‘Making a Murderer’ Lawyer Kathleen Zellner Scores Big In Chicago Case

The famed exoneration attorney pushing for the release of Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery scored a victory in her home state of Illinois this month.

Among Kathleen Zellner’s clients who aren’t Steven Avery is Darryl Fulton, a man convicted of a 1994 rape and murder he and his co-defendant claim they did not commit. According to new DNA evidence obtained through forensic testing earlier this year, Fulton may be on his way home instead of awaiting his first date with the parole board in 2059.

Fulton was convicted in 1997 along with a man named Nevest Coleman of raping and killing 20-year-old Antwinica Bridgeman, of Chicago. Bridgeman was last seen in April 1994 at a birthday party Coleman also attended. Her body was found weeks later in the basement of the building where he lived.

In the first of several twists, Coleman was one of two men who found Bridgeman’s body. She had been sexually assaulted and choked to death by a piece of concrete found in her mouth. Coleman, a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park, claimed drifters and drug users sometimes slept in his basement.

The investigation took another turn when Coleman, then 25, and Fulton, 27, confessed to police. They also implicated a third suspect, but the man was not charged. Coleman and Fulton were subsequently sentenced to life in prison and have since claimed their confessions were coerced. Coleman is not eligible for parole.

Darryl Fulton and Nevest Coleman
Darryl Fulton, left, and Nevest Coleman, right, were convicted in 1997 of raping and killing Antwinica Bridgeman in a Chicago neighborhood. [Image By Illinois Department of Corrections] Illinois Department of Corrections

Prosecutors say forensic test results obtained in May indicate that semen found under the victim’s fingernails and in her underwear, does not belong to Fulton or Coleman, but to a man linked to at least three other rape cases, one that occurred four years after Bridgeman was killed. Results of further forensic testing are pending.

Russell Ainsworth, Coleman’s attorney, told the Chicago Tribune test results should be returned by October. Coleman and Fulton are awaiting whether they will be released on bond.

The new investigation of Bridgeman’s death was sparked by a letter written by Fulton claiming his innocence.

Zellner is waiting for a date when she will begin arguing a 1,200-page motion for a new trial in Avery’s appeal. The case has since been transferred back to district court, where she says she can prove law enforcement and Teresa Halbach’s real killer planted evidence against her now most famous client. Zellner also claims the state withheld exculpatory evidence and failed to investigate other suspects, including Halbach’s ex-boyfriend.

Avery and nephew Brendan Dassey are serving life sentences, Avery without parole. Dassey’s case now hangs in the balance of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The court granted the State of Wisconsin’s motion to hear the case en banc, after a three-judge panel upheld a 2016 ruling that Dassey’s confession was coerced.

[Featured Image By Don Shrubshell/AP Images]