Since the Netflix series “Making A Murderer” was released on December 18th, thousands have come into contact with the story of Steven Avery and, indirectly, his nephew Brendan Dassey. Thousands of calls and emails have been streaming into Manitowoc county, Wisconsin since it was released. Although Steven Avery was shown to have been falsely convicted of a sexual assault charge from 1985 in 2003, he was sent back to jail on the first degree murder of Teresa Halbach and has been there since 2006.
The information on Wikipedia is lacking, and although there are mountains of evidence to be found in the 10-hour Netflix documentary series, there exists no easily accessible catalog or list of the major points of evidence and discussion in the two related cases. Here, we will focus primarily on the evidence in the Steven Avery case, and will categorize the evidence and issues into 3 categories: potential for conflict of interest, physical evidence and its plausibility, and Brendan Dassey.
Potential for conflict of interest:
- The false conviction of Steven Avery that involved the Manitowoc Police Department could have theoretically been overturned in 1995 instead of 2003, due to the confession by the actual offender (Gregory Allen) which was passed on to officer Coburn in 1995. Despite Coburn admitting in court that this was the only time he had ever been called and informed that they had the wrong man in jail, he dismissed the suggestion and never reported it until the day after Steven Avery had been released in September 2003.
- Both Coburn and Lenz were named in the $36 million wrongful conviction suit probe by Avery in 2005. Combined, these two men found the majority of all physical evidence in the case pointing to Steven Avery.
- Then Lieutenant Lenz was one of the first people on the Avery property on November 5th when Teresa Halbach’s car was found. Despite the on-site officer claiming in court that Lenz was not there before the login sheet was started, Lenz’s name can only be found signing out on November 5th. Lenz provided two contradictory statements about when he arrived at the Avery property on November 5th, once claiming 6-7pm and then changing his story to 14:05 (25 minutes prior to the beginning of the log which began at 14:30) once it was discovered he never signed in.
- A blood sample from Steven Avery’s wrongful conviction investigation was opened illegally and without being signed out sometime before the November 5th find of Teresa Halbach’s Toyota RAV4. Although the series Making a Murderer claims the hole in the rubber is suspicious, this is actually normal procedure when putting blood into a sealed tube. The fact the evidence seal was broken without anyone having signed it out is, on the other hand, very suspicious.
- Despite the direct conflict of interest for Coburn and Lenz due to the $36 million inquiry, they were allowed to voluntarily lead the search of the Avery residence. The first evening they were not under direct supervision by the Calumet Police Department, on the 7th search of the property, Teresa Halbach’s key was suddenly discovered by Lt. Lenz in plain sight.
- The basis of the conviction of Steven Avery rests primarily on a blood stain, next to the ignition, in Teresa’s RAV4. There was also transfer blood stains of Teresa’s blood found in her Toyota RAV4 that are consistent with bloody head hair brushing against a surface.
- Other than Teresa’s blood in the Toyota Rav4 and on the bullet fragment, no blood or DNA from her was found anywhere else on the Avery property. Steven’s DNA, other than the blood stain, was not found in the RAV4.
- A single bullet was found on the floor in Steven’s garage which was found in a single test to have Teresa’s DNA. How a bullet theoretically went through Teresa to land on the floor, without her otherwise leaving a single drop of blood or hair follicle, is a scenario the prosecution avoided trying to explain. No other DNA from Teresa was found in the garage whatsoever, despite the police claiming this was the murder site. This bullet was found approximately 6 months after the initial searches (in March).
- Teresa’s RAV4 was found on the Avery property on November 5th, which was two days after Coburn had called into central to read in Teresa’s license plate and ask if it was a “99 Toyota,” which was information not supplied by the police in their description of the RAV4.
- Bone fragments were found in a fire pit on the Avery property, which happened to match several small pelvic bone fragments found in a pit over 10 miles away. Although the majority of the bone fragments were found in the Avery fire pit, there were also bone fragments found in a “burn barrel” on the Avery property. This would also not explain the bloody hair stain.
- The bone evidence means that we can only explain all of the evidence and assume Steven is the killer if we assume he burned the body in two separate locations and, after burning the body once in the off-site pit, he packed all of the bones back together and burned them in his bonfire at around 8:45PM. This series of events is inconsistent with the Brendan Dassey timeline used by investigators, which have Brendan describing seeing Teresa’s “toes” in the fire when he came over around 9PM. This would thus require Steven to burn just the pelvis of what Brendan described as an “uncut” human body across town, and then transport the remainder of the body to his property for the rest of the burning. If the body was burned entirely in Steven’s burn pit, this does not explain the pelvic bones or the fact that burned bones were also found in a barrel on the property.
- Brendan was found guilty of first-degree murder based on a confession that contradicts itself and the physical evidence. He was found guilty of mutilating a corpse, even though there was no evidence that a corpse was mutilated and the charge was dropped in regard to Steven Avery who Brendan was supposedly aiding in the murder. The same is true of his conviction for sexual assault of Teresa. Brendan’s DNA was never found in the garage, Steven’s trailer, or the RAV4.
There was a legitimate conflict of interest in the investigation, and existing physical evidence paints an unclear picture. The source of Steven’s blood in the RAV4 is not totally established, due to the fact that the FBI did not publish or give access to the test data they used in developing and executing their analysing of 3 of 6 blood swabs sent to them for EDTA (so, to see if the blood stain had come from stored blood) testing.
The hypothetical scenario presented by the state of Steven murdering Teresa in his garage and then burning her body in his fire pit does not fit with the physical evidence. If he had killed her in the garage and the body was only moved less than 100 yards then there would be no explanation for the bones in the burn barrel, the secondary burning site near the quarry, nor the blood stain from Teresa’s hair in her RAV4. This scenario also presents no explanation for the lack of Teresa’s DNA in the garage.
The guilt of Steven Avery is unclear, and the fact that he apparently pled guilty to setting a cat on fire in 1983 tends to support the idea that he might not be the nice guy the film portrays him as. There existed other viable suspects, although none of them were investigated remotely as in-depth as Steven. Taken together with the existing evidence, it is clear there was plausible potential of tampering in the gathering of evidence, and thus there exist more than enough reasons to continue to look into the case, and indeed all other cases where these types of circumstances arise.
Brendan Dassey might still get his case reviewed again for being illegally arrested and imprisoned for Teresa Halbach’s murder. It is also claimed that the hacking group Anonymous is trying to help Steven Avery, claiming they’ll release critical new documents.