‘Making a Murderer’: Where The Evidence Points [Opinion]

Bobby Dassey on stand in Steven Avery trial.

It’s been a long, dramatic almost two years in the post-conviction case of Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery.

One could cut the excitement with a knife in January of 2016 when noted lawyer Kathleen Zellner announced she was Avery’s new lead counsel. And just like that, more web sleuths emerged, all claiming to crack the mystery of “who really killed Teresa Halbach.” Because, after all, MaM had just “proven” Avery was innocent. Steven Avery was twice a victim of a dirty sheriff’s department out to silence him over a $36 million lawsuit “truthers” claimed would bankrupt the county and cause the downfall of several corrupt Wisconsin higher-ups.

Social and mainstream media alike also took notice; some outlets asked probing questions about why certain things unfolded the way they did in the Teresa Halbach murder investigation. Just about every query centered on accusations of evidence planting made by the documentary. Did Manitowoc County deputies plant Halbach’s car key in Avery’s bedroom? Were the discoveries of her Toyota RAV4 –with Avery’s blood inside — and Teresa Halbach’s bones on his property part of a multi-layered governmental conspiracy to send this fringe-dwelling junk dealer up the river for a murder he didn’t commit? All solid questions, right? Of course, especially because of who Steven Avery was at the time of the Halbach disappearance. State officials were swooning over him– this common-man poster child for wrongful convictions.

Lawmakers posed for Avery photo ops. Steve was being revered by the Innocence Project community, and rightfully so. He spent 18 years in prison for a sexual assault that was committed by a doppelganger police failed to eliminate as a suspect. So, the question whether lightning could strike twice in this junk man’s life was even better than “Was the key planted?” especially after Making a Murderer took Netflix by storm in December of 2015.

Bold Claims

To say eyes were on Manitowoc and Calumet counties after Zellner became Avery’s lawyer may be one of the biggest understatements of the true crime genre. Things heated up even more when she claimed advanced forensic testing would prove he was framed. The victim’s DNA was planted on a bullet, and Avery’s on the RAV4’s hood latch, she said. Another assertion is that the real killer scraped fresh blood out of Steven’s bathroom sink and swabbed it inside Halbach’s vehicle before hiding it on Avery’s Auto Salvage property.

As this reporter wrote on July 8, a month after Zellner’s 1,200-page brief, her blood-planting theory was a tall tale, yet believable. That sentiment was bolstered even more as her experts showed that Halbach was not shot in the head with Avery’s gun or burned in his fire pit. Halbach was beaten with a hammer or mallet, she said, about 30 miles from Avery’s. As Zellner’s experts signed affidavit after affidavit, Steven Avery “supporters” hung on every word, Gospelizing everything she tweeted and telling reporters about how he didn’t kill the 25-year-old photographer.

Drunken Rugby Players, Foolery

It was easy to give former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz credit for telling the jury at Avery’s trial that they must be willing to accuse cops of killing Halbach if they choose to believe deputies planted evidence. After all, Avery painted his lawyers into a corner with the claim he was the target of a law enforcement frame-up and wouldn’t change his tune. Of course, Avery considered his 1985 case a classic setup, too, even though it was really a case of confirmation bias with a tinge of poor police work and mistaken identity.

Kratz’s declaration to the jury was a common one. While there may have been some questionabe, possibly mishandled evidence, the central findings pointed to Steven Avery, not a law enforcement setup. Yet, it was opined on July 2, that some of the evidence appeared to have been “hidden by a drunken rugby team.” More on that in a moment.

And yes, that July 2 piece included the line, “the jury bought a story so full of holes it still whistles when the wind blows,” and “Kratz convinced two juries that the two marginally educated killers removed every trace of brutality that occurred in the trailer, perhaps like no other murderers in history.” And, this reporter penned that the Halbach case was “bursting at the seams with hucksters that lent perfectly to the state’s case that unravels like a fallacious impossible-to-follow non-sequitur.” Foolery, or something like that.

The Reweigh

In mid-2017 came an additional fact-finding mission with aims on inside information in Brendan Dassey’s appellate case, followed by interactions with others in the news game familiar with the Halbach killing. After those interactions, it became clear why parts of the crime scene appeared recklessly navigated by the killer, prompting an internal question similar to a quip made by Avery’s trial lawyers in Making a Murderer: “Who would kill someone, hide the cremains in his yard and the victim’s vehicle in plain sight not far away?”

Answer: Someone with a very low IQ.

No, not Brendan Dassey. That’s for another discussion. How about Steven Avery? His intelligence, or lack thereof, certainly qualifies him. Could he have killed this girl, fully expecting never to be charged because of his past case, or he thought he hid and destroyed all traces of her? We’ll get to that.

Let it be known that many reporters refuse to write editorials or opinion columns. That is because once a journalist does so, he or she cannot turn back. Objectivity is often lost forever and the line that separates advocacy and propaganda emerges, then disappears because, well, there really isn’t such a line. The Avery case was one of the situations. Dassey’s case was progressing through the federal courts and Kathleen Zellner was seemingly headed for an evidentiary hearing, even in the face of a glaring waiver issue in her June 7 motion. Regardless of bias, anything with “Steven Avery” in the headline was a metrics magnet for news outlets. The release of the Joseph Evans letter, for example, caused bandwidth hiccups for a week following its release. Not because readers cared about Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey, Teresa Halbach, or the truth, however. Most feared the letter would snuff out the excitement generated by the documentary. If Steven Avery is guilty, what’s there left to solve? And yes, true crime fans often welcome the morbid details of high-profile murder cases.

Then came another fact-finding mission, this time one in case law to determine how Kathleen Zellner would get around what could be a denial of her 1,200-page motion. Then came that denial, followed by not one or two, but three motions asking the judge to vacate the decision.

Zellner later told the Inquisitr she did not expect Avery to be awarded relief by a trial judge and that his victory would come in the higher courts, as most do. She wasn’t shaken by the October 3 ruling, she said. She had new evidence pointing to Avery’s innocence and she planned to present it.

The world saw that new evidence on October 23 and November 1. Or did it? That depends to whom the question is asked. True-blue Zellner followers are at ease. She’s “got this,” they say. To them, Bobby Dassey and Scott Tadych committed perjury and are likely linked to the crime.

The problem, however, is that the Bobby and Scott theory isn’t new. Not only did it originate on Reddit almost two years ago, it appears Avery’s lawyers grabbed it from the site this time around.

Of course, the heated phone call between Avery, Barb Tadych, and Scott Tadych was completely organic, grown out of the October 23 filing. But, that’s not all. While Zellner cites case law in her latest motions, Brad Dassey’s claims appear to be nothing more than conclusory findings, even with their associating affidavits.

Oh, where’s the reweigh? Here: The evidence still points to Steven Avery.

A Key, “Pam of God,” and Reasonable Doubt

Even as droves still believe the now-infamous RAV4 key was planted and that Pam Sturm’s RAV4 discovery was part of the fix on Steven Avery, the state is not required to prove someone guilty beyond all possible doubt. Could the key have been planted? Perhaps. Only the cops in that room know the answer to that. Could Avery’s DNA have been taken from his toothbrush he claims was stolen from his bathroom? Only Avery has ever made that claim. And so far, no toothbrushes have been linked to Avery’s DNA on the key.

What about Sturm? Wasn’t it suspicious how she found the Toyota? Those who believe that must also be willing to say she was directly or indirectly involved in planting it there. There’s no proof of that either.

The fact is, there is doubt in a lot of criminal trials, even in cases where police do not mishandle or plant evidence. But it often begs the question why cops would need to plant evidence against a guilty person. Well, they don’t. However, it happens. It’s not the norm, but it happens, leaving prosecutors with extremely difficult decisions.

So, could Steven Avery have killed this girl, fully expecting to either never be charged because of his past case, thinking he’d hidden or destroyed all traces of her? Not only is the answer a resounding “yes,” not a stitch of evidence has been presented that shows anyone else did it. Everything in the June 7 motion is currently gone and will remain that way unless Sheboygan County Judge Angela Sutkiewicz vacates her October decision.

Of course, the “real” killer could come forward and do the right thing. And if there is evidence to support that person’s confession, Avery could walk as a result. The odds of another confession this in this are not likely that high though. However, more than 200 people — and probably counting — confessed to killing the Lindbergh baby. So, perhaps Steven Avery has that going for him.

[Featured Image by Bruce Halmo/AP Images]