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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
Born (1962-07-09) July 9, 1962 (age 54)
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 of a 32-year rape/attempted murder sentence, the first six concurrent with an unrelated, uncontested conviction, before DNA testing exonerated him.[2][3]

After his release from prison in 2003, Avery filed a civil lawsuit for $36 million in damages against Manitowoc County, its sheriff, and its district attorney. In 2005, while his civil suit was pending, he was arrested for the murder of Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach. His 2007 conviction and sentence of life imprisonment without parole were upheld by higher courts.[4] A new series of appeal motions were filed in January 2016.[4]

Avery's wrongful conviction on the rape and assault charges brought renewed attention to the criminal prosecution process, and helped raise awareness to the dangers of false imprisonment. His subsequent murder trial, 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[edit]

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 on July 24 of that year. They had four children: Rachel, Jenny, and twins Steven and Will.[6]

Early convictions[edit]

In March 1981, at age 18, Avery was convicted of burglarizing a bar with a friend. After serving ten months of a two-year sentence in the Manitowoc County Jail, he was released on probation and ordered to pay restitution.[7] In late 1982, another man admitted that he, along with Avery, took Avery’s cat “and poured gas and oil on it and threw it in a bonfire and then watched it burn until it died". Avery pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was back in jail until August 1983.[7] "I was young and stupid, and hanging out with the wrong people," Avery said later, of his first two incarcerations.[6]

In January 1985, Avery's first cousin accused him of ramming his car into hers and, when she pulled over, pointing a gun at her head. She said beginning in July 1984, Avery had, intermittently, been exposing himself to her as she drove past his house.[7] Avery testified that the gun was not loaded, and that he was trying to stop her from spreading false rumors about him.[6] He was sentenced to six years for "endangering safety while evincing a depraved mind”, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.[8]

Sexual assault conviction[edit]

In July 1985, while Avery was awaiting sentencing on the endangerment conviction, a woman named Penny Beerntsen was brutally attacked and sexually assaulted while jogging on a Lake Michigan beach. Avery was arrested after the victim picked him out of a photo lineup. Although Avery was 40 miles away in Green Bay—an alibi supported by a time-stamped store receipt and 16 eyewitnesses[9]—he was charged, and ultimately convicted, of rape and attempted murder, and sentenced to 32 years imprisonment.[10] After serving 18 years—the first six concurrently with the prior sentence on the endangerment and weapons conviction—the Wisconsin Innocence Project used DNA testing, not available at the time of Avery's trial, to exonerate Avery as the perpetrator, and to demonstrate that Gregory Allen, a convicted felon serving a 60-year sentence on unrelated charges, had in fact committed the crime.[2][11] Avery was released on September 11, 2003.[3]

Avery's case attracted widespread attention. Rep. Mark Gundrum, chairman of the Wisconsin Assembly Judiciary Committee, impaneled a bipartisan task force to recommend improvements to the state’s criminal justice system to decrease the likelihood of wrongful convictions. The recommendations were ultimately drafted into legislation that became known as the Avery Bill—renamed the Criminal Justice Reform Bill after Avery was charged in the Halbach case—that was passed and signed in October 2005.[12][13]

Avery filed a civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County, its former sheriff, Thomas Kocourek, and its former district attorney, Denis Vogel, seeking to recover $36 million in damages stemming from his wrongful conviction. The suit was eventually settled in 2006 for $400,000 following his 2005 indictment on murder charges.[14]

Halbach murder[edit]

Photographer Teresa Halbach disappeared on October 31, 2005; her last appointment was a meeting with Avery, at his home on the grounds of Avery's Auto Salvage, to photograph a minivan that he was offering for sale. Her vehicle was found partially concealed in the salvage yard, and bloodstains recovered from its interior matched Avery's DNA. Investigators later identified charred bone fragments found in a burn pit near Avery's home as Halbach's.[15]

Avery was arrested and charged with Halbach's murder on November 11. Avery maintained that the murder charge was a frameup, promulgated to discredit his pending wrongful conviction civil case. Although Manitowoc District Attorney Mark Rohrer ceded control of the investigation to neighboring Calumet County, Manitowoc sheriff's deputies participated in searches of Avery's trailer, garage and property, leading to charges of conflict of interest and evidence tampering.[16] In particular, Avery's attorneys discovered that a box containing a vial of Avery's blood, obtained as evidence in the 1985 case, had been unsealed, and a puncture hole was present in the stopper.[17] 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. FBI technicians tested the blood recovered from Halbach's car for EDTA, a preservative used in blood vials but not present in the human body, and found none.[18]


In March 2006, Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey, was charged as an accessory in the Halbach case after he confessed to helping his uncle kill Halbach and dispose of the body.[19] He later recanted his confession, claiming it had been coerced, and refused to testify to his involvement at Avery's trial. Dassey was convicted on the accessory charge in a separate trial; his attorneys have filed a writ of habeas corpus for release or retrial, citing Constitutional rights violations due to ineffective assistance of counsel and the coerced confession.[20]

Avery stood trial in Calumet County in March 2007, with Calumet District Attorney Ken Kratz leading the prosecution, and Manitowoc County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Willis presiding. On March 18, Avery was found guilty of first-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm, and acquitted on the corpse mutilation charge.[21] Six weeks later he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole on the murder conviction, plus five years on the weapons charge, to run concurrently. After serving five years at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, he was transferred in 2012 to the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun.[22][23]

In January 2016, People Magazine reported that one of the Avery trial jurors was the father of a Manitowoc County Sheriff's deputy, and another juror's wife was a Manitowoc County clerk.[24] Juror Richard Mahler, who was excused from the trial after the jury had begun deliberations due to a family emergency, later commented that in an early vote, seven of the jurors voted not guilty, and he was mystified that the jury eventually agreed on a guilty verdict.[24] Another juror told the filmmakers of Making a Murderer that he or she felt intimidated into returning a guilty verdict, fearing for his or her safety.[25]


In August 2011, a state appeals court denied Avery's petition for a new trial.[26][27] The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied a motion to review the ruling. In January 2016, Chicago attorney Kathleen Zellner, in collaboration with the Midwest Innocence Project, filed a new appeal, citing violations of due process rights.[4][28][29][30]


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".[31][32] In a January 2016 response to the petition, a White House spokesperson said 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."[33][34] A spokesman for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker stated that Walker has no plans to consider pardoning Avery.[35]

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.[36] The petition was archived because it did not meet the minimum signature requirements.

Media coverage[edit]

On March 26, 2013, the public radio program Radiolab aired an episode titled "Are You Sure?"[37] which featured a twenty-four minute segment entitled "Reasonable Doubt".[38] It explored the story of Steven Avery from the perspective of Penny Beerntsen, the woman he was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting in 1985.[39]

On December 18, 2015, Netflix released Making a Murderer, a ten-episode original documentary series which explores Avery's trials.[40] The documentary "examines allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct, evidence tampering and witness coercion",[5] and implies that Avery was framed.[41]

Two episodes of the Dr. Phil show discussed Avery and the two trials.[42][43]

See also[edit]


  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 (January 5, 2016). "5 Things to Know About Steven Avery From 'Making a Murderer'". ABC News. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "Steven Avery – The Innocence Project". Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c 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 (March 10, 2006). "Unjust jail term didn’t make a monster". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on c. 2006. 
  9. ^ Steven Avery Trial Timeline, retrieved June 9, 2016.
  10. ^ Michael Griesbach (February 17, 2011). "The wronged guy". The Isthmus. Retrieved January 11, 2016. 
  11. ^ Ferak, John (2015). "Steven Avery Case Timeline". Appleton Post Crescent. Retrieved January 11, 2016. 
  12. ^ "'Avery bill' renamed". Racine Journal Times. November 19, 2005. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  13. ^ Avery Bill finds legislative support. Wisconsin Law Journal, retrieved June 3, 2016.
  14. ^ The Associated Press (February 15, 2006). "Avery settles lawsuit for $400,000". Madison. Retrieved February 15, 2016. 
  15. ^ Original coverage of 2007 Steven Avery trial., retrieved June 3, 2016.
  16. ^ "Lenk, Colborn, O'Kelly: Where are they now?". Post-Crescent Media. Retrieved January 21, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Indefensible". Making a Murderer. Season 1. December 18, 2015. Netflix. 
  18. ^ Mosher, Dave (February 3, 2016). "What an expert says about the FBI in 'Making a Murderer' could be damning to Steven Avery's defense". Tech Insider. Retrieved April 21, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Teen sticks to story in interview from Manitowoc jail". gmtoday. April 30, 2007. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  20. ^ Andy Thompson (December 21, 2015). "Dassey seeks release in Halbach murder". Appleton Post-Crescent. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  21. ^ Kertscher, Tom (March 19, 2007). "Avery found guilty of killing woman". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved January 15, 2016. 
  22. ^ Allison Piwowarski. "Which Jail Is Steven Avery In? The 'Making A Murderer' Subject Isn't Far From Home". Bustle. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  23. ^ "Wisconsin Department of Corrections Offender Locator". January 2, 2016. Retrieved January 2, 2016. 
  24. ^ a b Fowler, Tara (January 5, 2016). "Dismissed Steven Avery Juror Tells PEOPLE Jury Members Were Related to a Local Cop and a County Employee". People Magazine. Retrieved January 5, 2016. 
  25. ^ Stump, Scott (January 5, 2016). "Making a Murderer' filmmakers: Original juror believes Steven Avery was framed". Today. Retrieved January 5, 2016. 
  26. ^ "Steven Avery's appeal denied". August 24, 2011. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  27. ^ "State v. Avery, 2011 WI App 124". Retrieved December 19, 2015. 
  28. ^ Jan Cummings (January 9, 2016). "KC lawyer to join ‘Making a Murderer’ case’s defense team". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  29. ^ McPhate, Mike (January 13, 2016). "Steven Avery of 'Making a Murderer' Files an Appeal". New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2016. 
  30. ^ Steven Avery Appeal Motions, January 11, 2016]., retrieved June 9, 2016.
  31. ^ Jefferson Grubbs (December 21, 2015). "People Want To Help Steven Avery After 'Making A Murderer' Debuts On Netflix". Bustle. Retrieved December 30, 2015. 
  32. ^ Gilman, Greg. "‘Making a Murderer’ Sparks Online Petitions Demanding President Obama Free Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey". The Wrap. Retrieved December 31, 2015. 
  33. ^ Messer, Lesley (January 7, 2016). "White House Responds to Petition for Steven Avery of ‘Making a Murderer’". ABC News. Retrieved January 9, 2016. 
  34. ^ Prudom, Laura (January 7, 2016). "White House Responds to ‘Making a Murderer’ Petition". Variety. Retrieved January 9, 2016. 
  35. ^ Johnson, Alex (January 11, 2016). "Gov. Scott Walker Says No Pardon for 'Making a Murderer' Subject Steven Avery". NBC News. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  36. ^ "New petition calls for federal investigation into Halbach murder". NBC26. January 8, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Radiolab (Season 11, Episode 5) – Are You Sure?". March 26, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2016. 
  38. ^ "RadioLab (Season 11, Episode 5) – Reasonable Doubt". March 26, 2013. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  39. ^ "The Forgiveness Project – Penny Beerntsen". March 29, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  40. ^ "Netflix". Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 19, 2015. 
  41. ^ Saul, J. (March 29, 2016). Steve Avery's New Attorney is Going Hard After the Cops She Says Framed Him., retrieved March 29, 2016.
  42. ^ "Friday, January 15 "Making a Murderer": Why is Everyone Talking about Steven Avery?". 
  43. ^ "Monday, January 18 "Making a Murderer": New Details Revealed as the Sheriff’s Department Speaks Out". 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]