Imagine you were wrongly convicted of a crime, exonerated by DNA after serving 18 years and are thrown back in jail for murder within two years of your release. The life and conviction of Steven Avery is a story of poverty, injustice, evidence tampering, corruption and guilt by media. Avery’s case became a sensation after Netflix created a documentary, making a murderer, to bring global attention to his case. Cold blooded killer, innocent or corruption? You decide.
The Story Of Steven Avery
On July 29, 1985, 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.
At the age of 22, Steven Avery was wrongly convicted for the Beernsten rape. He spent 18 years in prison and was eventually exonerated through DNA testing in 2003. Upon his release, Avery filed a $36 million wrongful conviction lawsuit against the county.
Beernsten Rape Trial
Avery was shown in a lineup of 9 men directly after the rape was reported. He was positively identified by Beernsten and was arrested the following morning.
At trial, Beernsten identified Avery as her attacker. A forensic examiner testified that a hair recovered from a shirt of Avery’s was consistent with Beernsten’s hair but did it could not be confirmed with scientific proof.
Avery had 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. A checkout tape put the purchase at 5:13 p.m. Beernsten put the attack at 3:50 p.m. and estimated it lasted 15 minutes, which meant that Avery would have had to leave the scene of the attack, walk a mile to the nearest parking area, drive home, load his family into the car, and drive 45 miles in just over an hour.
The jury deliberated for only four hours and convicted Avery almost exclusively on the eyewitness account. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
After losing appeals, a petition for DNA testing was granted in 1995 and showed that scrapings taken of Beernsten’s fingernails contained the DNA of an unknown person. The tests were unable to eliminate Avery and the motion for a new trial was denied.
In April of 2002, attorneys for the Wisconsin Innocence Project obtained a court order for DNA testing of 13 hairs recovered from Beernsten at the time of the crime. The state crime laboratory reported that, using the FBI DNA database, it had 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.
Avery then filled a $36 million wrongful conviction lawsuit in the county that prosecuted him.
2 Years After Avery’s Release
Photographer Theresa Halbach disappeared on October 31, 2005; her last alleged appointment was a meeting with Avery, at his home on the grounds of Avery’s Auto Salvage, to photograph a car he was selling. Halbach’s vehicle was later found in the salvage yard near Avery’s home, and bloodstains recovered from its interior matched Avery’s DNA. Police later found charred remains of Halbach in a fire pit near Avery’s home.
Avery was arrested and charged with Halbach’s murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse on November 11, 2005. Avery maintained his innocence and he strongly believed the newest charges were due to his pending lawsuit against the same county that was charging him again. Manitowoc County claimed to have given the murder investigation over to the neighboring county so as not to create a conflict of interest, but Manitowoc sheriff’s deputies participated in repeated searches of Avery’s trailer, garage, and property, “supervised” by Calumet County officers. A Manitowoc deputy found the key to Halbach’s vehicle in Avery’s bedroom. Evidence tampering became a large concern for both Avery’s legal team.
Avery’s legal team also discovered that an evidence box containing a vial of Avery’s blood, collected in 1996, had been unsealed, and a puncture hole was visible. They speculated that the blood found in Halbach’s car could have been drawn from the stored vial and planted in the vehicle to incriminate Avery.
In March 2006, Avery’s 16-year-old nephew with an IQ of about 73, Brendan Dassey, was charged as an accessory in the Halbach case. He was questioned without a legal team or his parents and he later confessed under interrogation to helping his uncle kill Halbach and dispose of the body. He later recanted his confession, claiming it had been coerced, and refused to testify to his involvement at Avery’s trial. Dassey was eventually convicted of murder, rape, and mutilation of the corpse along with his uncle.
Avery was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole until 2048.
Post-Conviction Of Theresa Halbach
A prisoner in Wisconsin has allegedly confessed to committing the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, whose death was the focus of the Netflix docuseries “Making a Murderer.”
Avery filed many appeals for both improper handling of evidence and a conflict of interest to have the trial set in the same county he was suing. All appeals went unheard along with his nephews coerced confession being upheld in a supreme court hearing. Both remain behind bars as of October 2020.
Whether or not Steven Avery is guilty of both crimes, no crime or an innocent bystander, we know that his right to a fair trial had been violated. Exonerated and reconvicted in the same county that had a financial interest to keep him behind bars. It was also found that jurors on the Halbach trial were direct family members of officers who were not named in his lawsuit but worked closely with those who were.
If you are curious about the case of Steven Avery, check out Making a Murderer on Netflix. This is just one example of many cases of people who are or very well could be wrongfully convicted in order to please the local community in finding the killer, or the rapist. If Steven did this, justice was served, if he didn’t, then the perpetrator still roams the streets. Either way, the story isn’t complete in our book.