Who Is Sheriff Kenneth Petersen? Steven Avery's Arresting Officer Still Thinks He Did It
If you’ve seen Making a Murderer, you know that it has an absurdly large cast of characters. Aside from central figures like Steven Avery, Dean Strang, and Brendan Dassey, there’s a seemingly endless collection of bit players who pop up for an episode or two before disappearing. One such person is the man who arrested Avery in the first episode of the show. Who is Sheriff Kenneth Petersen?
Petersen is the former sheriff of Manitowoc County, and his role in the Avery case began in 1985, when he arrested Avery for the brutal sexual assault of Penny Beernsten, for which he was later convicted. But after he'd served 18 years in prison, Avery was cleared by DNA evidence, and he was released. Petersen’s involvement with Avery doesn't end there, though. He was still sheriff in 2005, when Avery was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach. That’s the case that Making a Murderer focuses on. At one point during the investigation, Petersen made comments to a local reporter which raised some eyebrows.
“If we wanted to eliminate Steve, it would’ve been a whole lot easier to eliminate Steve than to frame Steve,” Petersen said. “Or, if we wanted him killed, it would be much easier just to kill him.”
Avery's lawyers claim in Making a Murderer that Manitowoc County framed Avery for the crime. Manitowoc County denies all allegations of wrongdoing, but Petersen’s remark comes across as interesting within the context of the show. The reporter to whom he made the comment — Jessica Lauren Olstad, also known as Lauren Cook — says that she interpreted it as Petersen’s attempt to convince her that the prospect of Avery being framed “was not going to fly.”
Petersen retired from the sheriff’s office in 2007, and later took a position on the board of directors of a Wisconsin homeless shelter. However, he spoke out on the case recently in an interview with Dr. Phil, and made it very clear that he stands by Avery’s conviction.
“He’s exactly where he belongs,” Petersen said, “and he should be there as long as he lives.” Petersen added that he believes Avery would have murdered somebody after 2007 if the Halbach trial had ended in an acquittal. In the same interview, Petersen admitted that in 1995, he'd caught wind of a key phone call the sheriff's office had received that year about Avery's case. Some believe that if this call had been investigated at the time, Avery could have been exonerated earlier. Petersen dismissed the notion that he should have done something about this, though, explaining to Dr. Phil that such action "would have been up to the investigative unit at the time." While there are plenty of people who believe that Avery was set up, Petersen clearly isn't one of them.
Image: Making A Murderer/Netflix