Ever since its release, Netflix’s Making a Murderer has become widely popular across the globe.
The show – which chronicles the convictions of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach – highlights evidence of, among other things, police misconduct and tampering of the scene of the crime.
In an interview with Reason TV, Avery’s attorney Jerry Buting discussed the details surrounding the case.
“[Avery] was looking over towards the jury, shaking his head” after the verdict was announced. “All I could think of was what must be going through his mind at that moment. ‘Oh my god, not again. I can’t believe this is happening to me again.’”
Avery was previously convicted of a sexual assault crime, for which he spent 18 years behind bars. However, DNA evidence almost twenty years later, in 2003, proved his innocence and exonerated him. Subsequently, he sued police and prosecutors for misconduct for $36 million. Two years later, in 2005, Halbach went missing after her visit to Avery’s property.
When asked whether he believes Avery is innocent, Buting said that he does. Regarding the evidence in the case, he said that “none of it ever made sense to me. There was certainly reasonable doubt, I thought, that we presented at trial. And then when we started digging into the evidence, whatever little evidence there was that pointed to [Avery’s] guilt looked so suspicious; that it became so questionable in my mind.” There was manipulation of evidence, he added.
“The thing that’s so unfair and imbalanced here is that the prosecutor who has the full burden beyond a reasonable doubt never has to prove reasonable doubt,” Buting said, adding that the case was concentrated only on Avery; and that the prosecution did not check out the alibis of other people in Halbach’s life.
Avery’s nephew, Dassey, was questioned about the crime for hours after he was pulled out of school. This questioning occurred in the absence of his mother or lawyer. Dassey’s alleged confession confirmed the case against Avery.
“It takes some skill and experience to present false confession case to a jury so that they understand because jurors do tend think people won’t confess falsely,” Buting said. “We know from exoneration cases that they do.”
Almost 20 to 25 percent of the times when people have been exonerated by DNA evidence, they have confessed, Buting said. This number goes up in the case of young people.
Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner has been critical of the trial process. She said she found new evidence that proves Avery’s innocence. Among this evidence is the cell phone tower data. According to the prosecution, Halbach was last seen on the Avery property and made no phone calls. However, new evidence has come forth that suggests her voicemails were removed after the state said she was dead.
“The singular wireless expert said [voicemail] was not full,” Buting said. “With the information they had, people who were trying to call and leave a message to her would not have gotten the message. And yet many of her friends say they called in and they were getting the message. Somehow or another messages were deleted, whether intentional and otherwise.”
Zellner is expected to file legal briefs in Avery’s appeal on August 29.
Whether, as a defense attorney, it is important to believe that one’s client is innocent or not, Buting said that “the danger is when you start making the assumption yourself of guilt or innocence.”