After months of intense work, Steven Avery‘s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, has filed a 1,272-page motion accusing Teresa Halbach’s ex-boyfriend of killing her; Zellner has also requested a new trial for Making a Murderer subject Avery “in the interests of justice.”
Things had gotten quiet on the Avery front over the last few months and it’s been over a decade since Halbach’s funeral, but on June 7, Zellner filed the document to the state of Wisconsin.
Netflix’s Making a Murderer is a 10-part documentary series that follows the case of Wisconsin native Avery. He is serving a life sentence (without the possibility of parole) for the murder of Halbach and illegally possessing a firearm. Avery, who had previously been jailed for 18 years for a sexual assault in 1985, was exonerated in that case by DNA evidence in 2003.
Two years later, Avery brought a US$36-million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Wis., for the wrongful conviction. The documentary series calls into question the investigation and trial that put Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, behind bars, and alleges the investigators and police in the case planted evidence and otherwise manipulated the outcome of the trial.
As clarified in her motion, Zellner believes that Halbach’s ex, Ryan Hillegas, is the true murderer. Hillegas appeared briefly in Making a Murderer giving vague testimony at the original trial about phone calls and messages, but was not a focal point of the docuseries.
Avery’s lawyer argues (among other things) that Hillegas still had romantic feelings for Halbach, and was jealous that she had moved on with her life. Apparently, she was in a new sexual relationship with her roommate, Scott Bloedorn, and Hillegas wasn’t happy about it. (It should be noted that this version of the story differs from Hillegas’ testimony: He said that the roommates were platonic friends.)
Zellner believes that Hillegas should have been more closely investigated because he had a motive and no alibi for his whereabouts on the day of Halbach’s murder. Interestingly, Bloedorn initially refused to talk to a post-conviction investigator, but his tone changed once he was told that Zellner planned on revealing another suspect in the murder.
“Mr. Bloedorn immediately blurted out, ‘You mean Ryan Hillegas,'” Zellner’s motion petition says.
Zellner also contends that Wisconsin law enforcement wanted to see Avery behind bars, and they did everything within their power to make that happen, including making up and/or planting evidence. Making a Murderer‘s star defence lawyers, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, along with post-conviction lawyers Martha Asksins and Suzanne Hagopian, are accused of being complicit in the wrongful conviction.
“[The counsel] were ineffective in failing to hire the experts needed to establish that all of the evidence used by the state to convict Mr. Avery was planted or fabricated,” reads the petition.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice released a statement in response to the motion, saying that the state still believes Avery is guilty of the crime.
“We are confident that as with Mr. Avery’s prior motions, this one also is without merit and will be rejected once it is considered by the court,” they wrote.
In November 2016, it looked like Avery’s nephew, Dassey, was going to be released, but a three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said that he had to remain in prison while state attorneys appealed a decision overturning his conviction.
Dassey, now 27 years old, is currently being held at Columbia Correctional Institution in Wisconsin and Avery, 54, is incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution, also in Wisconsin.
Since joining (and taking the lead on) his defence, Zellner has been working to poke holes in the prosecution’s case against Avery. She has said that she and her team have an “airtight alibi” for Avery.
“They used forensic science to convict [Avery], and I’ll be using it to convict them of planting the evidence,” she said. “Half of my exoneration cases have led to the apprehension of the real killer. I’ve probably solved way more murder cases than most homicide detectives.”
— With a file from The Associated Press