Released on Netflix in December 2015, the documentary Making a Murderer became a major cultural phenomenon as viewers around the world got hooked on the show and became invested in the case of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who were tried and convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach in rural Wisconsin. The show’s meticulous details of the case and “whodunit” approach to the case captivated audiences. The show currently holds a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, proving how well-recieved it was by Netflix users everywhere. In July 2016, it was announced that Making a Murderer will return to Netflix with new episodes that are already in production. The upcoming installments will follow-up with Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey as their legal teams continue to challenge their convictions. Indeed, a lot has happened in the past 12 months since the show hit Netflix, and there will be plenty of new ground to cover in the new episodes. Here are 10 significant developments in the case over the past year.
10. Petition for a Pardon Sent to the White House
Fans of Making a Murderer who became convinced that both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey were innocent, and were being railroaded by police, banded together last December to send a petition to the White House requesting a presidential pardon of the two convicted killers. The petition, which circulated shortly after the series was released on Netflix, managed to quickly get the 100,000 signatures that are required for the petition to be eligible for an official White House review. However, the White House quickly dashed the hopes of fans concerning a presidential pardon, issuing a statement that read: “A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities. While this case is out of the Administration’s purview, President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system.” Political pardons at any level of government are extremely rare.
9. Steven Avery Hires a New Lawyer
Also this past January, Steven Avery fired his previous lawyers and retained new counsel – a criminal defense lawyer named Kathleen Zellner, who is based in Illinois and specializes in wrongful convictions. Zellner issued a statement about being retained by Steven Avery that read, “the Zellner Law Firm is looking forward to adding Mr. Avery to its long list of wrongful conviction exonerations.”
Indeed, Zellner wasted no time in going after the cops and poking holes in their case. Over the course of three days, Zellner took to Twitter to disprove specific evidence used by the prosecution to convict Avery of the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach. Her tweets on social media were well received by fans of the show, and were widely retweeted around the world. Additionally, in an in-depth profile published in March by Newsweek magazine, Zellner said that she has found “a couple” of suspects, both of whom are men who knew Halbach.
“I’d say there’s one, leading the pack by a lot,” said Zellner. “But I don’t want to scare him off; I don’t want him to run.”
8. Steven Avery’s Ex-Fiancée Says He is “Not Innocent”
It hasn’t been all positive for Avery over the past year. In a big blow to his credibility, Avery’s ex-fiancée Jodi Stachowski went on HLN’s legal program with Nancy Grace and called the convicted killer a “monster,” and said that Avery is “not innocent” in the murder of Teresa Halbach. This was viewed as a major blow to Avery and his case. Stachowski also said that she personally “ate two boxes of rat poison just so I could go to the hospital to get away from him and ask them to get the police to help me.” While Avery’s supporters have tried to dismiss Stachowski’s comments and portray her as a jilted ex-girlfriend, the comments were nevertheless damaging to Avery’s reputation and his quest for an appeal of his case.
7. Sheriff’s Department Receives Bomb Threat, Prosecutor Flamed Online
If Making a Murderer succeeded in one thing, it was turning public sentiment against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department and the prosecutors who put Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey in prison. In early February, a bomb threat was called into the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department. Authorities say that the caller claimed “there were bombs in the building,” and that he was “getting justice” for Avery. Additionally, Ken Kratz, a prosecutor and former District Attorney of Calumet County in Wisconsin, has been repeatedly flamed and trolled online and also received death threats via the internet for putting both Avery and Dassey behind bars. In an interview on the Dr. Drew television show, Ken Kratz said that he had suicidal thoughts after “this whole thing kind of blew up.”
6. Ken Kratz and Michael Griesbach Each Publish Tell-All Books
In an effort to give their account of events and counter some of the negative public perceptions they received as a result of Making a Murderer, prosecutor Ken Kratz and Michael Griesbach, the Assistant District Attorney who helped put Avery in jail, both wrote tell-all books this past year. They chronicle the case from their point-of-view, and take issue with the facts as presented in the documentary. Both books were bestsellers, even though fans of the show heavily criticized them and claimed they were slanted and biased. In his book, Kratz lambasted the producers of Making a Murderer, accusimg them of portraying only one side of the case and of turning the public against the legal system. The producers had no comment about the books.
5. Brendan Dassey’s Conviction is Overturned
One of the biggest developments in the case occurred this past August, when Brendan Dassey had his conviction overturned. Federal judge William E. Duffin granted Dassey’s writ for a petition of habeas corpus, finding that his imprisonment was unlawful because his confession to the murder of Teresa Halbach was involuntary. In reaching that decision, Judge Duffin wrote that the “misconduct” of Len Kachinsky, Brendan Dassey’s court-appointed lawyer, was “indefensible.” This was a huge victory for fans of Making a Murderer, who have continued to follow every development in the case and pushed hard to have both Avery and Dassey released from prison. This development was widely covered by the media.
4. New Scientific Tests Ordered
Emboldened by the fact that Dassey’s conviction was overturned, Avery’s lawyer Kathleen Zellner filed a motion in late August demanding that physical evidence from the case be sent for further scientific testing – tests that Zellner claims didn’t exist during the original trial. In her court filing, Zellner revealed that “Mr. Avery has already completed a series of tests that will conclusively establish his innocence,” and added that she intends to reveal the identity of an alternate suspect once she has the new test results. The test results, and what they show, have yet to be made public. Some online fan theories suggest that the test results will be revealed during the second season of Making a Murderer. We shall see…
3. State of Wisconsin Appeals Brendan Dassey’s Overturned Conviction
Much to the anger of Brendan Dassey’s supporters, the State of Wisconsin officially appealed his overturned conviction. In filing the appeal, state prosecutors said that Brendan Dassey’s confession “was voluntary and the investigators did not use constitutionally impermissible tactics.” They also made mention of what they called the “undue influence” of the show Making a Murderer on the judge’s decision to overturn the conviction. Many supporters of Dassey had petitioned the District Attorney’s office to let the case lie and not to pursue an appeal. That petition appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
2. Steven Avery Gets Engaged While in Jail… But Then Dumps His New Fiancée
Despite what his ex-fiancée said about him, Avery managed to get engaged again while in prison. On September 24th, news broke that Avery was engaged to be married. The lucky lady was Lynn Hartman, identified as a legal secretary from Las Vegas who has taken an interest in Steven Avery’s case. The couple was reportedly dating for eight months but had only met in-person once. The rest of the time they corresponded by telephone, e-mail, and regular old snail mail. However, fans barely had time to take in the news when it was reported on October 1st that Steven Avery had dumped Lynn Hartman, accusing her of being a “gold-digger.” Turns out that Steven Avery is once again single while in prison.
1. Brendan Dassey Ordered Released… Then Ordered to Stay in Prison Again
In another chapter of the back-and-forth drama, on November 14 a judge ordered Brendan Dassey’s supervised release from prison pending a possible retrial. According to court documents, U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin granted Dassey’s motion for release — conditional on his supervision by the U.S. Probation Office. The judge said that Dassey will not be allowed to obtain a passport and can only travel in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Despite the conditions, this seemed like a major victory.
However, the Wisconsin Department of Justice quickly filed an Emergency Motion on November 15 to stay Brendan Dassey’s release from jail. But when the judge in the case rejected the state’s Emergency Motion, it looked like it paved the way for Brendan Dassey to be home with his family for Thanksgiving. But not so fast. On November 17th, another judge ordered that Brendan Dassey remain in prison pending an appeal of his overturned conviction.
“Moments ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit granted the State of Wisconsin’s motion to stay U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin’s order to release Mr. Brendan Dassey. Mr. Dassey will remain in prison pending the outcome of the appeal,” read a statement issued by the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office. No doubt there will be more to come…