Steven Avery, the subject of Netflix’s documentary Making a Murderer, is in the news again this week, after his new lawyer Kathleen Zellner filed a motion to request a 90-day extension to file legal papers for his latest appeal.
It’s as good a time as any to offer this reminder: Steven Avery is guilty as hell.
I understand that most of the world moved on from their fascination with Steven Avery’s case months ago, but it stuck with me so much that I have since read two books on the subject. One was Michael Griesbach’s The Innocent Killer: A True Story of a Wrongful Conviction and its Astonishing Aftermath., which mostly covered the earlier wrongful conviction of Avery. In that book, Griesbach expressed that he was convinced of Avery’s guilt, and lists off several compelling reasons why he believes as much.
Griesbach, however, is a former Manitowoc County prosecutor, and some may discount Griesbach’s assessment of the situation because of his position, even though he was also instrumental in freeing Avery from his first wrongful conviction.
The second book, on the other hand, was written, objectively, by journalist, Jessica McBride, with the daily magazine OnMilwaukee. The book is called Rush To Judgment: The Unfiltered Story Of Steven Avery. Written after Making a Murderer aired, McBride returned to the scene of the crime and goes through the entire case again — from both the perspective of the prosecution and the defense — and untangles the defense-skewed perspective offered by the documentary. McBride offers, instead, a series of examples demonstrating how the Netflix series offered a one-sided perspective that left out crucial pieces of evidence favorable to the prosecution while highlighting and emphasizing moments seemingly favorable to the defense that were, in reality, barely noteworthy.
The most egregious example of this, of course, was the vial of blood with the needle hole in it, which the defense presented as the big Aha! moment, the smoking gun proving that police had framed Avery. That vial of blood, it turns out, was a non-factor in the case — the needle hole wasn’t evidence of tampering. The noodle hole was how Avery’s blood got into the vial in the first place. The conclusions drawn by the EDTA testing — which was favorable to the prosecution — barely mattered, because all of the suggestions that it had been tampered with were credibly explained away by the prosecution.
McBride’s account is even-handed, highlighting the flaws in the prosecution’s case — and the mistakes Ken Kratz made along the way — but after reading the book, there’s only one logical conclusion that can be drawn: Steven Avery killed Teresa Halbach. The evidence in the case was overwhelming, and it was only the one-sided re-examination of the case by Making a Murderer that gave anyone pause.
(I am specifically leaving out a discussion of Brendan Dassey here because it would take another 1500 words to explain how the Netflix documentary misrepresented that situation. It’s all in the book, though.)
Look: Like most everyone who watched the documentary, I was furious with what most of us perceived as a broken judicial system, a police department clearly out to get Steven Avery, and a man who was almost certainly framed for a murder he didn’t commit for a second time. As a former lawyer, I was appalled by what was suggested in the documentary.
However, a bit of research revealed that a lot of crucial evidence was left out of the documentary. Moreover, Making a Murderer never bothered to coherently piece together the narrative of the defense, because if they had, it would have been clear that the police did not frame Avery, and that any such suggestion was preposterous.
It’s been nearly six months since the documentary originally aired, and I am not going to bother rehashing the entire case, but I would encourage anyone who is still interested in it — and has questions about Avery’s guilt — to seek out McBride’s book.
I do, however, want to quickly summarize the narrative put forward by the defense suggesting that two police officers had framed Avery, if only to show you how completely absurd that defense is when you put it all together.
Here’s the bullet point version of McBride’s longer, more detailed examination of the defense:
— Two cops (or one) — neither of whom had a history of misconduct, or any previous relationship with Steven Avery — after learning that a young woman had gone missing decided to frame Steven Avery, before they even knew that Avery was the last person to see her and before they knew the woman was dead.
— To pull this off, they would have had to stumble upon Teresa Halbach’s car, move it into Steven Avery’s junk yard without being seen, cover it up, remove the license plate, and sneak out in another car.
— In a short period of time, the police officers would have also had to sneak over to the Clerk’s office and steal the vial with Avery’s blood in it — a vial these police officers didn’t even know existed at the time — and they would have had to return to Avery’s property and drip Avery’s blood six places in the car and do so in a way that looked like the blood came from an active cut (the doc didn’t present it, but a blood specialist testified that the blood dripped in a way that could only come from an active cut).
— They would have also had to get Avery’s touch DNA (DNA that wasn’t from blood) and place it on the hood of Halbach’s car (how? Maybe they sneaked into Avery’s home and stole his toothbrush?) without being seen by anyone on the property.
— They would have needed the key to Halbach’s car and they would have had to wait until after several searches of Avery’s property before planting the key near Avery’s bookcase without being seen by another officer after having somehow gotten Avery’s DNA on the key. (Here, the original Brendan Dassey testimony offered before Dassey was even a suspect — glossed over in the documentary — is critical to explaining how the key ended up near Avery’s bookcase.)
— They would have had to rub Teresa Halbach’s DNA on a bullet they would have then had to plant in Avery’s garage, hoping the authorities would stumble upon it.
— Meanwhile, because the defense admitted that the cops didn’t actually kill Halbach (but that someone else did), the real killer would have had to kill Halbach elsewhere, burn her body, and move all of her remains onto Avery’s property without being spotted (even though Avery was always on his property) and spread pieces of Halbach’s body around Avery’s burn pit without arousing the suspicion of Avery’s barking dog.
— The “real” killer would have also known that Avery burned a tire in his own fire pit, otherwise how did steel from a tire get mixed up in Halbach’s bone remains?
— The “real” killer would have also had to have done all of this without leaving a single trace of his own DNA behind, and been lucky enough to know that Avery was going to remove a blackish-brown fluid from his messy garage with bleach on the very night that Halbach disappeared.
How likely is all of that? Very, very unlikely.
Alternatively, a man with a long history of violence against women suffering from PTSD from his wrongful imprisonment murders a woman who comes to his house to take pictures, burns her body in the fire pit behind his own garage, and then destroys the DNA with bleach.
Which of those scenarios sounds more plausible? And remember, there’s no actual physical evidence that the police framed Avery. That was all conjecture from the defense. However, there was ample evidence implicating Avery in Halbach’s murder.
It doesn’t add up.
Yes, our judicial system is flawed, but in this case, it worked just as it should have. In light of all the evidence — including that which was not presented by Making a Murderer — any doubt that surfaced was not reasonable. In this case, it was’t the judicial system that was flawed; it was the documentary.