Steven Avery, who is now 53-years-old, has been incarcerated since 2007 when he was convicted of stabbing, shooting and cremating 25-year-old Teresa Halbach on his property in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin on Halloween, 2005.
Previously in 1985, Steven Avery had been sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for raping a local woman named Penny Ann Beernsten. 18 years later following his release, DNA evidence proved Avery was in fact innocent, he then filed a multi-million dollar law suit against the local authorities for false imprisonment. Just before he was about to win his claim against them, local photographer Teresa Halbach disappeared.
Her car was found at Avery’s scrap and salvage yard, with the remains in a fire pit. His nephew Brandon Dassey had confessed to the killing, but he made many inconsistencies within his confession. Regardless of accusations of evidence being planted, the jury gave a verdict of guilty for both Avery and Dassey.
Then last year, Netflix released a 10-part documentary about the case titled Making A Murderer and the world started talking. Was Steven Avery framed? Did he really kill Teresa Halbach? The future started to look a little brighter for Avery with petitions appearing online campaigning for his exoneration.
In January this year, Kathleen Zellner officially announced with a statement via her website: “The Law Firm of Kathleen T Zellner and Associates PC is pleased to announce that it will be assuming the full and complete representation of Steven Avery in all of his pending criminal matters.”
Before continuing: “Ms Zellner’s firm will be assisted by local Wisconsin counsel Tricia Bushnell. Ms Bushnell is the Legal Director of the Midwest Innocence Project. The Zellner Law Firm is looking forward to adding Mr Avery to its long list of wrongful conviction exonerations.”
In a recent interview with WIBX, Curtis Busse, who is closely following the trial, revealed: “(They’re) not even looking for a new trial, (they’re) actually looking for an exoneration. (Katherine) Zellner’s very confident and Steven is also very confident that it’s not going to take that much time – we’re talking months here.”
If there was ever anyone who could help with Avery’s exoneration – it would be Kathleen Zellner. Here are six things you need to know about her (and it’s looking good)…
6. She Has An Incredible Record Of Exonerations
Zellner is known for being the lawyer behind the successful exoneration of 17 men in wrongful conviction cases. She studied at the McGill College of Law in Canada, receiving a double degree program in French civil law and English common law. She later finished her legal education at the Northern Illinois University College of Law.
In 1991, she started her own law form which represents both civil and criminal clients – handling most cases pro bono. One notable case was that of Joseph Burrows, an inmate who had spent five years on death row, who was released after she managed to persuade the real killer, Gayle Potter, to confess to the murder.
Other groundbreaking cases of hers have been:
- Ronnie Bullock spent over 10 years in prison for the kidnap and rape two girls under the age of 12-years-old. Zellner proved with DNA testing that he was not the culprit and he was freed in 1994.
- In 1986, Omar Saunders, Marcellius Bradford, Larry Ollins, and Calvin Ollins were convicted of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 23-year-old medical student, Lori Roscetti. In 2002, Zellner proved with DNA testing that all four men were innocent and they were released.
- In 2001, Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was found murdered. A man named Ryan Ferguson was arrested in 2004 and sentenced to prison for the crime. Zellner helped him to be released in 2013, when she managed to convince the only two witnesses who testified in court to admit they had lied.
- Later in 2010, Zellner helped free Alprentiss Nash who had spent more than 17 years in prison for the murder of Leon Stroud. She convinced the Illinois Court of Appeals to order the DNA testing of a ski mask worn by the killer. A DNA match was made with the real killer, who was already serving time for an unrelated drug crime.
5. She May Have Found The Real Murderer
Zellner told Newsweek that she may have her hands on the real killer – but she’s keeping tight lipped as part of a tactical move. She revealed, “We have a couple (of suspects). I’d say there’s one, leading the pack by a lot. But I don’t want to scare him off, I don’t want him to run.” She also claimed that key people who knew Teresa Halbach were overlooked during the investigation. Adding, “We’ve got access to documents the public doesn’t have. We’ve got all the police reports, we can see exactly what they did and did not do. And it’s a lot more about what they did not do.”
Zellner has seen cases like Avery’s over a dozen times – she knows an innocent man when she sees one and would not be willing to put her successful track record on the line for such a high profile case. She told Crime Time presenter Allison Hope Weiner, “It had all of the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction case and then when I met him, I realised in the time I spent with him in 15 or 20 hours, I absolutely don’t believe he committed this murder. I don’t believe he is capable of committing a murder.”
4. She Believes Phone Records May Become The Strongest Part Of Her Case
On March 6th, Zellner tweeted: “Cellphone records of SA & TH provide airtight alibi for him. She left property he didn’t. #MakingAMurderer #UnmakingAMurderer”. She implies that Halbach’s phone was used after she left her (alleged) place of death. Police arrested Avery as he was the “last person to see her alive” yet if these records are true, Halbach left the Auto Salvage yard and used her phone elsewhere.
Further evidence from the phone records reveal that Zellner discovered that Teresa made phone calls to a man who had a record of sexual-abuse convictions in Arizona – just two days before she was killed. Zellner told Newsweek, “A well-trained investigator, they’d be all over that. And they would have gone and talked to (that man), and they would have interviewed these other people that (Teresa Halbach was) talking to right before her death. She’s like prey being stalked, and that’s (the most likely type of) person who would have been after her.”
3. She Will Appear In Season 2 of Making A Murderer
Making a Murderer season 2 has been confirmed. Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, who spent ten years making the original, will reveal even more shocking details in the follow up. If proven innocent, Season 2 could actually show Avery’s life as he returns to his home in Manitowoc, Wisconsin – again.
Director Laura Ricciardi told Variety, “From our perspective this story is obviously not over. It’s real life and (Avery’s and Brendan Dassey’s) cases are both still pending. We have no idea when the magistrate will make a decision in Brendan’s case. We do know that two potential outcomes are that the judge could order Brendan’s release or he could order a new trial. So we are on the edge of seats about that.”
Law Crossing believe Zellner is the perfect lawyer for TV. They wrote online, “Kathleen Zellner is known for winning multi-million dollar medical malpractice settlements for her clients and freeing innocent people from Illinois’ death row. A made-for-TV attorney, Zellner once saved a man on death row by coaxing a woman on the stand to confess that she, and not Zellner’s client, had committed the murder.”
Zellner has already gathered quite the fan following on Twitter. She tweets regularly with new evidence which she believes will help with the exoneration of Steven Avery. If she wins this case – she will quickly become one of the biggest names in law.
2. She Claims Avery’s Previous Lawyers Screwed Up
In 2000, Zellner was named by National Law Journal as one of the “top 10 lawyers in America who always out-prepare their opponents.” Zellner strongly faults Avery’s legal team, Jerry Buting and Dean Strang, for weakening his defence. Or as she simply puts it: “They screwed it up.” As she prepares for Avery’s exoneration, it is strongly believed that she will actually go against his previous defence.
Zellner explained to Law Crossing that she believes female attorneys excel at trial. She said, “I think women are better listeners and I think they’re more perceptive about sizing up potential jurors. Men tend to get sort of caught up in their egos and talking about themselves… And the art of successful voir dire is listening.”
Zellner also believes the detectives were unqualified to work on such a high profile murder case. She claimed, “I have probably solved way more murder cases than those homicide detectives.”
1. She Will Not Stop Until Avery Is Free
Why is Zellner so motivated to free those convicted of crimes? Well, she believed they were bullied into the conviction and the one thing she hates to see is someone innocent become overpowered. In an interview with Newsweek she revealed, “What drives me is the abuse of power — the bullying and the victim. I have such a strong reaction when I see people who can’t defend themselves.”
Her persistent determination to free Avery has bought new life to the case. After visiting him at the maximum security Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin last week, she said: “He is identical to the other 17 innocent men we’ve cleared. We won’t quit until he’s out.”