined with steel belts and items from multiple automobiles, which arson experts testified were used as an accelerant. A forensic anthropologist suggested that evidence showed the victim was shot. The spent bullet found in Avery’s garage was a match to the firearm that Steven illegally had possession of and had Theresa’s DNA on it.
The defense team staunchly defended their client against the DNA evidence on the bullet. First, they discussed that the bullet was not found until almost six months after the crime had occurred, only after Brendan’s false confession. However, shell casings were found in November of 2005 that matched the gun as well in the garage. They further attacked the evidence because during the testing process, the lab technician comingled her own DNA with the control in her study. While this does not change the fact that Theresa’s DNA was on the bullet, it leads to questions as to if the testing process was done accurately.
Steven Avery’s blood was found in six places in the Toyota Rav4 and his touch or sweat DNA was found on the hood latch of the Rav4. Steven did have an open cut photographed during the investigation, providing a source of the blood. Steven’s defense countered this evidence by claiming he was framed by police. The evidence from his 1985 case was given to the defense. The box of forensic evidence had not been resealed properly when the victim’s fingernail clippings and hairs were sent for additional testing in 2002. The seals were broken and replaced with clear tape that was not dated, which is against protocol. Inside the box is a purple top tube of Steven’s blood. According to the defense, a small puncture hole on the top of the tube is proof that someone used a needle to extract Steven’s blood. However, a vacutainer requires a hole to be punched in the top of the stopper to deliver the blood into the tube. The nurse who took Avery’s blood was present to testify that the hole on the top of the tube came from the process of drawing the blood from Steven Avery.
The state also involved the FBI to test the blood stains for the presence of EDTa, the preservative found in purple top lab tubes. This testing, which had only been used once before in the famous OJ Simpson trial, looks for evidence of the preservative in the blood. If positive, this would have supported Steven’s claim that the blood found in Theresa’s vehicle was from the purple top tube. However, the test came bag negative, indicating the blood was not from the tube.
During the trial, the defense questions the officers from Manitowoc County who were involved in collecting key pieces of evidence against Steven Avery. The prosecutor, Ken Kratz, counters by explaining that they were upstanding officers who were not directly involved in Steven Avery’s false conviction in 1985. One officer who was involved in finding this evidence was the officer who took the call in 1995 from Brown County about another man confessing. The prosecutor pointed out that this officer was a jailer at the time of the call, and not a detective. He did, however, fail to file a report on this call until after Avery’s 2003 release. If he was trying to hide it, though, why write the report at all? The defense also plays a call from the officer to the dispatcher in which he has her run the license plates of Theresa Halbach’s vehicle. The defense asked him if he was looking at this vehicle when he made the call, but the officer denied this.
Records also showed that on the day the car was found, the other office from Manitowoc County was present and possibly had access to the vehicle. The defense stated this provided opportunity for the officer to plant Steven’s blood in the vehicle. These two officers were the two who found the key after multiple searches on Avery’s property. There was, however, a Calumet County officer present too. This officer states that he was busy, however, and was not directly watching the Manitowoc County officers.
Dean Strang and Jerry Buting did a phenomenal job of defending Steven Avery. So much so that many viewers of Making a Murderer were fully convinced of his innocence. There were certainly lots of concerns about this case. The evidence from 1985 did not appear to be properly preserved and secured and officers from Manitowoc County were involved in the investigation despite identifying a conflict of interest themselves.
With the totality of the evidence, the jury found Steven Avery guilty of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm. He was acquitted of mutilation of a corpse. On June 1st, 2007, Steven Avery was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In April of 2007, Brendan Dassey went on trial. The primary evidence against him was his own confession. Despite the fact that he told several different stories, and many aspects of his confession did not line up with the evidence in this case, he was found guilty of all three charges against him: first-degree murder, mutilation of a corpse, and sexual assault. One of the major pieces of damning evidence against him was the recorded call he made to his mother during his time in jail in which he confessed to the murder and Steven’s involvement. Brendan was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after forty years.
After the Convictions
Following the convictions of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, both filed numerous appeals. Steven claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, calling Strang and Buting incompetent in the press. After Making a Murderer premiered on Netflix in 2015, Steven became somewhat of a celebrity. At the time, he was engaged to an elderly woman who wrote to him in prison. She announced on national television that she had ended their engagement due to religious differences.
Steven gets engaged to another supporter, but she later ends the relationship after appearing on The Dr. Phil Show. She later told The Dr. Phil Show that she broke up with Avery after he sent her horribly threatening letters and phone calls. She eventually had to get a restraining order against him. She now states she believes Steven Avery is guilty of murdering Theresa Halbach. This aligns with statements given by Jodi, Steven’s fiancé at the time of the murder.
Following the sensational Netflix documentary, famed defense attorney Kathleen Zellner took over Steven’s case. In season two of Making a Murderer, Kathleen Zellner takes turns pointing the finger at multiple other people for the murder. First, she claims it was the neighbor, but then rules that out. Once an expert tells her it would not be beneficial to retest for EDTa and all other forensic testing fails to exonerate her client, Zellner points the finger at Bobby Dassey, Brendan’s brother, and Scott Tadych, Barbara’s husband and Brendan’s stepfather. She claims violent pornography was found on Bobby Dassey’s computer. She presents multiple theories of the crime but doesn’t have much evidence to back up these claims.
The only evidence that was interesting was that a witness supposedly came forward to Kathleen Zellner claiming he saw Theresa’s vehicle on a nearby rural road and reported it to the police before it was found on Avery’s property. The officer he reported it to was the same officer who had called the license plate into the dispatcher. However, the documentary does not provide a name or any evidence of who this person is. Zellner constantly makes social media posts hinting at new evidence. However, nothing in the documentary supports substantial evidence of anyone else’s guilt or Avery’s innocence.
In 2009, the prosecutor in the trials, Ken Kratz, was accused of sexual harassment after sending a series of sexually natured text messages to a domestic violence victim that he was prosecuting the case of. Several other women came forward with similar allegations. Ken Kratz lost his position as a District Attorney, his reputation, and had his law license suspended. He did write a book about the Avery case in which he discussed the evidence left out of Making a Murderer. Ken Kratz also voices regret for the press conference he held after Brendan’s confession, in which he described Theresa’s death in graphic detail that was not fully supported by the evidence.
Attorneys for Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider took over Brendan’s case. They claim he was coerced into providing a false confession without special consideration for his age and limited mental capabilities. Furthermore, his first attorney was ineffective by allowing his investigator to gather evidence to support prosecution and allowing Brendan to be questioned by police again without his presence.
In August of 2016, a federal judge ruled that Brendan’s confession was coerced and granted him a new trial. The State of Wisconsin appealed this and won a motion to keep Brendan in prison until the outcome of the appeal. In June of 2017, a panel of three judges heard the state’s appeal and affirmed the ruling, indicating Brendan should be freed and given a new trial or the charges dropped. The State of Wisconsin again appealed, and Brendan was forced to remain in prison until that appeal was decided. In December of 2017, a seven-judge panel voted 4-3 to uphold Brendan Dassey’s conviction. His next appeal, filed in 2018, was also denied. Brendan Dassey remains in prison.
To believe the theories presented by Steven Avery, you have to believe that police found not only Theresa Halbach’s vehicle, but also her charred remains and planted all this evidence on Steven Avery’s property. Additionally, the police had to have sources of Steven’s blood and sweat that they planted on this evidence. In the original trial, the defense said that they were not accusing the police of murder. Therefore, you have to believe they found Theresa’s bones, somehow knew they were hers, as well as her cell phones, belongings, and rivets to her jeans. That seems highly unlikely.
Kathleen Zellner, who continues to fight for Steven Avery’s freedom, suggests that Bobby Dassey killed Theresa on a rural road close by Avery’s property and then planted the evidence. To believe this theory, you have to believe that Bobby Dassey, who was just a teenager at the time of Halbach’s death, killed her, leaving no trace of his own DNA. He also would have had to successfully plant the evidence including his uncle’s blood and sweat, Theresa’s mutilated body, rivets from her jeans, and her personal belongings on his uncle’s property without anyone noticing.
Dolores Avery, Steven’s mother and one his biggest supporters, passed away from dementia July 8th, 2021. According to Steven’s family, the pain and mental anguish of Steven’s arrest and incarceration contributed to her decline in health. Steven’s niece, the one he is accused of molesting, filed a restraining order against him in 2021.
Do you think that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are guilty? Did Theresa Halbach get the justice she deserved? Did the State of Wisconsin prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt?
Antisocial Personality Disorder | SAMHSA
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