In The Case of Steven Avery: Steven Is Irrelevant
Just like everyone else who has seen Netflix’s documentary on Steven Avery, titled Making a Murderer I came away from the experience thirsty for the truth and a somewhat feeling of helplessness.
Before continuing, if you haven’t seen Making a Murderer, keep in mind this article will have some serious spoilers. This is a fair warning you will read things that don’t get brought up or discussed until at least half way through the series, some until the end.
I also apologise for any factual errors in this article. The 10 part series is exhausting, the Reddit threads, blog posts and numerous media outlets posting stories, videos and interviews makes it even more overwhelming. So some details might be incorrect, names wrong and titles. Keep this in mind, the gist of the article is correct though.
The problem with the whole Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey situation is that people have become emotionally attached to the story. The story while I hope does not mirror any other viewers experiences with the legal system, it hits you on a personal level.
Throughout the series you are taken on a rollercoaster. At first I felt relieved he was released, then when he was accused of Teresa’s murder I had doubts. Then that cringeworthy press conference where they detailed what had supposedly happened: that really got me.
In-fact, after that very press conference for a brief moment in time I was convinced he had done it. Everything was described in such horrid detail, it sounded too real and detailed to be made up.
But then as the evidence was put forth, arguments were made, I started to have my doubts. It became apparent that press conference was nothing more than theatre. The truth is given the circumstances, nobody actually knows what happened to Teresa.
In the whole story of Steven specifically, I want you to remove him from the equation. I want you to detach yourself from Steven, pretend you do not know who the defendant is in this case.
I know that is hard, but work with me here. Detach the person from the case. Now let’s look at the evidence and circumstances around the case, trying our best to remember we do not know who the defendant actually is. From here on in Steven is now known as “defendant”, cool?
Also, we will not be discussing Brendan Dassey, let's focus on the aforementioned case for the moment. What happened with Brendan is a tragedy, even more so than anything else, but let’s focus on the other situation at hand which leads into Dassey’s situation.
The Civil Suit
A month before the defendant was charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach and subsequent charges, he had a substantial pending lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.
It was looking highly likely that the defendant would win the case. Whether or not he would had actually been given $36 million, the mere prospect of having to award that sum of money, it must have scared people within the department and local council.
The insurance company(ies) that backed the sheriff’s department were supposedly refusing to pay if the defendant won due to the nature of the circumstances surrounding the suit, insurance would not cover the payout. For a small sherriff’s department, $36 million is a tonne of cash, the kind of money they might not even have.
The timely arrest and charges brought against the defendant one month after the case and a couple of weeks after two key people from the sheriff’s department were deposed, stopped the case in its tracks. Eventually he settled for $400,000 which was needed to pay past legal bills and his new legal team to defend him in this new trial.
The Toyota RAV4
Before we continue, it is worth pointing out 2 days before the vehicle was found and on the same day she was reported missing, Sergeant Andrew Colburn of the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s department made a phone call in which he called in a licence plate.
This licence plate he called in has significance: it was Teresa’s vehicle. Calling in a plate number in itself is not suspicious, that is the job of a police officer when they are wanting to confirm details for whatever reason. Keep in mind Teresa’s car was not found at this point. It would not be found until 2 days after this call.
Why did Colburn call this plate in? During the call he also says after the operator who answered told him it belonged to missing Teresa Halbach, “Oh, ’99 Toyota?” to which she confirmed and then he ended the call. How did he know what type of car Teresa was driving? Perhaps someone else mentioned it to him, but it all seems a bit strange.
During the trial when Colburn takes the stand, the call is mentioned. He claims he was not the first to mention it was a 1999 Toyota and that was the operator. Then the call was played back and it was revealed he said it first. Clearly lying under oath. But sadly innocent enough in that it would be forgivable to think his memory is hazy or someone told him the plate number aka reasonable doubt.
Two days later, the vehicle was found by Teresa’s second cousin Pamela Sturm and her daughter within 20 minutes of arriving on the property. Keep in mind the property is 40 acres, littered with old cars, parts and other potential hazards.
The area in which she found the car was marked on a map for her. This map was provided by a search party headed by an ex-boyfriend Ryan Hillegas who immediately took a leadership and highly involved stance with the search party.
Ryan had marked out areas for the searchers on maps. Essentially Pam knew where to go because she had a designated area assigned to her, akin to a treasure map with a big red X on it. Maybe it was just a coincidence.
And once again perhaps it was merely coincidental, but something else about the circumstances of the search is the camera. A camera was borrowed for the purposes of the search, only one.
Of all the people in the search party, it was given to Teresa’s sister in-case she found anything. Maybe it was just luck, but she ended up finding the vehicle and conveniently had a camera on hand. But coincidence seems to be a recurring thread in this case so far and we are only at the start.
It was evident whoever attempted to hide this vehicle, did so poorly (as you can see in the photos). Keep in mind the 40 acre property the vehicle was found on also had various pieces of equipment capable of easily disappearing a car. Was the vehicle hidden in an attempt to hide it from the police or to hide it from the defendant? The way in which it was hidden actually makes it more obvious to spot in a sea of rusted out cars and parts.
This was a salvage yard after all, there was a crusher and a smelter capable of incinerating metal and anything else. The defendant was familiar with all of this equipment, he had used it before and knew what it could do to a vehicle. Why obfuscate a car when you can crush it and hide it where it would probably never be found?
Inside of this vehicle a small swish of blood near the key fob was found. As the prosecution stated, this blood belonged to the defendant. No fingerprints or any other kind of DNA belonging to the defendant was found.
The only thing they have linking the defendant to the car at this point is this blood. No footprints around the vehicle from any of the defendant's shoes, no fingerprints on the handles, the interior or anywhere else.
It is obvious the car was wiped down. But with all due respect to the defendant believed to have an IQ around 70 (the average is about 100), does it not seem a bit ridiculous he meticulously wiped the car down and missed an obvious bit of his own blood near the key fob?
Also keep in mind this is the only blood found belonging to the defendant. To my knowledge no other drops of blood on the carpet, steering wheel or parts of the vehicle were discovered or introduced as evidence.
It is worth pointing out blood belonging to Teresa was found in the back of vehicle like she had been placed in the back for whatever reason which has not really been answered.
A key belonging to Teresa’s RAV4 was found in the defendant's bedroom. It was found on the eighth day of a search. Prior to that eight day, many searches had been performed by various law enforcement officers from both counties.
The search consisted of a mix of both Manitowoc County sheriff’s and Calumet County sheriff's. The key was found by none other than a couple of familiar faces from the Manitowoc County sheriff department: Lenk and Colbourn (who shook the table/nightstand/shelf supposedly).
The key while not found on the initial searches was found when supposedly a nightstand was moved and pop, it fell onto the floor. Apparently nobody heard the key drop, it was just discovered there after this had supposedly happened.
Ignoring the fact the position of the key and the weird angle it would have had to fall out to land in such a way, why is nobody talking about the fact it is just one key? Where are the other keys?
I know from experience and observations that nobody carries just one key. I have a key to my front door, I have a key for the letterbox and other various keys I don’t even know what they are for. What happened to her key for her house?
This key actually looks more like the valet key that you carry which allows a valet driver to drive your car, but unable to open up your glovebox and whatnot. No other keys were found for the RAV4, so either Teresa lost her own keys and was using the valet key (whilst wearing gloves) or this was taken and planted.
You can see that the key has a lanyard type clip on the end like it was connected to something. I wonder if the key itself was tested for DNA or if the clip attached to it was also tested as well?
Making the situation even more weird: no DNA belonging to Teresa was even found on the key. The only DNA they found belonged to the defendant. So now they have a key with his evidence, but no evidence of anyone else.
Of all things, a key which for someone like Teresa whose job required driving from place to place taking photos of vehicles, you would think other DNA would be on there, at least her own DNA. I bet if I tested my car key I would find my wife’s DNA, my DNA, probably some of her family and maybe even work colleagues as well.
The Hood Latch “Sweat”
This just keeps on coming up. It keeps being used as a means of justifying the defendant's guilt. But guess what? sweat has no DNA. It is often the number one touted piece of evidence people convinced of the defendant’s guilt bring up as not being in the documentary.
Want to know why it was not in the documentary? Because it was not admissable evidence. DNA is found in all nucleated cells, while skin fragments can make their way into sweat, still it would most likely not be detectable that it was sweat on the hood latch.
This is a completely made up fact that the people convinced of guilt keep bringing up. Stop it.
This is one of the biggest glaring injustices in the whole case against the defendant. A magical warrant which by any other stand is specific in that it is only approved for a one time, one location search. The magical warrant in the defendant’s instance was used to search the property over an eight day period.
The search in itself was illegal and any evidence found beyond the first day should be inadmissible, like the key on day 8 of the search. As you will see, this is one of the many firsts in the case that go along way to convicting the defendant.
The Conflict of Interest
Publicly Manitowoc County sheriff's department made a big statement about excusing themselves from the search of the defendant's property due to a conflict of interest (civil suit and prior wrongful conviction). While publicly they made it seem as though they were letting Calumet County take over, behind the scenes it was a different story.
The Manitowoc County sheriff’s department was only meant to provide resources to Calumet as needed, they ended up practically directing and dominating the search. As you can see, many of the key pieces of evidence were found by Manitowoc County.
Why would the department excuse themselves in the interest of a fair investigation only to be persuasive and include themselves where they were not asked too? They were not even told to step back as far as I know. If a department is willing to lie to the public like this, what else are they willing to do?
Lenk’s seemingly hands-on involvement in the case instead of letting the lower-paid officers handle things seems to indicate he has control issues or he wanted to make sure that the defendant was made out to be the killer so the civil suit would be ended and for other potential reasons.
Tampered Evidence Box
During the documentary we see Dean Strang (the defendant's attorney) opening up an evidence box obtained from the sheriff’s department which contained a blood vial taken from the defendant prior to the recent charges. The tamper tape around the box had been broken and retaped.
Then it gets even more strange. There is a pinprick hole in the top, supposedly this is how the blood gets in there because of the vial being a vacuum tube, to prevent contamination while the blood is being drawn (important for evidence purposes).
While the pinprick hole is unlikely by itself enough to ring alarm bells, it does beg the question of would it make it easier for a needle after-the-fact to take more blood from the tube without being noticed? This adds credence to a coverup of the blood being from the vial.
Then there is the strange quote from Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz who was quoted in The Washington Post:
“Planting DNA evidence would mean someone is running around with vials of Avery’s blood”
Kind of eerie a vial of blood within a tampered evidence box was in the sheriff’s possession, don’t you think?
Until a test for EDTA comes forward or the blood is tested for age, as many have mentioned is possible and accurate within the vicinity of 4.89 years, we will never know if the blood matches the vial.
The Lack of Blood
Remember that press conference where District Attorney Ken Kratz remarked how Teresa was raped, mutilated and incinerated in a fire on the “sweaty” defendant's property? How she was also shot, had her throat slit and stabbed? All while being tied up on the defendants bed using shackles and handcuffs?
No blood was found anywhere on the property. No blood in the bedroom where the first few acts were supposed to have occurred. No DNA found that Teresa was even in the bedroom. No DNA found in the garage where it was concluded she was killed. No evidence of a cleanup job (remember bleach does not remove blood completely).
If Teresa had died in such a horrific and bloody way, why was no evidence found that proved any of this scenario happened? It was theatrics plain and simple. I believe this was the turning point in the case. The sensationalist story which appeased to that part of our brains that acts irrationally and jumps to conclusions.
Coupled with the fact the mattress, pillows, sheets and anything else in the defendant's room was supposedly not even tested for DNA to me signals that it was a known fact at the time and after, Teresa was not killed or raped in the defendant’s bedroom.
Remnants of human remains were found in a fire pit on the defendant's property. Some were found in a fire pit alongside a fire barrel which it is believe Teresa was incinerated in first and then poured into the fire pit.
Then to complicate things further, bones were found in a quarry a few miles away from the property, a pelvis I believe. This adds credence that Teresa might have been killed elsewhere first and then brought to the property later, or vice-versa.
The so-called expert who claimed that the bones were definitely burned on the defendant's property obviously did not really look too deeply into the case. The quarry burn site was not even really acknowledged. The way the bones were dug up was hasty and the damage this would have caused to the bones alone is enough to inject even more doubt surrounding the bones.
A flattened .22 bullet was found in the defendant's garage two months after the initial search. They went back because they felt as though they needed to search the garage.
They found a bullet which was revealed to have had Teresa’s DNA on it. Although they could not conclusively prove it was blood or put there by any other means, that did not stop the prosecution claiming it was. Even so, the circumstances surrounding this and whether DNA was even on it before-the-fact are unknown
The testing of the bullet (we will get to testing shortly) was also done under strange circumstances. The person testing the bullet, Wisconsin State Crime Lab DNA Technical Unit Leader Sherry Culhane admitted she had contaminated the sample with her own DNA and made a call on whether to continue on with presenting the results.
On any other day, this would instantly be an inconclusive test result as dictated in the labs own protocols. The test results from here on in are irrelevant. Controls are put in place to determine an accurate result. A test with checks in place is one of the basics of science. No scientist can make a claim without valid tests in place.
So while the test was presented as being conclusive for Teresa’s DNA, it could have been a result of contamination that it came back positive. After all, it would not be the first time Sherry got it wrong, like she did originally in the defendant's 1985 rape case he was exonerated for 18 years later. Coincidence, right?
The garage in which the .22 bullet was found and believed Teresa met her demise in was jackhammered and concrete removed. They were looking for blood that had fallen into the cracks. They looked at the floor itself looking for evidence of a cleanup.
With exception of this one bullet, they found nothing. No evidence of a cleanup, no blood nor any form of DNA whatsoever (like hair, clothing particles). They did find drops of deer blood in the garage though.
If I were to shoot someone in my garage who had supposedly already had their throat slit and stabbed again in the garage, what do you think is going to happen? There is going to be a lot of blood.
If I attempted to clean this blood up, it would be impossible. I might be able to clean 99% of it up. If I was super meticulous and had all of the time in the world, maybe 99.5% of it. In reality, there would be tiny specks of blood not visible to the eye, but to tests specifically looking for it.
It would also be extremely obvious I attempted to clean it up. A garage is a dirty place and the defendants was no exception. If bleach, degreaser or any other cleaning agent was used, you would see obvious discolouration of the concrete, it would be obvious. Plus bleach does not get rid of blood, this is a movie myth. Also, the deer blood was found which any cleanup attempt would have removed.
You do not have to be a criminal investigator or scientist to know that slitting someone’s throat and hitting their jugular was well will result in blood spatter (even just a non-jugular cut would be a lot of blood). Shooting someone with a gun, will result in high velocity spatter where the force results in a spray like pattern of blood consistent with a gunshot.
Look at the defendant's place, it was a shit hole. The yard was a mess, the garage was a mess and so was the house. If anyone thinks the defendant is capable of a forensic level cleanup when he can barely look after himself, they are seriously clutching at strings.
The FBI EDTA Test
The case in my opinion has more holes in it than a vial of blood in a Manitowoc County sheriff’s department. The state (Manitowoc County) solicits the help of the FBI to test the blood found in the RAV4 for EDTA which is a preservative the lab puts into a sample when working with it (or something to that effect).
This test was undertaken to prove to the defence that the blood in the car was not out of the vial in possession of the sheriff’s department. Keep in mind that testing for EDTA had been previously deemed too difficult and unreliable and no lab actually tests for it. No test existed at the time of the trial. If testing for EDTA was a reliable test, there would still be tests for it.
Although the defence wanted to test the blood themselves, it would have taken months to find a lab willing to do it and setup a test without a guarantee of it ever coming back conclusive enough to be admissible, or so it seems. This would have required money the defence would not have had.
The FBI in mere weeks came back with results. They claimed the sample in the car contained no EDTA. However crucial pieces of information during testing were not included, leading many to believe the test was flawed and there might not have been proper controls and limits in place to determine the validity of the results.
It is the opinion of many the test was flawed and to be honest, does not accurately determine the presence of EDTA nor its existence. Another test that can be done is being able to determine the age of someone from a blood sample with a small error of margin.
The fact the FBI did not release their test data nor any details on how they actually managed to create a discontinued test of 10 years past also undermines the credibility of the whole test.
This would then be able to determine if the blood in the vial and car were one of the same as enzymes that disappear with age amongst other complex factors would either be or not be present. Whether this will happen or not, remains to be seen.
Cell phone records and Voicemail
During the trial a coworker of Teresa mentioned she had been getting repeated calls from someone. He did not see the number but said he recalled her remarking, “Not him again” or something to that effect and he offered to answer the call, but she refused.
To my knowledge, it was never determined who was trying to call her. This is where things get weird.
A representative from the wireless provider Teresa’s phone was with testified that someone had logged in and deleted voicemails from her voicemail account. This was after it was revealed she had gone missing.
In what circumstances would someone want to delete voicemail, especially if it was potential evidence? This seems to be a decision made out of fear of whatever those messages were, they could be incriminating. It was never determined who deleted the voicemail.
When it came time for Teresa’s ex-boyfriend Ryan Hillegas to testify, he revealed he had “hacked” into Teresa’s phone account and voicemail. He supposedly “made up” a username and guessed her password to print off phone records for potential places to look.
When asked if he deleted any voicemail he responded no. Without any proof saying otherwise, we can’t assume that it was Ryan who actually deleted the voicemail messages or if they were even relevant to the case at hand.
All I know is, you don’t just make up a username and password to get into someone’s voicemail and telephone account.
Lieutenant James Lenk and Sergeant Andrew Colburn
Two names that just keep on coming up in this case: Lieutenant James Lenk & Sergeant Andrew Colburn. All evidence presented in the case against the defendant came from either these two in some way, shape or form.
Two entire sheriff departments were on this case and you are telling me that two officers who appear to forget things quite a lot and display telltale body language signs of lying just so happen to only be able to find evidence?
The demeanor of both of these individuals might just be their personalities or it could be indicative of two people caught up in something much larger doing whatever they can to get their man.
I am not saying that Teresa’s brother Mike was involved, just that he seemed to say and do weird things every time he answered questions for the press. Displaying what I believe to be personality traits of a psychopath, his demeanor had me questioning what he actually knew from day one.
What struck me the most was when being interviewed early on in the situation before Teresa’s body was even found or it was known she was with certainty dead, he brought up the grieving process. He said something along the lines of, “The grieving process it could takes days, weeks, months, even years”
Either it was nerves, poor choice of words or he knew something and it slipped out subconsciously. All I know is, if anyone in my family (especially a sister) went missing, presumed, but not proven to be dead, grieving would be the last thing I would be thinking about. You can’t grieve without closure, at least in my opinion.
Then there is the apparent lack of empathy for the situation. I never once got the impression he was sad, every time he spoke he seemed to just reiterate that he believed the defendant was guilty. His confidence of the whole situation as a whole felt eerie to me.
Why did the roommate not report Teresa missing sooner? Did he ever report her missing or was it the dad who told him she was missing? I do not actually remember.
All I know is, if the person I am living with does not come home, I am going to be at least slightly concerned. Yes, Teresa did take photos and travel around, but my understanding is that she worked locally and only took photos of local vehicles, so she would come home (presumably not taking photos in the dark).
I am not saying that the defendant is innocent, because we don’t know that for sure. I do know the system is supposed to work in such a way that only when a defendant has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt of guilt should they be handed a guilty verdict.
There were a lot of worrying things about this case and taking the defendant out of the equation, everyone should be worried. Thanks to the verdict handed down and actions allowed during the trial, a lot of precedents have been set which could be used in future cases against other defendants.
They allowed contaminated evidence to be used in the case. Because of rules regarding incriminating a third party, the defence could not propose alternative suspects like Teresa’s ex boyfriend or her roommate.
The warrant which was only meant to be a one time, one search warrant was used to search the property for 8 days. Now thanks to the precedent set in this trial, a warrant is a 24/7 access card to any property and anything found is admissible.
The right to claim “inefficient counsel” is now non-existent in Wisconsin. As seen when Brendan tried to get his public defender Len Kachinsky who not only publicly cited that he thought Brendan was guilty, but through the use of a PI dug up evidence and forced a confession to hand over to the prosecution.
I think it is pretty safe to say the defendant never got a fair trial. The cards were stacked against him, even if he did kill Teresa it was never proved beyond all reasonable doubt.
The only thing we can prove beyond reasonable doubt is that Teresa Halbach died a terrible death. Whoever killed her deserves life without parole, whoever killed her deserves to be in jail. This is the only thing we know for certain. We don’t know if the defendant did or did not do it.
Thanks to the actions of the judge mostly for allowing much of this to happen, the doors are open for a future prosecution team to use this case to potentially wrongfully convict someone else, perhaps even you or a family member. The precedent has been set and unless the defendant has his convictions overturned, he is now a textbook case on how to bend the law to convict someone.
We should all be worried. Not just for the way the defendant was treated in this case, but how many “firsts” there were in this case, enough to alter the system and not in a good way.
Don’t get me started on Brendan Dassey’s plight, that is another article and a tragedy unto itself.