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The Unmaking of Ken Kratz: Making A Murderer’s Real Villain

This year, Ken Kratz, former district attorney of Calumet County, Wisconsin, released his book, Avery: The Case Against Steven Avery and What Making a Murderer Got Wrong, which begins boldly: “My name is Ken Kratz. You may know me as the chief villain in the Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer.”

Kratz became a central figure in the ten-part documentary that debuted on Netflix in 2015. The series followed the trial of Steven Avery, now 54-years-old, who was convicted in 2007 of stabbing, shooting and burning the body of 25-year-old local photographer Teresa Halbach (pictured below) at his property in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin on Halloween, 2005.

Those who watched the series were emotionally invested in both Steven Avery and his young nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was also convicted, and many online justice forums pleaded for their release. As Kratz was a central figure in their prosecution – he became one of the most hated men on the internet.

“It’s not my fault Brandon Dassey had a low IQ.” 

During the trial, Kratz added the charges: first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping, and false imprisonment, to the murder and mutilation of a corpse. Brandon Dassey was just 16-years-old when he was convicted, he had learning difficulties and a below-average IQ, but this did not deter Kratz.

In his book, Kratz writes, “I lose no sleep over my prosecution of Brendan Dassey. I was a prosecutor with a dead young woman and her surviving family for which to pursue justice. It was not my fault that Brendan was easily manipulated by Avery, or had a low IQ, or was shy, or that he made a dozen inconsistent statements.”

Image: Netflix

Kratz was largely responsible for turning the trial into a media frenzy. Before he spoke of the details surrounding the case, he would warn those watching the news in their own homes to remove the children from the room or at the very least “cover their ears.”

Jerome Buting, Avery’s former defense attorney, told Entertainment Weekly, “From the outset, investigators had their eyes on one suspect only, Steven Avery, and our efforts to suggest other suspects had been denied by Judge Willis. I tried to highlight this law enforcement bias in my cross-examination (during the trial).

It was within these early days of the trial, Kratz was already beginning to paint Avery and Dassey as monsters, and he wanted the jury, the public, and the media to pay attention. Many legal experts strongly criticized Kratz for his sensational pretrial press conferences leading up to the 2007 jury trials.

His initial first interview with the press witnessed him clearly stating, “It’s no longer a question, at least in my mind, of who is responsible for the death of Teresa Halbach.” Going well beyond the general principles of communication with the press when discussing a prosecution. Kratz’s lack of professionalism was already beginning to show, but this was about to go further than anyone expected…

The Sexting Scandal

In 2010, The Associated Press reported that Kratz had sent a string of inappropriate messages to a 25-year-old female domestic abuse victim named Stephanie Van Groll (pictured above) whose ex-boyfriend he prosecuted a year earlier. He called the young woman a “hot nymph” and told her he was “the prize” with a $350,000 house and a six-figure salary. He added that he wanted her to “treat me so well that you’d be THE woman. R U that good?” The hideous messages were reported by the victim herself.

His actions were quietly brushed under the carpet since the state Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) agreed he had not committed a crime but he was asked to step down as chairman of the state Crime Victims’ Rights Board.

Then, once the incident was reported by The Associated Press, several other women came forward as alleged victims of sexual harassment. According to CBS News, “One social worker said he made a comment about oral sex to her before she testified in court and later told her he wanted the case to end so he could go to Las Vegas and have “big-boobed” women serve him drinks. Another social worker said he told her that he thought a court reporter had big breasts.”

The investigation was reopened by the Supreme Court and Kratz was suspended for four months. They wrote in a collective decision, “This was exploitative behavior, harassing behavior, and a crass placement of his personal interests above those of his client, the State of Wisconsin.” Kratz was ordered to pay $23,904 to cover the costs of disciplinary proceedings – an amount that bankrupted him.

Kratz Cashes In

Following the release of Kratz’s book, Steven Avery’s new attorney, Kathleen Zellner, tweeted a letter she said Kratz sent to Avery along with, “Kratz letter to SA: Confess so I can write book & profit. This bloodsucking gives vampires a bad name.”

The letter, that was sent to Avery in prison on September 2015, read:

I got your letter dated August 28, 2015, wherein you tell me that your visitor list is full, and ask if I checked out other fingerprints found on Teresa Halbach’s car, telling me that these people could have “set you up” for this.

I apologize for misunderstanding your letters from a couple years ago, as I thought you were interested in being honest about what happened and finally telling the whole story to someone. Since I’m the person who probably knows more about your case than anyone else, I hoped that you would choose me to tell your story to.

Unfortunately, you only want to continue your nonsense about being set up. That’s too bad, because you had ONE opportunity to finally tell all the details, but now that will never happen.

By the way, the difference between you and famous convicted murderers from the past is they told their whole truthful story to someone, who then wrote a book about what actually happened and people got to understand both sides. I was willing to help you do that…but if you are going to continue to lie about what happened between you and Ms. Halbach, I am not interested.

If you change your mind, and want to tell your honest story someday, please contact me.

Kratz wrote in his book, “I sent him correspondence when his appeals ended and he was no longer represented by an attorney – so the prohibition for me to contact him had gone away. His appeals had been rejected and he knew he was going to be spending the rest of his life in prison so I hoped that he was finally ready to make a truthful statement about what happened on October.

“Now it is obvious to me that he will never tell the truth about what really happened on that date and because of this I don’t want to have any involvement with him.”

Kratz also appeared during an event named “Steven Avery: Guilty as Charged.” Tickets at $47.50 were sold to the public. Zellner was clearly not impressed with Kratz trying to cash in. She herself a determined lawyer well-known for being the driving force over the successful exoneration of 17 men in a string of wrongful conviction cases.

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. If there was ever anyone who could successfully free Steven Avery – then it’s Zellner.

Further reading: 6 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Kathleen Zellner

With low book sales and poor reviews online, Kratz’s book has hardly caused the sensational storm he likely wanted to create. He told reporters at The Post-Crescent, “If I had it all to do over again, I would have simply released the criminal complaint rather than making a verbal statement. Not because I was not allowed to make the comments I did, but due to the criticism I received in the 10 years since.”

About the author

Cheish Merryweather is the founder of Follow on Twitter: @thecheish

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