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Steven AVERY





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Mutilating a corpse
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 1, 2005
Date of birth: 1962
Victim profile: Teresa Halbach, 25
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Chilton, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole June 2007

Trial opens for exonerated rapist accused of slaying young photographer

March 15, 2007

CHILTON, Wis. Advanced DNA testing was used to free Steven Avery after he spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit; now the same technology threatens to put him in prison for the rest of his life.

Avery, 44, is accused of luring Teresa Halbach, a young photographer working for Auto Trader Magazine, to his family's auto salvage yard, where he allegedly killed her and mutilated her remains on Halloween 2005.

Bone fragments and tissue found in a burn barrel outside Avery's mobile home matched Halbach's DNA profile, according to police.

If convicted of murder, Avery faces life in prison.

The irony of Avery's situation has drawn nationwide attention and brought a throng of media outlets to Chilton, Wisconsin. In this town of approximately 4,000, Avery became a notable figure after becoming one of the first subjects of the Wisconsin Innocence Project to walk free.

The Innocence Project, headed by the University of Wisconsin Law School, uses DNA technology to help free wrongly convicted prisoners.

The sophisticated DNA testing used to identify Halbach was in its infancy in 1985, when Avery was convicted of sexual assault. In 2003, DNA evidence indicated that another man  who was already in prison  had committed the crime that put Avery away for nearly two decades.

But the time Avery spent in prison doesn't matter in Halbach's case, according to special prosecutor Kenneth Kratz.

"Who killed her?" Kratz said during his opening statement Monday. "This evidence points to one person."

Kratz told jurors that Avery called Auto Trader Magazine and requested that Halbach, who had been to the salvage yard before, stop by to photograph a Dodge Caravan his family was selling. Sellers normally pay $40 for the pictures to be taken. The photographers receive a cut of the fee. 

Three days after Halbach visited the salvage yard, her family reported her missing.

After contacting the publication, investigators zeroed in on Avery's property  a sprawling 40-acre site muddled with rusting and mangled cars. Avery lived in a trailer on the property where his parents, sister and brothers also lived in a string of mobile homes.

After searching every trunk of the 4,000 cars located on the lot, police found no evidence of Halbach until two volunteers found her Toyota RAV 4 parked along the perimeter of the lot, Kratz said. The car's license plates were missing.

Over the next 11 days, police found Halbach's charred remains in a burn barrel along with her cellphone situated a stone's throw from Avery's trailer. Inside his home, investigators located Halbach's car key covered with the defendant's blood. Her crumpled license plates turned up in an aging station wagon.

When the forensic testing was completed, investigators matched Avery and Halbach's blood to that found inside her SUV. Other trace amounts of Halbach's DNA were found on a bullet embedded in the floor of Avery's garage, according to Kratz.

Teresa Halbach, the victim

Defense attorney Dean Strang does not dispute the evidence  the bullet with Halbach's DNA, the blood found in her car, or the key smeared with Avery's blood.  Instead, Strang concludes that these were planted by police.

A plot engineered by law enforcement may seem like a desperate argument, but Strang offered a motive. Two officers  Sgt. Andrew Colborn and Lt. James Lenk  were forced to give depositions in a $36 million lawsuit Avery filed against Manitowoc County, where he was wrongly convicted. 

"All of those turning emotions, all of that within the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department floods out. You can call it tunnel vision, you can call it investigative bias, but this investigation is about Steven Avery and not much else," Strang said in his opening statement.

Infuriated by the embarrassment of the lawsuit and unjust conviction, they went after Avery, according to Strang.

"This wasn't an effort to frame an innocent man. It was an intense desire to conclude that he was the guilty man," Strang told jurors.

The defense attorney claims an unprotected vial of Avery's blood, which was taken during the review of the 1985 case, provided the means for the officers' deception.

The officers dabbed the defendant's blood in the victim's car, on the car key and on the bullet, according to Strang.

Why else wouldn't investigators have found Halbach's key lying in plain sight in Avery's bedroom after several exhaustive searches of his home? Strang asked.  

Lenk did not find the car key until eight days after Halbach disappeared, according to Strang. And it did not have any of the victim's DNA or fingerprints on it.

The bullet that tested positive for Halbach's DNA was not recovered until five months after her murder, according to the defense. Despite several searches that turned up other bullets and shell casings in the garage, the incriminating one wasn't found until March 2006.

The defense also raised questions over the bone fragments found near Avery's trailer. Strang said other fragments were found in the gravel pits that surround the salvage yard, but were not entered into evidence because they were too badly destroyed to be linked to Halbach.

Strang contends the bones were moved from another site to the burn barrel where police recovered them.

"If he's the one that burned the body, he's not going to bring [the bones] back 20 yards outside his bedroom window," Strang said.

Avery is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, false imprisonment, mutilating a corpse and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Manitowoc County Circuit Judge Patrick Willis dismissed kidnapping and sexual assault charges before the trial.

Testimony is expected to continue tomorrow in the trial, which is slated to last six weeks.


Steven Avery convicted of killing photographer in his family's junkyard

April 12, 2007

CHILTON, Wis. A man who once symbolized the liberating power of DNA evidence will return to prison after a jury convicted him of murdering a promising young photographer.

A six-week murder trial came to a close Sunday when a jury found Steven Avery, 44, guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and illegal possession of a firearm in the death of Teresa Halbach, 25. Avery was found not guilty of mutilating a corpse.

He now faces a mandatory life sentence, which is expected to be handed down in six weeks.

The sequestered jurors reached their verdict after nearly four days of deliberations. When the announcement was made, the defendant showed little reaction other than shaking his head slightly.

The victim's brother, Mike Halbach, told reporters, "Two out of three is pretty good in this case," referring to the two convictions. "We owe the jury a big thank you."

On Halloween 2005, Halbach was sent to the Avery property by Auto Trader Magazine, the publication that employed her as a freelance photographer. The state maintains that Avery specifically requested that Halbach take the photograph of a Dodge minivan his sister was selling.

Her family reported her missing three days later.

Investigators quickly honed in on Avery's property a sprawling 40-acre site muddled with rusting and mangled cars while search volunteers found Halbach's Toyota RAV 4 parked along the perimeter of the lot.

Over the next 11 days, police recovered Halbach's charred bone fragments and pieces of her cellphone in a burn barrel near Avery's trailer.

Inside his home, investigators found the victim's car key covered with the defendant's blood.

Investigators also matched Avery and Halbach's blood to that found inside her SUV. Police say they found other trace amounts of Halbach's DNA on a bullet embedded in the floor of Avery's garage.

Avery holds a unique place in Wisconsin criminal history, a dual role of exonerated man and murderer. The defendant was one of the first success stories of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which examines DNA evidence of past cases in hopes of uncovering the true offenders. Avery spent 18 years in prison after being convicted of rape, a finding that was later overturned when DNA profiling implicated another man in the 1985 assault.

The story has piqued regional interest and drawn a mass of media to the small town courthouse approximately 80 miles north of Milwaukee.

"He's obviously disappointed, but not despondent," Avery's lawyer Jerome Buting said Sunday. "He's not giving up."

Special prosecutor Ken Kratz echoed the defense's somber mood following the verdict.

"This is no time for celebration," Kratz said. "Let me remind you of the Halbachs."

Kratz, who called more than 50 witnesses, constantly reminded the jury of six men and six women that the case is about Halbach, not Avery.

Avery's defense argued throughout the trial that the key, the blood and the bullet were planted by police out of revenge.

Two officers Sgt. Andrew Colborn and Lt. James Lenk were forced to give depositions in a multimillion dollar lawsuit Avery filed against Manitowoc County, the county in which he was wrongly convicted. Strang charged that officers angered over the civil suit resolved to seek revenge by bolstering the evidence against him.

The defense claims an unprotected vial of Avery's blood, which was taken during the review of his 1985 case, provided the means for the officers' deception.

Despite the tapestry of missing facts and evidence tampering woven by the defense, the theory failed to convince the jury, which was forced to endure two sets of deliberations after one juror was excused for a family emergency.

After Sunday's conviction, the Halbach family expressed a desire to return to normal life but faces at least one more hurdle. Avery's 17-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, is also charged with Halbach's murder. Dassey's trial is slated for April 15.


Wis. teen sentenced to life in prison for helping uncle rape, murder missing photographer

Aug. 3, 2007

MANITOWOC, Wis. (AP) A teenager maintained his innocence as he was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for the rape and murder of a woman whose charred burn fragments were found in a burn pit near his uncle's home.

Brendan Dassey, 17, at first did not want to comment when county judge Jerome Fox asked him whether he wanted to say something before his sentencing.

Then, softly, he offered up: "Just that I didn't do it. I wouldn't do nothing like that."

In April a jury convicted the Mishicot teen of being party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse and second-degree sexual assault in the death of Teresa Halbach on Halloween 2005.

The judge granted Dassey the possibility of parole in 41 years, citing Dassey's youth, lack of a criminal record and secondary role in the crimes. Dassey will be 59 when he is eligible for parole in 2048.

Dassey was accused of helping his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach, 25. The photographer had gone to the Avery family's auto salvage yard near Mishicot to take pictures of a vehicle for sale.

Relatives searching for her found her vehicle partially concealed in the salvage yard, leading investigators to her remains.

Four months later, Dassey confessed to investigators, describing in detail how he raped Halbach as she was shackled to a bed. Avery then stabbed her and handed Dassey the knife with which the teen slit her throat, he told investigators.

He later recanted the confession, saying investigators coerced him.

After a separate trial, Avery, 45, was sentenced to life in prison in June with no possibility of parole.

Avery had been released from prison 3 1/2 years prior to Halbach's murder after serving 18 years for a rape that DNA evidence later showed he did not commit.



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