The Mystery That Is Steven Avery

    OK, I’m a little late to this party. But I’m here now and I did what most of you have already done – I binge watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer. Then I went to bed, and woke up with this case still on my mind. This case gets under my skin for SO many reasons. We hear snippets of stories where the justice system fails many. Heck, over the course recent years we’ve seen countless instances where people of color don’t even live to make it to court – a failed system would almost be a dream for them! But to see just how strategically and systematically those who are underprivileged are railroaded by the system meant to protect us all is just mind blowing.

    By now you have probably heard the name Steven Avery. He was falsely identified, tried, and convicted for rape in 1985. When the rape victim originally gave her eyewitness account she described someone who clearly did not fit Avery’s description. With a little prompting she eventually picked him out of a photo line up. There was a man named Gregory Allen in the area who was a known threat. His name came up several times but lead investigators never pursued it. They set their sights on Avery and never let up. Why, you ask?

    The Avery family were the “outcasts” of their community, if you will. They had a big plot of land, they kept to themselves, and owned an eyesore of an auto salvage/junk yard. They didn’t try to blend in because they were fine hanging with each other. They didn’t go to the town square for ice cream socials on Saturday nights and many took offense to that. There’s a way things are done in Manitowoc County, Madison and the Avery’s just weren’t up to par. Most of the family seems to have a diminished IQ. Several members (including Steven) got into trouble every once in a while. The general consensus in the community was that they would be better off if the Avery’s were gone. When this rape happened, they got their chance.

    Steven Avery ended up doing 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit. The rape victim said she made it a point to look into her rapist’s face so she could identify him later. No one paid her description any mind. The sketch artist wasn’t given her details of the suspect’s appearance. Instead he was given a picture of Avery’s previous mugshot and used that to draw the sketch. Avery had a pretty airtight alibi with receipts proving he was nearly 100 miles away when the rape occurred. That was ignored. Even after he was serving time, Gregory Allen (who had been arrested for another assault) confessed to the rape that Avery was serving time for. His confession was ignored. At every turn the justice system failed Avery. Thank God with the passage of time technology advanced and The Innocence Project picked up his case and proved him innocent. DNA conclusively proved that Gregory Allen was in fact the rapist. Avery was finally released in 2003 after serving 18 years.

    Avery worked hard to get laws changed so that this would not happen to anyone else. He also sought to sue Manitowoc County for their role in his wrongful imprisonment. Just weeks after officers were deposed for his civil suit, he was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Teresa was a photographer for the Auto Trader and was sent to his property to take pictures of a van he had for sale. After meeting with Avery, she was never heard from again. Her roommate reported her missing three days after her disappearance and her family and friends staged search efforts in the area. Before officers knew whether she was dead or alive an officer hunted Avery down and approached him with a valiant “we got you now boy!” Hmm. That’s interesting.

    When officers initially interviewed Avery about her disappearance they asked if they could walk through his home and property and he agreed. Nothing raised an eyebrow. He also let the search parties search his property while he was away on a trip. A search participant found a car matching the description of the Rav4 Teresa drove and a search warrant was promptly issued. The Avery’s were kept off their own property for 8 days while the FBI and Sheriff’s office (who claimed they’d stepped aside from the investigation) had free reign of his property. They didn’t just search though, they actually tore his house apart. On the 7th search a key to Teresa’s house was found “in plain sight” in his bedroom. A few searches later fragments of bone were found in a fire pit on the property. These seemed damning but weren’t quite enough, so over time the Sheriff’s office worked on Avery’s neighbor/nephew who is admittedly stupid. He is easily swayed and over the course of an unauthorized 4 hour interrogation they got him to make up a story about how he helped rape and kill Teresa. Now, he had an alibi for most of the time block but that was conveniently ignored and his nightmare began.

    There are many pieces of the puzzle that just don’t add up. The prosecution’s theory is that Avery lured Teresa into the home, tied her to the bed, brutally raped her (then calls Brendan over where he rapes her too), dragged her to the garage where she was repeatedly stabbed, her throat slashed, then she was placed in the back of her SUV, removed from the SUV, shot up to 5 times, and finally burned in the fire pit. Totally gruesome right? And of course Teresa is a pretty, young, vibrant woman full of love and life. Videos of her were shown during sentencing exclaiming “I love everybody, I feel loved.” A sweetheart versus a big, bad monster. Justice had to be granted! But was it? Here is where I, along with many others, have problems with this entire scenario.

    • Brendan has an alibi for the time Teresa was being brutalized. His mom was home with him until nearly 5:00, and he receives a phone call around6:00 on his house phone. His initial and final accounts of his day match up. The admissions in between toe the line of coercion. When he is allowed to talk freely without being guided, his story doesn’t waver. He played video games, ate, went to burn trash with his Uncle, then went home and went to sleep.
    • Avery told several people that day that he had to be home by 3:00 to meet this photographer – would you do that if you were planning to kill her?
    • Avery received two phone calls from his girlfriend who was in jail at the time for drunk driving. Both of the phone calls were, of course, recorded. He sounds perfectly normal and the calls last for a good length of time. One call is around 5:00 when the prosecution says Teresa is being raped. The second is around 9:30 when Avery sounded tired and stated he was laying down getting ready for bed.
    • Avery called his sister around 7 to have Brendan come pick up and burn trash. Around 9:00 Avery received a call from his sister who said her son needed to be home by 10 – she didn’t hear anything odd in his voice. Her son promptly came home and nothing seemed out of order.
    • A single Rav4 key was found in his bedroom the 7th time they searched it, but who carries a single key? No house keys, locker keys, office keys; just a single car key. No DNA whatsoever was found on the key – not even hers. It was either new or cleaned. I’m not even sure they tested the key in the ignition. Maybe they did and that wasn’t highlighted but the appearance of the key is suspect.
    • The prosecution says she was shot 2-5 times. A single, crushed, bullet was found around the 12th time the property was searched and the testing on it was tainted. It never should have been introduced but protocol was skirted to make this fit in the scenario. Add that to the fact that is was found (along with the key) by Lenk, the officer who had a personal vendetta against Avery.
    • The Rav4 was found on the edge of the property with some tree branches over it (like – really?). This was a fully functioning auto salvage and Avery knew how to use every machine on the property; wouldn’t he have crushed the car versus parking and placing a branch over it??
    • None of her blood was found in the Rav4 which goes against the theory that she was placed in the back after she had been raped and stabbed.
    • Ever more than that, none of her blood (or any other DNA) was found ANYWHERE actually. Not in the house, the garage, the yard surrounding the home. With all the raping, stabbing, and gunshots there was not one speck of her blood. Anywhere. They went as far as to dig up the cement in the garage to see if blood had seeped beneath the surface and they came up with nothing. They also couldn’t prove that he cleaned the areas with bleach to cover his tracks. His DNA was everywhere. There’s no way to wipe her DNA clean and leave everyone else’s behind. Bleach is kind of an “all or nothing” deal.
    • The sheets from the bed were never sent in to to the lab to be processed. She was brutally raped and they tried hard to place her in the house, but the sheets from the bed she was supposedly raped on were not important enough to test? Hmm.
    • Someone accessed Teresa’s voicemail after she went missing and voice messages appear to have been deleted. That was not thoroughly investigated. The ex-boyfriend stated he guessed her password and got into her online account and voicemail. He seemed sketchy but no one seemed to bat an eye.
    • Why did the roommate wait 3 days to report her missing? He knew this was odd behavior for her so what gives?
    • Avery’s blood was found in her car, but his blood was taken from the crime lab where it was on file from his previous rape conviction. Who transported and had access to that evidence while it was stored in the crime lab? Lenk, the same officer that “found” the key and bullet fragment.

    Now, there are many who criticize this entire production (which was filmed over the course of 10 years, by the way). Nancy Grace is probably the biggest name to speak out against this series. She interviewed Steven Avery on her show when this was only a missing person’s case and she just KNOWS he was lying! I used to love Nancy Grace but have lost a great deal of respect for her over the years. She has tunnel vision and that has no place in the justice system. I cringe at the thought of her perfect prosecutorial record and wonder how many innocents are in jail because of her blind vigilance. All of that aside, she and fellow naysayers do point out other pieces of the puzzle that certainly make you pause.

    • Avery called the Auto Trader and specifically asked that she be the one to come out and take the photos. She’d been there several times before and he was familiar with her. Consequently, she told her boss she didn’t want to go out there because he made her feel uncomfortable.
    • Avery called Teresa three times on the day of their meeting, twice using *67 to hide his identity.
    • Avery owned handcuffs and leg irons which fit into the prosecution’s theory that this is what Teresa was tied up with during the rape.
    • Teresa’s phone and camera were found in a burn barrel on the property. However, this was not introduced at trial??
    • According to Nancy Grace there is a report that Avery called Teresa after her disappearance and left a message to the tune of “hey, why didn’t you show up?” Although, when he appeared on her show he admitted she had been there. There is also a bill of sale and copy of Auto Trader that Teresa gave Avery which proves that she did show up. I’m not sure where she got wind of that voicemail but she has been very vocal about it.

    As stated, those pieces do give a little bit of pause. But none of this erases the fact (in my mind anyway) that for 8 unimpeded days (that is DAYS not hours) this property was searched and no one found a speck of her blood. There should have been pints of it, honestly. But no one found anything? Raped. Stabbed. Throat sliced. Shots to the head. And .. nothing? I don’t buy it. My guess is the police agencies didn’t find her DNA because they didn’t have any to plant. Can I say with 100% certainty that Steve Avery is innocent? Of course not. I wasn’t there. Even his own attorney doesn’t take that leap. But was there enough evidence presented to create reasonable doubt? Oo hell yeah. Much more than enough. And the fact that the jury still found him guilty is very disturbing.

    Dean Strang discredits claims of missing evidence HERE.

    In addition to Nancy Grace, there are several other critics of this documentary series. Jodi, one of Avery’s ex-fiancees, played a huge role in the documentary as his devoted love. She now calls him a monster. However Sandy, his most recent ex-fiance, has maintained his innocence and continues to stand by his side. Ken Kratz, the prosecutor, had his own sex scandals and drug addictions broiling below the surface while this trial was going forward. FBI agents knew about it and conveniently buried it and let him move forward. As a result of his misconduct, he is no longer a prosecutor.

    When Steven Avery was initially charged with this murder the Innocence Project removed his highlight from their website and shunned him. Avery has exhausted all of his state appeals and vowed to proceed on his own with federal appeals. Since the airing of Making a Murderer, the Wisconsin Innocence Project has been inundated with calls regarding Avery’s case and are finding it hard to continue turning a blind eye. They are now in talks with Avery’s former lawyers to see if there was possible jury misconduct during deliberations. I find it interesting that the initial jury vote was 7 – innocent, 2 – undecided, and 3 – guilty. During deliberations jurors were trading votes back and forth — if you vote guilty on this (murder), I’ll vote not guilty on that (mutilation of a corpse). They compromised with each other. They tossed this man’s life around like kids playing football in the school yard. In the end, many just wanted to be done with it and go home. Weaker personalities lost out or folded to possible death threats and they ended with a unanimous guilty verdict. I’ve never had the pleasure of serving on a jury but I don’t believe that’s how it’s supposed to work.

    In Avery’s latest appeal he names two of his brothers as the potential murderers. They were accused of sexual assault in the past, including the month prior to Teresa’s disappearance. They also had a motive to frame Steven – he was about to take over the family business (an honor they wanted) and he had a good chance of winning his $36 mil civil suit against the county. Money is a great motivator, be it for things good or bad.

    Was this documentary one-sided? Possibly. But based on the evidence (or lack thereof) there doesn’t seem to be too many sides to portray. The sheriff’s office is going to let you in their doors to get a front row seat to their misconduct. Neither will the prosecution. But you can guarantee that a prosecutor is going to put their best evidence forward – and in this case it didn’t amount to much. Since the airing of Making a Murderer this case has become the hot-button issue of the month. The documentary itself is just over 10 hours, and you can spend as much time or more poring over articles and videos that have come to light since late December.

    My feeling is that Steven Avery is innocent. He didn’t have a clean past, but he didn’t have a psychotic one either. Couple that with the fact that he’s not that sophisticated. I just don’t see him doing this. He didn’t stop mid-rape to have a calm, 20 minute conversation with his girlfriend. He didn’t have the know-how to rid a crime scene entirely of one person’s DNA while leaving behind the DNA of others. I don’t know of anyone who could clean blood from beneath the surface of concrete. This just didn’t happen. And it is a gut punch to sit back and watch the “justice” system fail this man over and over again. His life has been stolen. The truly sad part is, it’s not just him. If you are poor, an outcast, a loner, a minority, a “problem child,” or in any other way an undesired member of society you are in deep shit if serious charges come your way. If you have a police department against you, your hands are tied. You don’t have the power that they have, and you don’t have the resources to fight them. My hope is that one day, somehow, the truth comes shining through. I feel heavily for his parents. They have stood by his side every step of the way. This trial has destroyed their business and put deep-seated rifts in their once close-knit family. I hope they live to see him walk free again, but time is limited.

    With the newfound popularity, new pieces seem to come to light daily. The producers have stayed in contact with and tape conversations that they have with Avery in the event there are future episodes. I, along with many others I’m sure, will be following to see what happens next. Until then, here is a “where are they now” of sorts.

      About Nadia Gilkes