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Steven Avery

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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) First-degree murder

Steven Avery (born July 9, 1962) is a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who was convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985, at the age of 22, served 18 years of a 32-year sentence, was exonerated by DNA testing, and later convicted of an unrelated murder in 2007.[2][3]

After his release from prison in 2003, Avery filed a $36-million civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County, its former sheriff, and its former district attorney. In November 2005, while his civil suit was pending, he was charged and later convicted of the murder of a Wisconsin photographer and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Although the conviction was upheld by higher courts,[4] a new series of appeal motions was filed in January 2016.[4]

Avery's 2003 exoneration prompted widespread discussion of Wisconsin's criminal justice system. The Criminal Justice Reform Bill, enacted into law in 2005, implemented reforms aimed at preventing future wrongful convictions.

The 2007 murder trial and its associated issues are the focus of the Netflix original documentary series Making a Murderer, released in December 2015. Also covered in the series is the arrest and prosecution of his young nephew, Brendan Dassey, convicted in 2007 as an accessory.[5] In August 2016, a federal judge overturned Dassey's conviction on the grounds that his confession had been involuntary.[6]

Early years[edit]

Steven Avery was born in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, to Allan and Dolores Avery. Since 1965, his family has operated a salvage yard on the 40-acre property where they lived outside town. Avery has three siblings: Chuck, a younger brother Earl, and Barb (Barbara). He attended public schools in nearby Mishicot and Manitowoc, where his mother said he went to an elementary school "for slower kids".[7] According to one of his lawyers in 1985, school records showed that his intelligence quotient (IQ) was 70, and that he "barely functioned in school".[citation needed]

On July 24, 1982, Avery married Lori Mathiesen, who was a single mother. They had four children together: Rachel, Jenny, and twins Steven and Will.[8]

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, two other men admitted that they, at Avery's suggestion, 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 was found guilty of animal cruelty and was jailed until August 1983.[7] "I was young and stupid, and hanging out with the wrong people", Avery said later, of his first two incarcerations.[8]

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 and trying to force her into his vehicle. She said that beginning in July 1984, Avery had, intermittently, been exposing himself to her as she drove past his house.[7] Avery admitted to running her off the road and brandishing his gun, but maintained that the gun was not loaded, and that he was trying to stop her from spreading rumors about him.[8] He was sentenced to six years for "endangering safety while evincing a depraved mind", and possession of a firearm.[9]

Wrongful sexual assault conviction[edit]

In July 1985, 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 from a photo lineup, and later from a live lineup as well.[10] Although Avery was 40 miles away in Green Bay shortly after the attack— an alibi supported by a time-stamped store receipt and 16 eyewitnesses[11]—he was charged and ultimately convicted of rape and attempted murder, then sentenced to 32 years in prison.[12] Appeals in 1987 and 1996 were denied by higher courts.[10]

Around 1995, a Brown County police detective called the Manitowoc County Jail, saying that an inmate "had admitted committing an assault years ago in Manitowoc County and that someone else was in jail for it". The jail officer transferred the call to the Manitowoc County detective bureau. Deputies recalled Sheriff Kocourek telling them, “We already have the right guy. Don’t concern yourself with it.”[7]

Avery continued to maintain his innocence in the Beerntsen case. In 2002, after serving 18 years (the first six concurrently on the prior endangerment and weapons convictions), the Wisconsin Innocence Project used DNA testing—not available at the time of Avery's original trial—to exonerate him, and to demonstrate that Gregory Allen had in fact committed the crime.[2][13] Allen, who bore a striking physical resemblance to Avery,[3] had committed an assault at the same beach where Beerntsen was attacked in 1983,[7] and was under police surveillance in 1985 due to his history of criminal behavior against women; but he was never a suspect in the Beerntsen case, and was not included in the photo or live lineups presented to Beerntsen.[10]

Avery was released on September 11, 2003.[3] By that time, his wife had divorced him and he was estranged from his family. A court order had been issued limiting his contact with his children while he was incarcerated, citing physical and emotional abuse towards his wife and children.[citation needed] His wrongful conviction case attracted widespread attention. Rep. Mark Gundrum, Republican chairman of the Wisconsin Assembly Judiciary Committee, impaneled a bipartisan task force to recommend improvements to the state’s criminal justice system aimed at decreasing the likelihood of future wrongful convictions. Recommendations included a revamped eyewitness identification protocol[3] and new guidelines for interrogations of suspects and witnesses and the collection and storage of material evidence.[14] The recommendations were ultimately drafted into legislation that became known as the Avery Bill, which was passed and signed in October 2005,[15] then renamed the Criminal Justice Reform Bill a month later after Avery was charged in the Halbach case.[16]

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 settled in February 2006 for $400,000 following his murder indictment.[17]

Halbach murder[edit]

Photographer Teresa Halbach disappeared on October 31, 2005; her last known appointment was a meeting with Avery, at his home on the grounds of Avery's Auto Salvage, to photograph his sister's minivan that he was offering for sale. Halbach's 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.[18]

Avery was arrested and charged with Halbach's murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse on November 11, 2005. He had already been charged with a weapons violation as a convicted felon. Avery maintained that the murder charge was a frameup, promulgated to discredit his pending wrongful-conviction civil case. Although Manitowoc County ceded control of the murder investigation to the neighboring Calumet County Sheriff's Department because of Avery's suit against Manitowoc County, Manitowoc sheriff's deputies participated in repeated searches of Avery's trailer, garage, and property, supervised by Calumet County officers. A Manitowoc deputy found the key to Halbach's vehicle in Avery's bedroom. Avery's attorneys said there was a conflict of interest in their participation and suggested evidence tampering.[19]

Avery's attorneys also discovered that an evidence box containing a vial of Avery's blood, collected in 1996 during his appeals efforts in the Beerntsen case, had been unsealed and a puncture hole was visible in the stopper.[20] 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; but FBI technicians tested the blood recovered from Halbach's car for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), a preservative used in blood vials but not present in the human body, and found none.[21] Avery's defense team presented expert witness testimony stating that it was not possible to tell if the negative result meant that EDTA was not present, or if the test itself was inconclusive.


As of May 2006, Avery was "the only Innocence Project inmate out of 174 nationwide to be charged with a violent crime."[7]

In March 2006, Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey, was charged as an accessory in the Halbach case after he confessed under interrogation to helping his uncle kill Halbach and dispose of the body.[22] He later recanted his confession, claiming it had been coerced, and refused to testify to his involvement at Avery's trial. Dassey was convicted of murder, rape, and mutilation of the corpse in a separate trial.[23]

In pre-trial hearings in January 2007, charges of kidnapping and sexual assault were dropped. 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.[24] 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, Avery was transferred in 2012 to the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun.[25][26]

In January 2016, after Making a Murderer had been released on Netflix, 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 clerk with Manitowoc County.[27]

Juror Richard Mahler, who was excused from the trial after the jury had begun deliberations due to a family emergency, later commented that early on, seven of the jurors had voted not guilty. He was mystified that the jury eventually agreed on a guilty verdict.[27] Mahler's account has been disputed by other jury members, saying no early vote took place, and an informal vote was taken where only three jury members felt Avery was not guilty.[28] Another juror allegedly told the filmmakers of Making a Murderer of feeling intimidated into returning a guilty verdict, fearing for personal safety.[29] The filmmakers' claims have also been disputed.[30]


In August 2011, a state appeals court denied Avery's petition for a new trial,[31] and in 2013 the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied a motion to review the ruling.[32] In January 2016, Chicago attorney Kathleen Zellner, in collaboration with the Midwest Innocence Project, filed a new appeal, citing violations of Avery's due process rights, and accusing officials of gathering evidence from properties beyond the scope of their search warrant.[33][34][35]

In December 2015, Dassey's defense attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court for release or retrial, citing constitutional rights violations due to ineffective assistance of counsel and the coerced confession.[23] In August 2016, Dassey's conviction was overturned by federal magistrate William E. Duffin, who ruled that his confession was involuntary. Duffin granted a defense petition for Dassey's release on November 14,[36] but an appeals court overturned his ruling on November 17, ordering that Dassey remain incarcerated pending resolution of the state's appeal of the habeas decision.[37]


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".[38][39] 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."[40][41] A spokesman for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker stated that Walker had no plans to consider pardoning Avery.[42]

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.[43] 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?"[44] which featured a 24-minute segment entitled "Reasonable Doubt".[45] It explored the story of Steven Avery from the perspective of Penny Beerntsen, the woman he was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting in 1985.[46]

On December 18, 2015, Netflix released Making a Murderer, a ten-episode original documentary series which explores Avery's and Dassey's investigations and trials.[47] The documentary "examines allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct, evidence tampering and witness coercion."[5]

Among the many TV shows that covered the documentary and the issues under discussion, Dr. Phil show had two episodes discussing Avery and the two trials.[48][49]

The series was widely reviewed and discussed in the media. It generated numerous follow-up interviews and articles with parties shown in the documentary, including family members, and some reporters of the trials[citation needed].

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 c d "Steven Avery – The Innocence Project". Retrieved December 20, 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. ^ "Netflix's Making a Murderer subject Brendan Dassey has conviction overturned". ABC News. Reuters. August 13, 2016. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Kurt Chandler (May 1, 2006). "Blood Simple". Milwaukee Magazine. Retrieved January 11, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c "Eighteen Years Lost". Making a Murderer. Season 1. December 18, 2015. Netflix. 
  9. ^ Mike Nichols (March 10, 2006). "Unjust jail term didn't make a monster". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on c. 2006. 
  10. ^ a b c John Ferak, "Steven Avery Case Timeline: Update", Post-Crescent, part of USA TODAY NETWORK, 3 February 2016; accessed 14 August 2016
  11. ^ Steven Avery Trial Timeline, retrieved June 9, 2016.
  12. ^ Michael Griesbach (February 17, 2011). "The wronged guy". The Isthmus. Retrieved January 11, 2016. 
  13. ^ Ferak, John (2015). "Steven Avery Case Timeline". Appleton Post Crescent. Retrieved January 11, 2016. 
  14. ^ MONICA DAVEY, "Freed by DNA, Now Charged in New Crime", New York Times, 23 November 2005; accessed 14 August 2016
  15. ^ "Avery Bill finds legislative support", Wisconsin Law Journal, 31 August 2005; retrieved June 3, 2016.
  16. ^ "'Avery bill' renamed". Racine Journal Times. November 19, 2005. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  17. ^ The Associated Press (February 15, 2006). "Avery settles lawsuit for $400,000". Madison. Retrieved February 15, 2016. 
  18. ^ Original coverage of 2007 Steven Avery trial., retrieved June 3, 2016.
  19. ^ "Lenk, Colborn, O'Kelly: Where are they now?". Post-Crescent Media. Retrieved January 21, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Indefensible". Making a Murderer. Season 1. December 18, 2015. Netflix. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ "Teen sticks to story in interview from Manitowoc jail". gmtoday. April 30, 2007. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  23. ^ a b Andy Thompson (December 21, 2015). "Dassey seeks release in Halbach murder". Appleton Post-Crescent. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  24. ^ Kertscher, Tom (March 19, 2007). "Avery found guilty of killing woman". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved January 15, 2016. 
  25. ^ Allison Piwowarski. "Which Jail Is Steven Avery In? The 'Making A Murderer' Subject Isn't Far From Home". Bustle. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  26. ^ "Wisconsin Department of Corrections Offender Locator". January 2, 2016. Retrieved January 2, 2016. 
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ In Touch Weekly (January 20, 2016). "'Making A Murderer': Jurors Tell Three Contradicting Stories About What Happened After Day One of Deliberations". In Touch. Retrieved May 23, 2017. 
  29. ^ Stump, Scott (January 5, 2016). "Making a Murderer' filmmakers: Original juror believes Steven Avery was framed". Today. Retrieved January 5, 2016. 
  30. ^ McBride, Jessica (January 5, 2016). "Avery murder trial juror denies new reports, stands by verdict". OnMilwaukee Magazine. Retrieved May 23, 2017. 
  31. ^ "Steven Avery's appeal denied". August 24, 2011. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  32. ^ "State v. Avery, 2011 WI App 124". Retrieved December 19, 2015. 
  33. ^ Jan Cummings (January 9, 2016). "KC lawyer to join 'Making a Murderer' case's defense team". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  34. ^ McPhate, Mike (January 13, 2016). "Steven Avery of 'Making a Murderer' Files an Appeal". New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2016. 
  35. ^ Steven Avery Appeal Motions, January 11, 2016]., retrieved June 9, 2016.
  36. ^ "Judge orders release of Brendan Dassey, pending possible retrial". November 14, 2016. Retrieved November 14, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Appeals court blocks "Making a Murderer" subject's prison release". November 17, 2016. Retrieved November 17, 2016. 
  38. ^ Jefferson Grubbs (December 21, 2015). "People Want To Help Steven Avery After 'Making A Murderer' Debuts On Netflix". Bustle. Retrieved December 30, 2015. 
  39. ^ Gilman, Greg. "'Making a Murderer' Sparks Online Petitions Demanding President Obama Free Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey". The Wrap. Retrieved December 31, 2015. 
  40. ^ Messer, Lesley (January 7, 2016). "White House Responds to Petition for Steven Avery of 'Making a Murderer'". ABC News. Retrieved January 9, 2016. 
  41. ^ Prudom, Laura (January 7, 2016). "White House Responds to 'Making a Murderer' Petition". Variety. Retrieved January 9, 2016. 
  42. ^ Johnson, Alex (January 11, 2016). "Gov. Scott Walker Says No Pardon for 'Making a Murderer' Subject Steven Avery". NBC News. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  43. ^ "New petition calls for federal investigation into Halbach murder". NBC26. January 8, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  44. ^ "Radiolab (Season 11, Episode 5) – Are You Sure?". March 26, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2016. 
  45. ^ "RadioLab (Season 11, Episode 5) – Reasonable Doubt". March 26, 2013. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  46. ^ "The Forgiveness Project – Penny Beerntsen". March 29, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  47. ^ "Netflix". Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 19, 2015. 
  48. ^ ""Making a Murderer": Why is Everyone Talking about Steven Avery?". Dr. Phil Show. January 15, 2016. 
  49. ^ ""Making a Murderer": New Details Revealed as the Sheriff's Department Speaks Out". Dr. Phil Show. January 18, 2016. 

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]