While Steven Avery’s attorney Kathleen Zellner maintains that Teresa Halbach’s ex-lover is the one who killed her, the Wisconsin Department of Justice had some choice words for her latest bid to free the Making a Murderer subject.
“We continue to send our condolences to the Halbach family as they have to endure Avery’s ridiculous attempts to re-litigate his guilty verdict and sentence,” a statement from Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office said.
Schimel’s statement was in response to a 1,200-page motion Zellner filed last week. The shocking petition includes advanced scientific test results she says prove Avery was wrongfully convicted for a second time in the same county.
Zellner says Ryan Hillegas, Teresa’s ex-boyfriend, is the real killer and that Halbach was not shot as the state told the jury. Zellner says new evidence shows she was beaten to death with a hammer or mallet. But state officials say there is no evidence to prove anyone but Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey committed the crime.
“We are confident that as with Mr. Avery’s prior motions, this one also is without merit and will be rejected once it is considered by the court,” the attorney general said.
Schimel’s office is currently fighting to save Dassey’s conviction, vacated last year when a federal magistrate ruled his confession was coerced. The state is appealing the decision and Dassey remains imprisoned pending a ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Schimel refuses to relent in either case, telling the federal court Wisconsin police investigators acted within the law, and because Dassey admitted in detail to Halbach’s rape, murder, and mutilation, the now 27-year-old must serve out his sentence.
Dassey’s post-conviction lawyer Steven Drizin called the interrogation by investigators Mark Wiegert and Tom Fassbender one of the worst he has seen. And although the confession was never used in Avery’s trial, it is widely believed to be the linchpin of both cases.
“There is no other evidence of Brendan’s guilt,” Drizin, the assistant dean of Northwestern University’s Bluhm Law Clinic, told Chicago media. “There may have been some statements he made in other interviews or interrogations, but most of those are not going to come into evidence, and even those don’t involve him in the murder and rape. Without the confession, which has been thrown out, they don’t have a case against Brendan.”
Unlike Avery’s case, where Zellner says she has shown that a more viable suspect should have been investigated, Dassey’s lawyers are currently arguing whether his will was overborne when police questioned him without his parents or defense attorney present. That means it is not an issue of whether he had anything to do with killing Halbach but whether he received a fair trial. Depending on Seventh Circuit’s decision, the state may be granted another chance to try him, likely without the confession.
Co-counsel Laura Nirider argued earlier this year that Dassey, a learning-disabled teen with an IQ of 73, who did not understand the ramifications of what was happening to him, told police what they wanted to hear, and that Wiegert and Fassbener made a series of false promises to get him to talk.
Zellner says Avery’s constitutional right to a fair trial was violated when police failed to investigate Ryan Hillegas and disclose exculpatory evidence she says would have shown Avery was not the killer.
Dassey is currently incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. He was set to be freed last year but an emergency motion by Schimel was granted just before Thanksgiving. When the confession was tossed last year, the state was given 90 days to free him or bring new charges without the confession.
Brendan Dassey was 17 when he was convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse. If his initial conviction remains in place, Dassey wouldn’t be eligible for parole until 2048.
Avery is serving a life sentence without the possibility of early release. He is housed at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin, about a 100 miles southwest of his family’s auto salvage property, where Halbach’s SUV and remains turned up in early November 2005.
Zellner is seeking Avery’s immediate release. If the court does not grant that, she is asking for a new trial.
[Featured Image by Andy Manis/AP Images]