Avery's mugshot in 1985
July 9, 1962 |
Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, United States
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment without parole|
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution|
|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. He was released from prison on September 11, 2003.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. Avery said in an interview about the incident: "I was young and stupid, and hanging out with the wrong people."
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. Avery was sentenced to six years for endangering the safety of another person. According to Avery, the gun was not loaded, and he was trying to stop her from spreading false rumors about him.
Sexual assault conviction
In 1985 Avery was convicted of first-degree sexual assault, attempted first-degree murder, and false imprisonment of Penny Beerntsen. 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. The DNA was matched to Gregory Allen, who was already serving a sixty-year prison sentence. 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".
||This section of a biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2016)|
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.
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. 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.
On March 18, 2007, Avery was found guilty of murdering Halbach, not guilty of mutilating a corpse, and guilty of illegally possessing a firearm. 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.
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. 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. Another juror told the filmmakers of Making a Murderer that they felt intimidated into returning a guilty verdict, as they feared for their safety.[relevant? ]
On January 11, 2016, Avery filed for a new appeal citing violations of due process rights. 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.
On December 20, 2015, a petition was created at petitions.whitehouse.gov titled "Investigate and pardon the Averys in Wisconsin and punish the corrupt officials who railroaded these innocent men". 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". 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." Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has stated that he would not be pardoning Avery.
A second petition, titled "Initiate a Federal Investigation of the Sheriff's Offices of Manitowoc County and Calumet County, Wisconsin", was submitted to petitions.whitehouse.gov on January 7, 2016.
On March 26, 2013, the public radio program Radiolab aired an episode titled "Are You Sure?" which featured a twenty-four minute segment entitled "Reasonable Doubt". It explored the story of Steven Avery from the perspective of Penny Beerntsen, the woman he was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting in 1985.
On December 18, 2015, Netflix released Making a Murderer, a ten-episode original documentary series which explores Avery's trials. The documentary "examines allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct, evidence tampering and witness coercion." Due to the popularity of the documentary, much public attention and news coverage was brought to the case, resulting in two whitehouse.gov petitions.
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