Steven Avery: Teresa Halbach’s Death Ruled Homicide Before Body Was Identified

Under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, more information was recently uncovered about the Steven Avery case, including what appears to be a rush to rule Teresa Halbach’s death as murder, even before she was positively identified.

Rolling Stone reports on Halbach’s official death certificate, the word “No” is typed under “Body Found,” yet under the word “Yes” is typed under “Autopsy.” In another apparent mistake, Halbach’s cause of death was listed as a homicide on December 5, 2005, but Halbach’s remains (bone fragments) weren’t positively identified until six weeks later, on January 19, 2006.

Additionally, Halbach’s death certificate was created on November 10, 2005, although the coroner had only received her bone fragments a day prior. The date is significant since Avery was arrested on November 9. Uproxx reports that the dates are significant because in order to charge Avery with murder, proof of death had to first be established. It seems that in a rush to charge Avery, law enforcement made blatant errors.

Although the reason for the apparent rush to charge Avery still remains unclear, there’s speculation that District Attorney Denis Vogel and Sheriff Tom Kocourek were saved from giving sworn depositions once Avery was charged with murder. While Vogel is accused of ignoring evidence that Gregory Allen committed a 1985 rape that landed Avery behind bars, Kocourek is accused of hiding a 1985 phone call that proved Avery’s innocence.

Avery served 18 years in prison for the rape. He was ultimately exonerated after DNA evidence showed that he didn’t commit the crime. He was released from prison in 2003, but in 2005, he was behind bars again, charged with Halbach’s murder. Avery has always maintained his innocence in both convictions.

Steven Avery's 1985 sexual assault conviction was overturned after DNA evidence exonerated him. [Photo by Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office]

Meanwhile, Avery’s latest appeal has been put off for another week and a half. In November 2015, his request to have the Halbach murder charge overturned was denied. Avery filed an appeal shortly after, but the prosecution, who intends to keep Avery behind bars for life, filed for an extension to get their arguments gathered. The prosecution had until March 1 to have their arguments filed, but the Wisconsin’s District 2 Court of Appeals extended the deadline until March 11.

According to Manitowoc County’s Clerk of Circuit Court Lynn Zigmunt, the prosecution needed the extension due to the sheer size of the case files and the lack of manpower to get everything done in time.

“A number of people were on vacation, and we’ve had a very heavy criminal case load. Parties (Attorneys) from both sides are allowed time to review the documents to make sure it’s [the compilation is] complete…..The size of the files is one of our largest cases. We have other job duties.”

Regardless, Kathleen Zellner, Avery’s wrongful conviction attorney, is confident that despite the arguments presented by the prosecution, Avery’s case will get overthrown. She stated that there’s forensic testing today that wasn’t available during Avery’s 2007 conviction.

“Since 2007 there have been significant advances in forensic testing and so clearly we’re going, the clearest way to do this is with scientific testing and that’s what we will be asking to do.”

While Zellner continues to fight for Avery, the attorneys who defended him during his 2007 trial are scheduled to take Making a Murderer on the road. Lawyers Dean Strang and Jerry Buting are kicking off a 26-city tour April 16, in which they’ll talk more in-depth about “the Steven Avery case and its broader implications, as well as… the larger topic of the American criminal justice system.”

[Image via Netflix]