Steven Avery: Analyzing Cellphone Tower Data And Lack Of Photos

Wrongful conviction attorney Kathleen Zellner continues to analyze evidence the Steven Avery case, in an attempt to the get the Making a Murderer centerpiece exonerated from prison.

Earlier this year, she shared brief details regarding data received from a cellphone tower near the Avery property, which suggests that Teresa Halbach was indeed alive and left the property. Upon digging further, other evidence suggests that Halbach’s voicemail was not full, despite the prosecution arguing that it was.

During Avery’s trial in 2007, prosecutors argued that Halbach, 25, was last seen on Avery’s Manitowoc County property, and that cellphone records indicated that she didn’t make a single phone call from the time she entered his property, insinuating that she must have died while still at Avery’s residence. The freelance photographer was on assignment at Avery’s property on October 31, 2005, the last time she was seen alive.

Tom Pearce, Halbach’s business partner, along with several of her friends, stated that they tried to call Halbach on November 1, but her voicemail was full.

According to attorney Jerry Buting, who represented Avery during his 2007 murder trial, an investigation by a wireless expert showed that it wasn’t possible for Halbach’s voicemail to be full.

“The Cingular wireless expert said [voicemail] was not full. With the information they had, people who were trying to call and leave a message to her would not have gotten the message. And yet many of her friends say they called in and they were getting the message. Somehow or another messages were deleted, whether intentional and otherwise.”

The cellphone information is pivotal to Avery’s case. The Cingular Wireless engineer who testified as the trial, Tony Zimmerman, stated that the Halbachs’ call log (provided during the trial) didn’t include enough calls to fill her voicemail to capacity. Avery’s lawyers speculated that another person, possibly the true killer, erased Halbach’s messages.

The information angered Zellner, since this crucial bit of information was completely left out of the trial by Avery’s own lawyers.

“It’s absolutely shocking to see cellphone records that were part of the discovery that were turned over to the defense … document her route leaving the property. She goes back the same way she came, she’s 12 miles from the property on the last ping. They screwed it up. It’s really hard to figure out how in the world did the defense not seize on this. It would have created reasonable doubt.”

Halbach’s brother, Mike Halbach, and her former boyfriend, Ryan Hillegas, both admitted that they illegally accessed her voicemail and listened to her messages. Mike Halbach said he didn’t delete any messages, at least as far he could remember, but an exhibit shown during the trial proved that one particular voicemail, left at 1:52 p.m. on October 31, was altered.

Additionally, several voicemails were indeed deleted in November, but possibly after prosecutors had a chance to hear them. For reasons unknown, prosecution attorney Ken Kratz left the 1:52 p.m. call log off of the documents he provided during trial. The caller still hasn’t been identified.

Neither Mike Halbach nor Hillegas have been investigated for the murder, or for listening to Halbach’s voicemail messages with permission, which carries a $250,000 fine and extensive prison time, if convicted.

Another troubling incident is the lack of photos presented at Avery’s trial. The Post-Crescent reports that on numerous occasions in 2005, law enforcement declined to take photos while investigating Avery’s property, which, according to investigators, held human bones. Canadian forensic anthropologist, Scott Fairgrieve, spoke out during the trial about the poor quality of the few photos taken during the investigation.

“I complained about the lack of photos and the quality. It was very poor.”

Buting added that the lack of pictures taken during the investigation is extremely perplexing, to say the least.

“The lack of any photos taken by law enforcement of the bones as they were found at any of the three sites has always been very puzzling. The state never offered any explanation for why law enforcement officers failed to photograph the bones to show precisely how they were positioned, an elementary task in the course of such an investigation.”

Forensic scientist Brent Turvey speculates that there’s only two reasons why law enforcement declined to take photographs, which is an extremely important part of the investigation process.

“It’s either negligence or it’s intentional.”

Yet, negligence, at least to many people, seems far fetched. Both Calumet County and Manitowoc County officers were thoroughly trained on how properly process crime scenes, with taking photographs being one of the most important parts of the process. Turvey contended that lack of training is likely not the reason officers didn’t take necessary photos of the crime scene.

“It is either because of apathy, you just don’t care, or corruption, they are willfully depriving the investigation of evidence in order to obscure the truth. It is not lack of training. Taking photos at a death scene is not some mysterious art form. The question is: ‘Why didn’t they do it in this particular case?'”

[Photo by AP/Morry Gash]