Updates From Steven Avery’s New Lawyer Show Kathleen Zellner Is Determined To Add Him To Her List Of Exonerations
Although Steven Avery was convicted of Teresa Halbach's murder back in 2007 (of which he still maintains his innocence), his case has only been in the national spotlight for a little over a month. When Netflix's docuseries Making a Murderer, which chronicled Avery's life and trial, premiered on Dec. 18, 2015, it quickly became a hot topic of conversation and debate among viewers. But, Avery's case also grabbed the attention of a high-profile lawyer. On Jan. 9, People magazine reported that Avery had hired Kathleen Zellner as his new defense attorney. Zellner, who specializes in wrongful convictions, is working with Tricia Bushnell, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project to attempt to free Avery from prison. During the Jan. 29 Dateline episode, Zellner spoke with the show and provided some updates about Steven Avery's case. Although she wouldn't provide many specifics, one thing was abundantly clear — Zellner is determined to add Avery to her list of exonerations.
Dateline's Andrea Canning caught up with Zellner as she was on her way to visit Avery in prison, and the brief interview was her first since taking on his case. Canning asked Zellner the million dollar question that's on everyone's minds — does she have new evidence that could potentially exonerate her client? "We do. I can tell you that, generally, since 2007 there have been significant advances in forensic testing," Zellner said. "We'll do everything necessary that's forensically available ... There was a lot of evidence that wasn't tested [back then]."
Zellner is nothing if not determined. She even told Dateline she bought a Toyota RAV4 — the model of car owned by Halbach, which was found on Avery's property after her death. As seen in the Netflix docuseries, Avery's blood was present in the car and his defense attorneys, Dean Strang and Jerome Buting, argued at trial that it had been planted by members of the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department who allegedly had access to a vial of Avery's blood that was taken in 1985 when he was wrongfully convicted of rape. In the docuseries, then-Undersheriff (and current Sheriff) Robert Hermann categorically denied allegations of planting evidence. "It's not realistic. It's impossible," he said in the series. "It's so far fetched it's impractical."
Zellner told Canning that she bought the car because she wants to examine the hood latch, battery cables, and the exact locations where blood was found in Halbach's car. She also told Canning that her client is "thrilled" new forensic testing is available — and she views that as evidence of his innocence: "When someone wants every test done that can be done that would prove their guilt or innocence, that's when you know they're innocent."
When asked if Avery's defense team was considering alternate suspects, Zellner responded that's something she's looking into as well. She's clearly determined to exonerate Avery, but only time will tell if there's enough new evidence to warrant a retrial. During the last episode of Making a Murderer, viewers learned that Avery had exhausted his appeals and new evidence would be his only hope — so Zellner will need to present a strong case.
Prosecutor Ken Kratz, who didn't participate in Making a Murderer, spoke with Dateline as well. Although he admitted he regrets his "bravado" and "narcissism" during the case (specifically, the press conference during which he provided a graphic account of Halbach's murder), Kratz maintains the jury's verdict is correct. "He's guilty and deserves to be where he is," Kratz told Canning.
But, if there's any evidence to the contrary, Zellner likely won't rest until she finds it.