Earlier in December, Netflix released the ten part documentary Making a Murderer. The series focuses on the life of Steven Avery. Avery was exonerated in 2003 after serving 18 years in prison for false rape convictions. After filing suit for wrongful imprisonment, Avery was accused of murdering a photographer. Making a Murderer has brought widespread attention to the case, and raised questions about where Steven Avery is today and what the future of his case looks like.
Steven Avery’s Early Crimes & False Conviction
Steven Avery was born in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, in 1962. Not much is known about his early life except his criminal convictions. In 1980, Avery was sentenced to 10 months in prison for burglary of a nearby bar. Two years later, when he was 20, Avery pleaded guilty to animal cruelty after brutally killing his own cat.
In 1985, Avery was charged with assault and for possession of a firearm as a felon, and for a separate event, sexual assault, and attempted rape. Despite 16 alibi witnesses, the jury convicted Avery for the sexual assault based on the victim’s eyewitness account and his history of criminal activity. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
A petition for DNA testing was granted in 1995, and revealed evidence of an unknown person. However, Avery’s motion for a new trial was denied, as the new DNA evidence did not itself clear him. In 2002, as part of normal operations, the Wisconsin Innocence Project requested DNA testing of further evidence. The Wisconsin Innocence Project is a non-profit which works to exonerate wrongly convicted people in the state of Wisconsin, so far freeing over 300 people.
Their work linked Gregory Allen to the case, a convicted felon who looked strikingly like Avery. At that point, Allen was already serving a 60-year term for a sexual assault in Green Bay which occurred after the 1985 crime Avery was serving a sentence for.
Exoneration and Halbach Murder Details
In 2003, the Wisconsin Innocence Project, along with the Manitowoc County District Attorney, petitioned and received a dismissal of the charges against Steven Avery, and he was released. Over the next few years, the Innocence Project was able to use Avery’s case to spearhead a reform in how Wisconsin approaches eyewitness testimony. By 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Justice adopted a new witness identification protocol. Also that year, Avery filed suit against Manitowoc County, as well as the sheriff and district attorney who had been serving during his wrongful conviction.
The same day that state legislators were passing what was then called the Avery Bill, in an attempt to prevent wrongful convictions, Teresa Halbach went missing. Halbach, a photographer for Auto Trader Magazine, was scheduled to meet with Avery at his family’s business, Avery Auto Salvage. On October 31st, 2005, Teresa Halbach disappeared.
Two weeks later, Steven Avery was charged with her murder. Immediately, Avery accused the authorities of attempting to discredit him before his pending civil case against Manitowoc County. With that in mind, the Manitowoc district attorney transferred the investigation to neighboring Calumet County. In March of 2006, Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey pleaded guilty to being a party to first-degree homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and sexual assault, in relation to Halbach’s disappearance. It’s worth noting that his attorneys have since asked for another trial because of suspected rights violations.
A lot of people who haven’t seen the whole documentary have been asking online “did steven avery go to jail for the Teresa Halbach murder?” In fact in 2007, Avery was found guilty of murdering Teresa Halbach, as well as possession of a firearm as a felon. On June 1st, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, with a concurrent ten years for the felonious possession. In 2011, a request for a new trial was denied.
Media Coverage of Steven Avery Case
Before the Netflix documentary, there was a Radiolab episode titled “Are You Sure?” Aired for the first time on March 26th, 2013, one segment of “Are You Sure?” followed the events of Steven Avery’s life from the perspective of the woman he was falsely convicted for sexually assaulting back in 1985.
In November of 2015, Netflix announced Making a Murderer. Filmed by Columbia University graduates, the press release said the documentary would examines “allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct, evidence tampering and witness coercion.” The documentary mostly focuses on the Halbach murder case, especially around the procedures the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department used in gathering evidence against Avery.
Steven Avery Now – 2018 Update
Making a Murderer released on Netflix on December 18th, with the first episode also hosted by YouTube. While critical response for the show has been overwhelmingly positive, those more closely connected with the case have not had the same reaction. The district attorney who led the prosecution against Avery in the murder trial claimed the documentary didn’t ask for his side of the story, though the creators say they did. Manitowoc sheriff Robert Hermann similarly criticized the objectivity of the story. Teresa Halbach’s family stated back in November, when asked for their thoughts on the documentary, they were “saddened to learn that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and to seek profit from their loss.”
While the fairness of the views presented in Making a Murderer is debatable, the piece did bring new attention to Steven Avery’s case. On December 20th, a petition was created on Change.org to “Free Steven Avery,” and within seven days had collected over 28,000 supporters. On December 22nd, the Wisconsin Innocence Project issued a statement directly in response to the Netflix documentary, stating a member of their Project was “looking into some aspects of his case.”
Steven Avery has, as the last episode of Making a Murderer explains, exhausted his appeals. No longer entitled to state-appointed defense, Avery is shown requesting his case file himself. With a confession from his nephew implicating him, it seems unlikely that Avery will be able to repeal the conviction this time, even if it was unjust. However, his case has brought a fresh attention to the process of criminal convictions, and helped raise awareness of the dangers of false imprisonment.