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Unmaking a Murderer

(Posted on 28/02/19)


Wisconsin salvage yard owner and star of Netflix’s Making a Murderer, Steven Avery has won the right to appeal his 2007 conviction of the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005.

On February 13th, his lawyer Kathleen Zellner filed a motion to appeal, claiming that bones discovered on the Avery property as well as in the Manitowoc County Quarry were returned to the victim’s family and never tested for DNA. Zellner believes those bones may now have been destroyed.

According to Wisconsin law, police are required to preserve “any biological material” and “physical evidence” until after the convicted individual’s discharge from prison. A state statute protects his rights to retain evidence that may be reasonably used in his case. At Avery’s trial, Prosecution suggested the bones mat not have been human.

“It isn’t just the pelvic bone, there’s about ten bones that were recovered from the quarry,” Zellner explained. “By giving them [to the Halbach family]… they have just confirmed they believe those bones are human. It’s a very sneaky way to get evidence destroyed. It seems very deliberate that the thinking was, ‘We need to get rid of those bones, but we can’t just go in and cremate them ourselves’.”

If a retrial is granted on this legal violation, it will present an opportunity for Avery’s team to introduce new evidence which they hope will establish his innocence.

Retention and storage of evidence, and access to it, is very much an issue here in the UK, especially since the closure of the national Forensic Science Service, which left individual police forces responsible for all material. Inside Justice is seeking to ensure that multi-laterally agreed protocols are put in place and followed nationally, so that those claiming wrongful conviction can access evidence which could objectively show whether there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Avery’s co-defendant and nephew Brendan Dassey, who claims he was forced into a false confession, had his conviction overturned in 2016 but is still in custody after the federal appeals court ruled against him.