A judge has denied Making A Murderer subject Steven Avery’s request for a new trial, declaring “the defendant has failed to establish any grounds that would trigger the right to a new trial in the interests of justice. As such, no further consideration will be given to this issue.”
Avery is currently serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for the 2005 rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. Near the end of 2015, a 10 part Netflix documentary on the case raised questions amongst the public regarding his guilt. Soon after, wrongful conviction lawyer Kathleen Zellner took up his case and filed a 1,272-page motion for a new trial earlier this year that included claims of ineffective counsel from his appeal lawyer, prosecutorial violations, and evidence tampering. It also offered up new forensic evidence.
But the length and detail of the motion didn’t sway Sheboygan County Circuit Judge Angela Sutkiewicz, who noted Avery had already appealed on the basis of prosecutorial violations and been denied. She also considered the new forensic reports provided by Zellner and decided they weren’t convincing enough to justify re-opening the case.
“All three items of evidence were admitted at trial,” she wrote. “Each was thoroughly contested by defense counsel. The reports submitted by the defendant are equivocal in their conclusions and do not establish an alternate interpretation of the evidence. Given the totality of evidence submitted at trial and the ambiguous conclusions as stated in the experts’ reports, it cannot be said that a reasonable probability exists that a different result would be reached at a new trial based on these reports.”
Judge Sutkiewicz also noted in her ruling a Wisconsin statute that could narrow down the kinds of admissible forensic testing considerably. In order for ‘new’ forensic evidence to be considered, it may have to be newer than the latest relevant appeal date. In this case, that would be 2015, rather than the date of Avery’s original trial back in 2006.
Avery’s lawyer responded to the decision by telling WBAY News “We are filing an amended petition because we have additional test results and witness affidavits. The scientific testing is not completed. We remain optimistic that Mr. Avery’s conviction will be vacated.”
Zellner had declared her intention to amend her original petition with the press, but apparently never filed the proper paperwork with the Wisconsin courts to delay a decision. Now that a ruling has been rendered on the matter, it could be much harder for her to have future Avery petitions heard. The judge did leave the door open for Avery to file a new Habeas Corpus appeal over his claims of ineffective counsel, but the bar is notoriously high for relief to be granted that way.
The situation is a major setback for Steven Avery and his supporters, who believe he was railroaded into prison by a local police force looking to frame him. But with numerous pieces of physical evidence tying him to the murder of Halbach, it was never going to be a simple process getting the courts to consider an appeal built on accusations of serious malfeasance by the Manitowoc County Sheriffs and special prosecutor.
Steven’s nephew Brendan Dassey has seen more luck on his appeal, with several courts siding with him that his confession (the only thing tying him to the crime) was coerced by law enforcement. Last year, a judge ordered his conviction be thrown out, something the state of Wisconsin continues to appeal. The Seventh Circuit Court has just heard oral arguments on the case, which will probably be headed to the Supreme Court next.
So what about Making A Murderer, the documentary that helped raise this case to national attention? A second season is in the works but probably won’t air until all the court proceedings surrounding the case have been resolved. For Dassey, that may take a year or more. For Steven Avery, it seems like a long future of denied appeals awaits him.