Steven Avery grew up in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, where his family owns a salvage yard. Avery’s school records show that his IQ was 70 and that he “barely functioned in school”. In December of 1985, at the age of 22, Avery was wrongfully convicted of rape. It took nearly 20 years to correct his wrongful conviction through DNA testing. After his release, Avery returned to the same town and began working once again at his family’s salvage yard, up until the time of his arrest for the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005.
Avery’s 1985 wrongful conviction was secured based on faulty witness identification. On July 29, 1985, Penny Ann Beernsten was forced into a wooded area and sexually assaulted while she was out on a run. Beernsten was able to provide a description of her attacker to police, who used the information to put together a photo array. Beernsten was shown a photo array of nine men, and she selected the photograph of Steven Avery.
Avery had a strong defense, which presented 16 alibi witnesses, including a store clerk in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who recalled Avery, along with his family, buying paint from the store. A receipt stated that the paint purchase was made at 5:13 pm. Beernsten’s attack began at 3:50 pm, and lasted an estimated 15 minutes, which meant that Avery would have had to leave the scene of the attack, walk a mile to the nearest parking area, drive home, load his family into the car, and drive 45 miles in just over an hour. The timeline of events presented at trial heavily favored Avery.
In the end, the victim’s identification of Avery was too much for his defense team to overcome. The jury convicted Avery almost exclusively on the eyewitness account. The judge later sentenced Avery to 32 years in prison.
The Wisconsin Innocence Project went to bat for Avery, seeking to prove his innocence. In April of 2002, attorneys obtained a court order for DNA testing of 13 hairs recovered from Beernsten at the time of the crime. The hair came back as a match for a man named Gregory Allen. At the time of the discovery, Allen was in prison, serving a 60-year prison term for a sexual assault that occurred after the attack on Beernsten. The discovery of Alan’s DNA at the crime scene, was good news for Avery, who was released in September of 2003. Sadly, Avery’s wrongful conviction left the actual perpetrator free to commit rape once again.
Allegations surfaced after Avery’s release that members of law enforcement knew they had the wrong guy. Evidence strongly suggests that within days after arresting Avery, the police not only knew he was innocent but also knew who the real perpetrator was. Repeated warnings from another police department suggesting that Gregory Allen was the perpetrator were ignored, as police seemed hellbent on convicting Avery.
Steven Avery filed a 36 million dollar lawsuit against Manitowoc County in 2004. Avery had a strong civil case against the county, its sheriff, and its district attorney, but any chance of a large monetary settlement was eliminated when Avery was charged for the murder of Teresa Halbach in November 2005. Avery’s civil suit was eventually settled in 2006 for $400,000.
Steven Avery has denied any involvement in the Halbach murder. Avery’s supporters argue that the same police force who wronged him the first time, set out to frame him once again in an attempt to avoid paying out millions of dollars to settle the civil suit resulting from his wrongful conviction.
Steven Avery Resources