Childhood & Early Life
Steven Allan Avery was born on July 9, 1962, in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, U.S., to Allan and Dolores Avery, owners of a salvage yard in rural Gibson, Wisconsin. Avery grew up with his three siblings: Chuck, Earl, and Barb.
According to his mother, Avery was a slow learner. Hence, after attending public schools in Mishicot and Manitowoc, he was sent to an elementary school. According to his school records, his IQ was 70, and he was not too active in school.
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In 1981, Avery was convicted for being involved in a bar burglary. He was sentenced to a 2-year imprisonment at the 'Manitowoc County Jail,' but he served only for 10 months.
Following this, he was jailed for animal cruelty in 1982. He had apparently poured oil on his cat and thrown it into fire, to its death. He was released in August 1983.
In January 1985, he was sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment for endangering the safety of his cousin. Avery had reportedly pointed a gun at his cousin to threaten her. He later claimed that the weapon was not loaded and that he was trying to stop her from spreading rumors about him.
In July 1985, Avery was arrested for attacking and sexually assaulting a woman identified as Penny Beerntsen while she was jogging on a Lake Michigan beach. She had identified Avery from a photo and live line-ups.
In 1995, While Avery was in jail, a Brown County police detective informed the 'Manitowoc County Jail' about a prisoner claiming to have committed an assault several years back and stating that someone else had been convicted for the same.
However, Sheriff Thomas Kocourek ignored the information and said that they had convicted the right person. Meanwhile, Avery continued to maintain his innocence in the assault case.
A DNA test was conducted in 2002. The test was not available when Avery's trial had taken place earlier. The test report concluded that he was innocent, and the real culprit was someone called Gregory Allen. The victim had been confused because of Avery's striking physical resemblance to Allen. Moreover, Allen, who had a criminal record of violence against women, was not included in the line-ups.
Avery was thus released on September 11, 2003. Unfortunately, by then, he was estranged from his family. His wife had divorced him, and he had not met his children enough to form a bond with them.
Avery's wrongful conviction attracted the attention of the media and the public. Mark Gundrum, the ‘Republican’ chairman of the 'Wisconsin Assembly Judiciary Committee,' demanded a reformation of the state's criminal judicial system. The result was the 'Avery Bill,' which was passed in October 2005.
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Avery filed a lawsuit to claim compensation from Thomas Kocourek, former sheriff of Manitowoc County, and Denis Vogel, former district attorney, who had both participated in his trials for his wrongful conviction.
Unfortunately, Avery was convicted again, in the Halbach murder case, the following month, and the bill was renamed the 'Criminal Justice Reform Bill.'
The Halbach Murder
Wisconsin-based photographer Teresa Halbach had been missing since October 31, 2005. The last person she had met was Avery, with whom she had a photoshoot appointment for his minivan, which he wanted to put up for sale. The meeting took place at his home.
After Halbach's mother filed her missing report on November 3, 2005, Manitowoc County started assisting Calumet County in the investigation. Halbach's car was discovered in Avery's salvage yard, while the keys were retrieved from his bedroom. The bloodstains found inside the vehicle matched with Avery's DNA. Additionally, some charred bone remnants were also recovered from the area. They were later proved to be Halbach’s.
On November 11, 2005, Avery was booked for the murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault of Halbach, along with mutilation of a corpse and possessing a firearm. Because of Avery's ongoing petition against the Manitowoc County police, the investigation was transferred to the Calumet County sheriff's department.
Maintaining his innocence, Avery claimed that the pieces of evidence had been planted to frame him in an attempt to discredit his pending lawsuit against Manitowoc County.
Avery's attorneys suggested tampering of evidence. The investigation team found an unsealed and tampered evidence box containing his blood sample collected during the Beerntsen case. The lawyers hence suggested that the bloodstains found inside the car were planted.
The ‘FBI’ technicians, however, rejected the claim, saying that the bloodstains did not contain the preservative used to preserve blood samples and it is not naturally present in the human body. Responding to that, Avery's defense team produced a testimony that stated that the ‘FBI's negative report in no way proved that the preservative was not present. It could have also meant that the test was inconclusive.
In March 2006, Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey, was arrested for assisting him in the murder and disposal of the body. Even though Dassey confessed to his involvement in the crime, he later withdrew from his statement.
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The charges of kidnapping and sexual assault were dropped in January 2007. In March, Avery was sentenced to life imprisonment for first-degree murder and corpse mutilation. He was not granted parole. Additionally, he was to serve 5 concurrent years in jail for illegal possession of a firearm.
In August 2011, Avery's petition for a new trial was rejected. In 2012, Avery was transferred from the 'Wisconsin Secure Program Facility' in Boscobel to the 'Waupun Correctional Institution' in Waupun. In 2013, the ‘Wisconsin Supreme Court’ declined the motion filed to review the ruling.
In January 2016, the 'Netflix' original 'Making a Murderer,' based on Avery's conviction, was released. 'People' magazine pointed out that one of his trial jurors was related to the Manitowoc County sheriff's deputy while another juror's wife was employed with Manitowoc County.
That month, Avery got Chicago attorney Kathleen Zellner as his counselor. In August, Zellner and the 'Midwest Innocence Project' filed a motion for a new appeal and a post-conviction scientific testing. The proposal for a new trial was rejected in October but the motion for the testing was passed.
In December 2017, Dassey's conviction was voted to be upheld by the 'United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.'
In July 2018, Zellner filed a petition to seek permission to verify Avery's case, based on the pieces of evidence retrieved from Dassey's family laptop. On October 19, the second season of the 'Netflix' documentary based on his case was released.
In December 2018, Andrew Colborn, a former police officer for Manitowoc County, who was involved in Avery's trial, filed a lawsuit against the producers of the 'Netflix' documentary for defaming the department. Colborn claimed the documentary showed a distorted version of events and portrayed him as a corrupt officer who tried to frame Avery.