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szdaily -> Person of the week
The man at the center of ‘Making a Murderer’
     2016-February-5  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    THE documentary series “Making a Murderer” has been making a splash since it hit Netflix in late December. It unfolds over 10 episodes, exploring the strange legal odyssey of Steven Avery, a man who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2007 for the murder of Teresa Halbach only two years after he was released from prison after serving 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit.

    In the six weeks since the series was released, the story has captivated audiences in the United States and beyond, launching a frenzy of binge-watching and fueling conspiracy theories and outrage, both among those who think Avery was wrongfully convicted — even framed — and those who think the documentary was misleading.

    A petition on Change.org to get a presidential pardon for Avery has gathered over 100,000 signatures while a similar petition on WhiteHouse.gov has garnered over 18,000 signatures.

    The documentary begins in 2003 in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, just after Avery was released from prison after serving 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. He had been exonerated by DNA evidence.

    Two years later, in 2005, just as Avery was in the middle of a US$36 million lawsuit against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department related to his 1985 wrongful rape conviction, he was arrested for murder.

    Avery, now 53, had gone from being a celebrated face of wrongful convictions to being accused of raping and dismembering Halbach.

    Halbach, 25, was a freelance photographer working for Autotrader magazine when she went missing Oct. 31, 2005. She had gone to the Avery family’s salvage yard in Mishicot, Wisconsin, to take pictures of a vehicle Avery was selling. Her charred remains were found in a burn-pit near his trailer.

    The story caught the attention of two aspiring filmmakers, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, who moved to Wisconsin to begin filming as Avery’s murder trial was about to start.

    “We were there because we wanted to ask bigger questions about the system,” Ricciardi said.

    “Is he guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Is the process fair? Can we trust the verdict?” Demos added.

    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 has three siblings: Earl, Chuck and Barb. He attended school in nearby Mishicot. According to one of his lawyers in 1985, school records showed 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 between their 1982 marriage and Avery’s prison sentence three years later, but divorced in 1988.

    Avery was something of a troublemaker in his youth. 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 10 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.

    In 1985, Avery was convicted of the first-degree sexual assault, attempted first-degree murder, and false imprisonment of Penny Beerntsen, a close friend of Avery’s cousin.

    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 US$36 million federal lawsuit against Manitowoc County, its former sheriff, Thomas Kocourek, and its former district attorney, Denis Vogel.

    On Nov. 11, Avery was charged with the murder of Halbach. He maintained that the 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 June 1, 2007, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Halbach.

    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.

    The defense had a difficult road ahead, overcoming what seemed like a mountain of evidence against Avery, including that Halbach’s remains were found on his property, Halbach’s car was spattered with his blood and Halbach’s car key was found in his home with his DNA on it.

    The filmmakers embedded with the defense team and captured key moments, such as when Avery’s attorneys discovered that a vial of Avery’s blood — still in evidence from the 1985 wrongful rape conviction case — appeared to have been tampered with.

    Also in the documentary, viewers see that the defense attorneys believe the police planted Halbach’s car key to her Toyota Rav-4 inside Avery’s trailer. The key wasn’t recovered until after Avery’s bedroom had already been searched several times and it was found by two members of the local sheriff’s department who had recently been deposed in Avery’s civil suit.

    But it wasn’t just Avery who was charged with the death of Halbach.

    Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey, who was just 16 years old at the time, was also arrested for the murder, accused of being an accomplice.

    For some viewers, Dassey’s confession tape is the most infuriating part of the story. Critics say the videotaped confession shows Dassey, who has a low IQ, being manipulated into giving a false confession. But the judge ruled that the confession was given freely and willingly and so it was allowed into evidence during Dassey’s trial.

    With so many people across the country obsessed with this story, the dead-end road that leads to the Avery salvage yard where Halbach’s car was found has become a kind of tourist destination, with people stopping to take selfies with the Avery property sign in the background.

    “Making a Murderer” could get a second season on Netflix. “The story is still unfolding,” Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos said late last month. “So we’ll certainly take a look at it.”(SD-Agencies)

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