Although Steven Avery is the primary subject of the new documentary series Making a Murderer, two law enforcement officers are getting quite a bit of the spotlight since the series debuted on Netflix in mid-December. The pair of officers from the Manitowoc, Wisc. County Sheriff's Department are facing renewed fervor over allegations that they tampered with evidence and coerced testimony in order to frame Avery for a crime. So who is Sgt. Andrew Colborn, and what role did he play in Avery's arrest and conviction?
Colborn is one of two officers from the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department who took the lead in investigating the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005. The sheriff's department arrested and charged Avery with Halbach's killing within two weeks of her disappearance. Meanwhile, Avery and the department were also in the midst of a lawsuit concerning his wrongful conviction in 1985.
Colborn's relationship with Avery goes back more than two decades prior to his arrest in 2005. Avery was convicted in 1985 for the assault and rape of Manitowoc woman Penny Beerntsen, and spent 18 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him. Colborn and fellow officer Lt. James Lenk were suspected of discovering evidence which suggested Avery's innocence in the Beerntsen case in the 1990s. According to the documentary, a person identifying themselves as a detective called the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department to inform them that they had a suspect in custody named Gregory Allen, who claimed to have committed a sexual assault in Manitowoc County and that "someone else was in jail for it." According to the documentary, Sergeant Andrew Colborn, who took the call, allegedly informed his superior officer, Lieutenant James Lenk. No report was filed at this time. The Minnesota-based Gazette Review reports:
This phone call remained officially unreported until September 12, 2003. The day after Avery is released for his unjust conviction, Andrew Colborn contacted his superior officer, James Lenk. Lenk told Colborn to write a report, which was then taken by the sheriff and placed in a safe.
This report is uncovered only during the litigation of Avery’s civil suit against Manitowoc County, more than two years later. On October 11, James Lenk is deposed, followed two days later by Andrew Colborn, with questions about the report. While Lenk’s answers are largely evasive and unclear, it is established he instructed Colborn to make a report in 2003. What isn’t established is whether at any point earlier Lenk knew of the call.
Following Avery's release from prison and the start of the lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Colborn and Lenk took part in sworn depositions for the suit in October of 2005. It was less than three weeks later that Teresa Halbach, a photographer who was reportedly last seen on Avery's property, disappeared. Colborn questioned Avery the same night that Halbach was reported missing.
Accusations that Colborn and others in the county police department framed Avery for Halbach's murder are not new. Avery and his defense have adamantly claimed that Avery was wrongfully accused and convicted since the case went to court. The police have been accused of coercing Avery's teenage nephew to confess to aiding him in committing the crime, and of planting a blood sample of Avery's at a crime scene. Again, the officers absolutely deny all of this.
The alleged motive for incriminating Avery lies in the then-ongoing lawsuit. If Avery was convicted of another crime, Manitowoc law enforcement could avoid a major blemish (not to mention a financial burden) on the department's record for wrongfully upholding Avery's conviction the first time around. Bustle has reached out to the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department for comment.
Making a Murderer's microscope on Avery's imprisonment has brought renewed focus on (and social media uproar over) alleged foul play by law enforcement. Until Avery's defense team can get ahold of evidence that proves Avery was framed, the allegations remain mere speculation, and Avery remains in prison serving his life sentence.