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Steven Avery

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This article is about the convict from Wisconsin. For the Major League Baseball pitcher, see Steve Avery. For the American football player, see Steve Avery (American football).
Steven Avery
Steven Avery 1985.jpg
Avery's mugshot in 1985
Born (1962-07-09) July 9, 1962 (age 53)
Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, United States
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment without parole
Criminal status Incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution
Parent(s) Allan Avery
Dolores Avery[1]
Conviction(s) Sexual assault (exonerated, Sept. 2003)
First degree murder

Steven Avery (born July 9, 1962) is an American man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who served 18 years in prison for a wrongful sexual assault conviction in 1985. Aided by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, he was exonerated when improved DNA testing of evidence found a match with another man.[2] He was released from prison on September 11, 2003.[3]

In 2005, in the middle of depositions for his civil lawsuit against the sheriff's department and district attorney of Manitowoc County, Avery was arrested for the murder of Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach. He was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The case is under appeal as of January 2016, and a new team of defense attorneys was announced, with Kathleen Zellner taking on his case in conjunction with the Midwest Innocence Project.[4]

Avery's legal trials, particularly the murder case and its related issues, are the focus of the Netflix original documentary Making a Murderer, released in December 2015, a 10-episode series directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.[5]

Early years

Avery was born in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, to Allan and Dolores Avery. His family operated a salvage yard on the property where they lived. Avery had three siblings: Earl, Chuck, and Barb. He attended school in nearby Mishicot. According to one of his lawyers in 1985, school records showed that his IQ was 70 and that he "barely functioned in school". In 1982, Avery met single mother Lori Mathiesen, and they married in July 24 of that year. They had four children: Rachel, Jenny, and twins Steven and Will.[6]

Legal troubles

In March 1981, at age 18, Avery was convicted of burglarizing a bar with a friend and sentenced to two years in prison. The sentence was stayed and instead Avery served ten months in the Manitowoc County Jail, was placed on probation for five years, and was ordered to pay restitution.[7] In 1982, at age 20, Avery and another man were convicted of animal cruelty for pouring gasoline and oil on Avery's cat and throwing it into a fire; he was sentenced to prison for nine months.[7] Avery said in an interview about the incident: "I was young and stupid, and hanging out with the wrong people."[6]

In 1985, Avery was charged with assaulting his cousin after he ran her off the road at gunpoint. The cousin, the wife of a part-time Manitowoc County sheriff's deputy, had earlier complained that Avery had exposed himself when she drove past his house.[7] Avery was sentenced to six years for endangering the safety of another person.[8] According to Avery, the gun was not loaded, and he was trying to stop her from spreading false rumors about him.[6]

Sexual assault conviction

In 1985 Avery was convicted of first-degree sexual assault, attempted first-degree murder, and false imprisonment of Penny Beerntsen.[9] He maintained his innocence, and in 2002 the Wisconsin Innocence Project took Avery's case. As a result of improvements in DNA testing, they were able to gain exoneration of Avery in 2003 based on DNA evidence.[2] The DNA was matched to Gregory Allen, who was already serving a sixty-year prison sentence.[10] Avery served eighteen years in prison on these charges, served concurrently with the term for the endangering safety charge.

After Avery was released from prison in 2003, his case attracted widespread attention. A state legislator introduced legislation to prevent wrongful convictions. Avery filed a $36 million federal lawsuit against Manitowoc County, its former sheriff, Thomas Kocourek, and its former district attorney, Denis Vogel. On October 31, 2005, the state legislature passed the Avery Bill, which aimed to prevent wrongful convictions. The bill was later renamed the "criminal justice reforms bill".[11]

Halbach murder

On October 31, 2005, photographer Teresa Halbach was scheduled to meet with Steven Avery at his home on the grounds of Avery's Auto Salvage to photograph his sister's minivan for a sales ad in Auto Trader Magazine. She went missing the same day.

On November 11, Avery was charged with the murder of Halbach after her car and charred bone fragments were found at the salvage yard. He maintained that authorities were attempting to frame him for Halbach's disappearance, to make it harder for him to win his pending civil case regarding the false sexual assault conviction. To avoid a conflict of interest, Mark R. Rohrer, the Manitowoc County district attorney, requested that authorities from neighboring Calumet County lead the investigation. Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department officials remained involved in the case, however, participating in searches of Avery's trailer, garage and property, leading to accusations of tampering with evidence.[12]

On March 2, 2006, Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey, was charged with being a party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and first-degree sexual assault after confessing to investigators; he was later convicted in a separate trial.[13] Dassey's attorneys have since asked the district court for his release or to give him another trial, claiming constitutional rights violations due to ineffective assistance of counsel and an involuntary confession.[14]


Ken Kratz, the district attorney of Calumet County, was assigned as special prosecutor in the case, and Manitowoc County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Willis presided over the trial.

On March 18, 2007, Avery was found guilty of murdering Halbach, not guilty of mutilating a corpse, and guilty of illegally possessing a firearm.[15] On June 1, 2007, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Halbach. He was also sentenced to five years for felony possession of a firearm, to run concurrently with the murder sentence. Initially housed at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, he was moved in 2012 to the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun.[16][17]

In January 2016, People reported on the makeup of the trial's jury, revealing that one of the jurors in Avery's trial was the father of a Manitowoc County Sheriff's deputy, and another juror's wife was a Manitowoc County clerk.[18] Juror Richard Mahler, who was excused from the trial after the jury had begun deliberations due to a family emergency, later commented on the trial and verdict. He stated that, in an early vote, seven of the jurors voted not guilty, and he was mystified as to how the jury eventually agreed on a guilty verdict.[18] Another juror told the filmmakers of Making a Murderer that they felt intimidated into returning a guilty verdict, as they feared for their safety.[19][relevant? ]


In August 2011, a state appeals court denied Avery's appeal for a new trial.[20][21] The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

On January 11, 2016, Avery filed for a new appeal citing violations of due process rights.[4] The following day, attorney Kathleen Zellner announced that her Chicago-area firm would be representing Avery. She will be assisted by Tricia Bushnell, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project.[22][23]


On December 20, 2015, a petition was created at titled "Investigate and pardon the Averys in Wisconsin and punish the corrupt officials who railroaded these innocent men".[24] On December 22, 2015, the Innocence Project issued a statement that "a member of the Innocence Network is currently looking into some aspects of his case".[25][26] The White House responded to the petition on January 7, 2016, stating that, since Avery and Dassey "are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities."[27][28] Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has stated that he would not be pardoning Avery.[29]

A second petition, titled "Initiate a Federal Investigation of the Sheriff's Offices of Manitowoc County and Calumet County, Wisconsin", was submitted to on January 7, 2016.[30]

Media coverage

On March 26, 2013, the public radio program Radiolab aired an episode titled "Are You Sure?"[31] which featured a twenty-four minute segment entitled "Reasonable Doubt".[32] It explored the story of Steven Avery from the perspective of Penny Beerntsen, the woman he was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting in 1985.[33]

On December 18, 2015, Netflix released Making a Murderer, a ten-episode original documentary series which explores Avery's trials.[34] The documentary "examines allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct, evidence tampering and witness coercion."[5] Due to the popularity of the documentary, much public attention and news coverage was brought to the case, resulting in two petitions.

Two episodes of the Dr. Phil show discussed Avery and the two trials.[35][36][undue weight? ]

See also


  1. ^ Boyle, Louise (January 11, 2016). "EXCLUSIVE: Making a Murderer Steven Avery's prison fiancée reveals they split because he refuses to convert to Christianity - but says she is STILL convinced he is innocent". Daily Mail. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Messer, Lesley (5 January 2016). "5 Things to Know About Steven Avery From 'Making a Murderer'". ABC News. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  3. ^ "Steven Avery – The Innocence Project". Retrieved 20 December 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Emanuella Grinberg (January 13, 2016). "Steven Avery, subject of 'Making a Murderer' documentary, files appeals". CNN. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b "Netflix Announces New Original Documentary Series Making a Murderer" (Press release). Netflix. November 9, 2015. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c "Eighteen Years Lost". Making a Murderer. Season 1. December 18, 2015. Netflix. 
  7. ^ a b c Kurt Chandler (May 1, 2006). "Blood Simple". Milwaukee Magazine. Retrieved January 11, 2016. 
  8. ^ Mike Nichols (10 March 2006). "Unjust jail term didn’t make a monster". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on c. 2006. 
  9. ^ Michael Griesbach (February 17, 2011). "The wronged guy". The Isthmus. Retrieved January 11, 2016. 
  10. ^ Ferak, John (2015). "Steven Avery Case Timeline". Appleton Post Crescent. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  11. ^ "'Avery bill' renamed". Racine Journal Times. 19 November 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2016. 
  12. ^ "Lenk, Colborn, O'Kelly: Where are they now?". Post-Crescent Media. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  13. ^ "Teen sticks to story in interview from Manitowoc jail". gmtoday. April 30, 2007. Retrieved 20 December 2015. 
  14. ^ Andy Thompson (December 21, 2015). "Dassey seeks release in Halbach murder". Appleton Post-Crescent. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  15. ^ Kertscher, Tom (19 March 2007). "Avery found guilty of killing woman". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 15 January 2016. 
  16. ^ Allison Piwowarski. "Which Jail Is Steven Avery In? The 'Making A Murderer' Subject Isn't Far From Home". Bustle. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Wisconsin Department of Corrections Offender Locator". 2 January 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  18. ^ a b Fowler, Tara (5 January 2016). "Dismissed Steven Avery Juror Tells PEOPLE Jury Members Were Related to a Local Cop and a County Employee". People Magazine. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  19. ^ Stump, Scott (5 January 2016). "Making a Murderer' filmmakers: Original juror believes Steven Avery was framed". Today. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  20. ^ "Steven Avery's appeal denied". 24 August 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  21. ^ "State v. Avery, 2011 WI App 124". Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  22. ^ Jan Cummings (January 9, 2016). "KC lawyer to join ‘Making a Murderer’ case’s defense team". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  23. ^ McPhate, Mike (January 13, 2016). "Steven Avery of 'Making a Murderer' Files an Appeal". New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2016. 
  24. ^ Jefferson Grubbs (December 21, 2015). "People Want To Help Steven Avery After 'Making A Murderer' Debuts On Netflix". Bustle. Retrieved December 30, 2015. 
  25. ^ "A Note on Steven Avery and the Netflix Series "Making a Murderer"". December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015. 
  26. ^ Gilman, Greg. "‘Making a Murderer’ Sparks Online Petitions Demanding President Obama Free Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey". The Wrap. Retrieved 31 December 2015. 
  27. ^ Messer, Lesley (2016-01-07). "White House Responds to Petition for Steven Avery of ‘Making a Murderer’". ABC News. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  28. ^ Prudom, Laura (2016-01-07). "White House Responds to ‘Making a Murderer’ Petition". Variety. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  29. ^ Johnson, Alex (11 January 2016). "Gov. Scott Walker Says No Pardon for 'Making a Murderer' Subject Steven Avery". NBC News. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  30. ^ "New petition calls for federal investigation into Halbach murder". NBC26. January 8, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  31. ^ "Radiolab (Season 11, Episode 5) – Are You Sure?". 26 March 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2016. 
  32. ^ "RadioLab (Season 11, Episode 5) – Reasonable Doubt". 26 March 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  33. ^ "The Forgiveness Project – Penny Beerntsen". 29 March 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  34. ^ "Netflix". Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  35. ^ "Friday, January 15 “Making a Murderer”: Why is Everyone Talking about Steven Avery?". 
  36. ^ "Monday, January 18 “Making a Murderer”: New Details Revealed as the Sheriff’s Department Speaks Out". 

Further reading

  • Griesbach, Michael (2014). The Innocent Killer: A True Story of a Wrongful Conviction (2nd ed.). Chicago: American Bar Association. ISBN 978-1-62722-363-8. 

External links