New Steven Avery Updates Could Move His Case Forward Quickly, If His Lawyer Has Her Way
More than nine years after being convicted, the wheels of justice may finally be turning for Steven Avery. Convicted of the death of Teresa Halbach and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, Avery didn't seem to have many options before Making a Murderer premiered on Netflix. Now, though, he has a legion of viewers on his side and — most importantly — a growing number of experts who are looking into his plight. Since the docuseries first came out, Avery's case has seen a number of new developments, some of which even have the potential to exonerate him.
Avery's new lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, is hard at work. She has been a driving force on the ground in Wisconsin, as well as on Twitter, searching out evidence to destroy the state's case against Avery. She told Newsweek that she's working to have his conviction vacated. No need for a second trial, she said, not her style — she wants to find so much evidence that they have no other option than to let Avery walk.
Zellner's big focus is on evidence that might have been planted. "They used forensic science to convict [Avery], and I'd be using it to convict them of planting the evidence," she told the magazine. The Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office adamantly denies any wrongdoing. If some of these developments gain traction, though, exoneration would look a lot more likely.
The most recent revelation has to do with the blood evidence used against Avery. His blood was found in Halbach's car, but Avery's defense claimed that investigators planted blood they already had in their possession from his prior wrongful conviction. The investigators denied this, and the prosecution then asked the FBI to develop a test for EDTA, a chemical that is used to preserve blood that is collected at crime scenes. The FBI complied, and the test came back negative for the substance, which the prosecution argued showed further proof of guilt.
In an op-ed published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 13, four forensic science experts argued that this test may not be sufficiently accurate to use as evidence. They claimed that three of six blood stains in Halbach's car were tested for EDTA, which further invalidates the results:
There is a saying among scientists that absence of evidence isn't necessarily evidence of absence, and that appears to be the case here. If the quantity of EDTA present in the stains was near the threshold of detection, it might have been detected in some of the stains but not others.
The team says that the decision to only test some was a mistake, and allegedly results in "underlying scientific and statistical uncertainties," which might have been difficult for the jury to understand. Furthermore, they argued that the scientist performing the EDTA test was biased. The scientist's assignment was allegedly to do an analysis whose purpose was: "eliminating the allegation that his vial was used to plant evidence." Not exactly neutral language.
Halbach's DNA On A Bullet Fragment
The team claims that a similar bias might have also affected the analysis of the bullet fragment found in Avery's garage. As shown in the Netflix series, the DNA analyst wrote on her notes that she needed to "try to put [Halbach] in [Avery's] house or garage." On top of that, there are allegedly some potential errors in the testing as well. The analyst found her own DNA on control samples that were supposed to help verify the accuracy of the test. Therefore, she should have run the test again, but she couldn't because she'd used all of the original sample in the first test. That brings into question yet another piece of evidence used against Avery (exactly the type of thing Zellner seems to want to go after)...
The Phone Records Could Provide An Alibi
Besides the issues around the blood, one of Zellner's recent tweets brings up cellphone tower records as a way to prove Halbach left Avery's property. During the trial, only the call log was discussed, meaning this could be a new trove of information for Zellner and Avery's team to work with. She has not shared any of her evidence with the public, though, and some argue that cellphone towers are not an accurate way to prove someone's location — the range could be as high as 20 miles in some cases.
Something else that Zellner put forward in her Newsweek interview was the possibility of other suspects — including a man whom Halbach allegedly called just before midnight two days before she died. He had just been accused of sex crimes in Arizona, but the police never investigated him, Zellner claimed. "We've got all the police reports. We can see exactly what they did and did not do. And it's a lot more about what they did not do," Zellner told Newsweek. Rolling Stone reported three possible men who were connected to Halbach at the time of her death. Zellner seems to have focused in on one, but she's not saying who at this point. "I'd say there's one, leading the pack by a lot," she told Newsweek. "But I don't want to scare him off. I don't want him to run."
Calumet County Lt. Mark Wiegert, who was featured in the Netflix series, would only say to Newsweek: "We stand by the integrity of the investigation."
Halbach's Blood — Or The Lack Thereof
Access Hollywood reported that Zellner's legal team had Luminol testing done in the areas where the state claims Avery raped and killed Halbach. The test would show any trace amounts of blood in the area. If no blood is found in Avery's bedroom or garage, it makes it unlikely that the prosecution's argument could hold water.
Avery Supporters Threatened With Investigation
Avery is not the only one seeing a rise in notoriety since the Netflix series premiered. The Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department has received hundreds of emails and letters from unhappy viewers, some of which crossed the line and qualify as threatening. The FBI has opened an investigation into threatening emails and phone messages — including from a man allegedly impersonating an FBI agent.
Manitowoc County Sheriff Rob Hermann emailed FBI Special Agent Gerald Mullen after the threatening emails began. Mullen responded by explaining that the decision to prosecute is not his, but that those threatening the sheriff's department will receive a visit from the FBI: "I believe we can make a strong case for a prosecution due to all of the publicity the Netflix video has generated. If people realize they may be charged with a federal felony, they may think twice before threatening law enforcement. I will keep you posted."
How long Avery and the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department stay in the news will largely depend on Zellner. She told Newsweek that she's hoping to wrap things up quickly: "Not my style. I told [Avery], ‘I'm a sprinter. I'm not a long-distance runner.'"