'Serial'-Esque Netflix Doc Will Explore A Bizarre Wrongful Conviction Case
Netflix has a new documentary airing next month that will please fans of true crime series like The Jinx and Serial. This time, the case is one of wrongful conviction and unbelievable twists.
Making a Murderer will launch on December 18 and consists of 10 parts, Variety reports. The show will follow the story of Steven Avery, a man who was first accused and convicted of rape, then exonerated, then convicted of a heinous murder. Directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos have spent 10 years exploring Avery's complicated case, saying via a statement that had they not been there themselves for many of the events, they would "have trouble believing they actually occurred."
Avery's case is complicated. He was born in 1962, grew up in Wisconsin and was no stranger to legal troubles. When he was 18, pleaded guilty to burglary. For this crime, he spent 10 months in prison. At 20, he was accused of lighting his cat on fire and went to jail again. In 1985, he was charged with assaulting his cousin.
That same year, he was also accused of raping Penny Beernsten, a 36-year-old woman who was jogging along Lake Michigan near her home Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Beernsten told Radiolab about her assault in a 2013 episode. She said she saw a man in a leather jacket as she was running. They exchanged pleasantries and Beernsten kept jogging, but when she saw him again, he chased after her. She said he pushed her into a secluded area, then brutally beat and raped her. She told Radiolab that she purposefully tried to get a good look at her attacker, though he repeatedly choked her and bashed her head against a rock.
Beernsten told police what the man who attacked her looked like, and they showed her photos of several men. When she saw Avery's picture, she was sure. "I was 100 percent certain that Steve Avery was the man who assaulted me," she told Radiolab. Plus, Avery had once allegedly pulled a gun on a woman and had a history of violence.
Avery had an alibi courtesy of 16 other people. However, their stories were dubiously similar and most of them were members of his family. One, however, was a clerk in Green Bay who said they remembered Avery, his wife and their kids coming in and buying paint. Avery had told authorities that he had been working with his family, helping them pour cement. However, his clothes contained no cement dust. He was convicted on December 14, 1985 and spent 18 years in prison.
In 1996, Avery won a petition for DNA testing, which showed DNA from an unknown person found beneath Beernsten's fingernails.
In 2002, the Wisconsin Innocence Project tested 13 hairs found on Beernsten at the crime scene. They didn't match Avery, but they did match Gregory Allen. He was already in jail because he had raped a woman in Green Bay after Beernsten. Weirder yet, they found that Allen had documented all of Avery's appeals. Even more bizarre, as a means of healing, Beernsten began going into prisons to talk to men who had committed violent crimes about her assault to help them empathize with those they had hurt. And Beernsten's husband told Radiolab that Allen would have been in one of Beernsten's classes in about two weeks.
Avery was exonerated in 2003, and sued Manitowoc County as well as former sheriff Thomas Kocourek and former district attorney Denis Vogel for $36 million. However, Avery was soon in trouble with the law again.
In 2005, Avery was the co-owner of Avery Auto Salvage., his family's auto yard. On Halloween, he had arranged for 25-year-old Teresa Halbach to come and take photos of a Plymouth Voyager minivan which would be advertised in Auto Trader Magazine. Halbach had been to the business over a dozen times before, photographing other cars for sale. That day, however, she disappeared. Her remains were found in a burn barrel at the salvage yard days later, and Avery's blood was found in Halbach's car, The Chicago Tribune reported. Investigators said they'd found her car keys in Avery's bedroom and blood in his trailer and garage.
Avery's nephew, 17-year-old Brendan Dassey, told police that he went to Avery's trailer that day only to find Halbach tied to his uncle's bed. Dassey said that Halbach invited him to join in and that the two sexually assaulted her, then stabbed and shot her before burning her body.
Avery claimed that he was being framed so that he wouldn't be able to win his pending case. The County's current district attorney had police from a nearby county lead the investigation to avoid any conflict and Avery was ultimately found guilty in 2007 of Halbach's murder. Avery was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and now resides at Waupun Correctional Institute.
Making a Murderer will not only explore Avery's case, but the criminal justice system and "allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct, evidence tampering and witness coercion."