Statement Analysis®

Making a Murderer - Steven Avery


In March 2007, Steven Avery from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin was found guilty of murdering Teresa Halbach. He was given a life sentence. Halbach was a photographer and met Avery at his home on the ground of Avery's Auto Salvage. She was there to take a picture of a mini-van Avery's sister was going to sell in the "Auto Trader" magazine. Avery was the last person to see Halbach alive. Her car was found in Avery's salvage yard. His blood was found in her car. Halbach's car keys were found in Avery's bedroom. Bone fragments from Halbach's body were found in a fire pit behind Avery's house.

Despite the overwhelming evidence many people believe Steven Avery is innocent. This is because in 1985 Avery was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman. He spent 18 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him and he was released. Avery then sued Manitowoc County. It was in the midst of his lawsuit that he was arrested for Halbach's murder. Some believe his conviction for her murder was payback for his lawsuit.

In 2015, Netflix produced a 10-part documentary entitled "Making a Murderer." Filmed over a 10-year period, the documentary focuses on Avery's life and troubles he had with the criminal justice system. The series raises questions about some of the evidence used to convict Avery of Halbach's murder. This includes the belief the police planted some of the evidence. Because of the public interest created by this documentary, as of this writing an online petition calling for a Presidential pardon of Steven Avery has over 200,000 signatures.

The prosecutors state there was no misconduct in regards to the investigators working the case; that the evidence speaks for itself. Here are some excerpts from the documentary "Making a Murderer."


Avery told the police Halbach had been to the salvage yard numerous times taking pictures of cars his family was selling. He also confirmed she was there the day in question taking pictures of the mini-van his sister was selling. A reporter asked him about this.

Reporter: "Did she mention any other appointments that day or anything like that?"
Avery:      "Not, I don't think so cause most of the time she takes a picture. Then she writes down the serial number.
                 Then she comes and collects the money and that's about it."

The word "think" means he is uncertain if she mentioned having another appointment. There is nothing wrong with that. He is not sure if she mentioned any other appointments.

The word "cause" means he is explaining his answer. This is a slight indication of deception. Most of the time a truthful person will simply give an answer and not explain their answer or their actions.

Avery then talks about Halbach's actions. This is important because he was not asked about what she did. Everything a person says has a meaning. What Halbach did that day is important to Avery so he voluntarily mentions it.

He told the reporter what Halbach did "most of the time." He wants us to believe Halbach did her same routine on the last day she was at the salvage yard. However, we can only believe what people tell us. We can believe that most of the time she takes a picture, writes down the serial number and collects the money. The big question is what did she do the last time she was at the salvage yard? Had Halbach gone through her normal routine he would have told us that; "She took a picture. She wrote down the serial number. She collected the money and then she left." But, Avery did not say that. His language indicates he is not telling us everything that happened that last day he saw Teresa Halbach.

Avery said that Halbach then "comes and collects the money." Where does Halbach go to in order to collect the money? Does she meet him outside of his trailer? Does she go into his trailer? The police believe Avery tied Halbach to his bed and raped her. Avery denies Halbach was in his residence.

Avery's statement, "That's about it" clearly tells us he is withholding information. He has not told us everything that happened that day.

When analyzing a statement, it is also important to look at what the person has not said. Avery does not state that after Halbach collected the money she left. Therefore, we cannot believe she left the salvage yard.

People's words will betray them. Avery makes a huge blunder in how he phrases his answer. Yet, it goes unnoticed. People don't pay attention to what he is saying. A good interviewer or a good reporter would have challenged him on his language by asking more questions. Avery would then either confess as to what happened or he would tell more lies which would be very apparent.


Because Halbach's car was found amongst the many cars in Avery's salvage yard, a reporters asked Avery who had access to the yard.

Reporter: "There's been speculation around who has access to the yard.
                 Do you think your two brothers could have had anything to do with this?"
Avery:      "No, no, not at all. Anybody can go down the road at night time when everybody is sleeping.
                 They'll just drive in. My brother ain't gonna hear no thing."
Reporter: "So who do you think did something with her?"
Avery:      "I got no idea. If the county did something or whatever in trying to plant evidence on me or something.
                 I don't know. I wouldn't put nothing past the county."

It is very rare when a person can honestly say, "I have no idea" or "I have no clue." Most people have an opinion on just about everything. We see he is being deceptive because after saying, "I got not idea" he then offered a suggestion; perhaps the county planted evidence. It turned out he did have an idea.


While being escorted from a van to the courthouse a reporter asked Avery, "What do you want to say today?" Avery responded, "I'm innocent."

This is a very weak denial. A serial killer with blood on his hands can honestly say, "I'm innocent." This is because in our society one is innocent until proven guilty. The best denial is to deny the act itself by saying, "I didn't do it" or "I didn't kill her." There was only one time throughout this entire 10-part documentary that I heard Avery deny the act itself. At one of the hearings, Avery told the judge "Teresa Halbach I didn't kill." All the other times in the documentary he proclaimed his innocence. Even in his somewhat good denial the order is off. Most people would say, "I didn't kill Teresa Halbach." Based on the order, the emphasis is on what the person did not do. In Avery's denial, the emphasis is on Teresa Halbach first and himself second.


Avery has a nephew named Brendan Dassey who was 16 at the time of Halbach's murder. Twice Dassey confessed that he and his uncle participated in sexually assaulting and killing Halbach. Dassey, who lived near Avery, told investigators that after getting home from school he checked his mailbox. It contained a letter for his uncle so he walked to his uncle's trailer. As he approached the trailer he could hear a woman screaming. When Avery answered the door he appeared to be sweaty. Avery invited Dassey in and told him to go to his bedroom. There Dassey saw Halbach naked and tied to the bed. Avery told Dassey to have sex with her which he stated he did. The two of them strangled Halbach, stabbed her and shot her. They burned her body in the fire pit behind Avery's house. Dassey would later recant both confessions.

In talking about Dassey's confession, Avery told the Associated Press, "He was coerced to say it. I know he was cause there ain't no evidence to back it up."

Avery wants us to believe that Dassey's confession was false. The first thing we need to recognize is that the word "coerced" does not mean it was a false confession. The word "coerced" means to persuade an unwilling person to do something by using force or threats. Most guilty people do not want to confess. After hearing the evidence against them and after hearing what their options are, some people then choose to confess.

More importantly is Avery's explanation for why he thinks Dassey's confession is false. It is because, "There ain't no evidence to back it up." If someone falsely accused you of a crime, how would you know they are lying or giving a false confession? It is because you know you did not do it. You weren't there. It never happened. According to Steven Avery, Dassey confession is false not because he did not do it but because there is no evidence to prove he did it.


Many people believe Dassey gave two false confessions. In part, because has a low IQ and was only 16-years-old at the time he was interviewed. Some also believe the authorities used improper tactics in their questioning. Let's look at some of Dassey's statements.

In one of the police interviews with Branden Dassey, the detectives leave the room and allow his mother Barb Janda to come in and sit next to her son. The camera records the following conversation.

Dassey: "What happen if his story's different?" (He is referring to his uncle's statement.)
Janda:   "What do you mean?"
Dassey: "Like, if his story's like different. Like I never did nothing or something."
Janda:   "Did you?"
Dassey: (No answer)
Janda:   "Huh?"
Dassey: "Not really."
Janda:   "What do you mean 'Not really'?"
Dassey: "They got into my head."

Dassey's mother essentially asked him if he committed this crime. His response was not to answer the question. She then asked him a second time in which he replied, "Not really." That is not the same thing as saying, "No." The phrase "Not really" indicates Dassey did something.

We do not know what he means when he said, "They got into my head." After making that statement, the detectives entered the room. Therefore, his mother did not ask him for an explanation. He could be insinuating the detectives forced him to confess but why insinuate? Why not come out and tell his mother they forced him to confess?


After his second confession, the detectives told Dassey to call his mother and tell her that he confessed.

Janda:   "What all happened? What are you talking about?"
Dassey: "About what me and Steven did that day."
Janda:   "So Steven did do it?"
Dassey: "Yeah."
Janda:   "Uh, he makes me so sick."
Dassey: "I don't even know how I'm gonna do it in court though."
Janda:   "What do you mean?"
Dassey: "I ain't gonna face him."
Janda:   "Who?"
Dassey: "Steven."
Janda:   "You know what Brendan?"
Dassey: "What?"
Janda:   "He did it. You do what you gotta do. So in those statements you did all that to her too?"
Dassey: "Some of it."

In his second confession, he told his mother that his uncle did commit this crime. He also admitted that he participated in committing, "some of it." This is in line with his previous denial when his mother asked him if he did it. He responded, "Not really." "Not really" means he did something. He did do "some of it."

We also have a reason why Dassey may have later recanted his confessions and choose not to testify against his uncle. It is because he was not willing to face his uncle in court.

Critics claim the detectives coerced Dassey into confessing by using improper techniques. However, they ignore his confessions to his mother. He could not tell her that he did not do it ("Not really") and he admitted that he did "some of it."


In his confession, Dassey told the detectives that he and Avery burned Halbach's body in a fire pit behind his uncle's house. When he recanted his confessions he told the detectives that his uncle called him at 7:00 p.m. to come over to a bonfire he was having. Dassey went to his uncle's house and helped him place items in the fire. The detectives asked him about this bonfire.

Detective: "What did you see in the fire?"
Dassey:     "Some branches. I saw a cabinet and some tires."
Detective: "See any body parts?"
Dassey:     "Well there was some garbage bags on there."

Although he gave an answer Dassey did not answer the specific question if he saw any body parts in the fire. By not answering the specific question, it means he is withholding some information. If he wanted to deny seeing body parts in the fire, he could have said, "No." However, people do not want to lie. Therefore, deceptive people will often avoid answering the specific question by giving an answer that sounds like they answered the question. Eventually, he would tell the detectives he saw some toes in the fire.


In regards to the documentary, former Wisconsin state prosecutor Ken Kratz claims the filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi who produced "Making a Murderer" intentionally left out pieces of evidence that supported Steven Avery's conviction for the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. The Wrap asked Demos and Ricciardi about this.

The Wrap: "Ken Kratz said that you intentionally left out pieces of evidence that support Steven Avery's conviction for the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. Did you intentionally exclude any evidence?"

Moira Demos: "I guess I would ask Kratz what he would trade it for. We tried to choose what we thought was Kratz's strongest evidence pointing toward Steven's guilt, the things he talked about at his press conferences, the things that were really damning toward Steven. That's what we put in. The things I've heard listed as things we've left out seem much less convincing of guilt than Teresa's DNA on a bullet or her remains in his backyard."

Laura Ricciardi: "To state this another way, I'd say that all of the most significant evidence of the state is in the series. It was a nearly six-week-long trial, and it would just be impossible for us to include all of the less significant evidence."

While both filmmakers gave an answer they did not answer the specific question which requires a "yes" or "no" answer. Neither one of them denied leaving out incriminating evidence. We cannot believe they did not withhold incriminating evidence if they do not tell us that.

Demos said, "We tried to choose what we thought was Kratz's strongest evidence pointing toward Steven's guilt." The word "tried" means they attempted but failed. A better statement would have been to say, "We choose what we thought..."

Ricciardi confirms they withheld some of the evidence by saying, "All of the most significant evidence of the state is in the series." We can believe that the "most" significant evidence is in the series. But, what about the significant evidence that is not in the series? Most likely Demos and Ricciardi are the ones determining what evidence is "most significant."


Conclusion

A miscarriage of justice did occur in 1985 when Steven Avery was convicted of a sexual assault that he did not commit. But I do not see a miscarriage of justice in his 2007 conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach. If someone else killed Halbach, that means the killer had to park her car on Avery's property. Place Avery's blood in Halbach's car. Break into Avery's house and plant her car keys in his bedroom. Place Halbach's body or her bones in Avery's fire pit. The problem with this theory is how did this unknown killer acquire Avery's blood to plant in Halbach's car?

The most popular conspiracy theory is that the police planted all of the evidence. The problem with this theory is where did the authorities get Halbach's bone fragments to plant in Avery's fire pit? Some would say from another burn site. According to prosecutor Ken Kratz, "Suggesting that some human bones found elsewhere (never identified as Teresa's) were from this murder was never established." This theory still leaves us with the question, "Who killed Teresa Halbach?"

Another theory is that an unknown killer planted all the evidence except for the blood. The authorities had access to Avery's blood which was in evidence. The police believing Avery was guilty strengthened their case against him by planting the blood.

The physical evidence suggests Avery was guilty of Halbach's murder. We know her body was burned in Avery's fire pit because her bones were intertwined with the steel belts left over from the tires Avery threw onto the fire as described by Brendan Dassey. Halbach's tooth and a rivet from her jeans were found in the fire pit. Halbach's camera, phone and PDA were found in a burn barrel next to Avery's residence. Avery's DNA was found under the hood of Halbach's car. It is doubtful the police have a vial of Avery's sweat that they could plant under the hood.

Most interesting is Avery's phone records. He placed three calls to Halbach's phone on October 31 the day she went to his salvage yard. One call was at 2:24 p.m. and one at 2:35 p.m. Both times Avery used the *67 feature to hide his number. This is because Halbach had told her employer she did not want to have any contact with Avery. The last time she was at the salvage yard Avery answered the door wearing only a towel. Apparently, she thought she was meeting someone else at the salvage yard on October 31. At 4:35 p.m. Avery called Halbach but this time he did not use the *67 feature and revealed his number. According to Dassey, at this point in time Halbach was in Avery's trailer tied to his bed. It appears that Avery's defense was going to be that Halbach never showed up. He called her phone at 4:35 p.m. to make it look like he was looking for her. Since he knows she will not answer the phone, he did not use the *67 feature.

While there is other physical evidence that ties Avery to Halbach's murder let's look at his own words. In talking about meeting with Halbach on October 31, he told the reporter what Halbach did "most of the time." However, he did not tell us what Halbach did the day in question. He knows his nephew gave a false confession not because it did not happen but because, "there ain't no evidence to back it up."

We also see some deception in Brendan Dassey's statements. Despite having a low IQ, he knows how to answer a question with a "Yes" or "No." Detective: "See any body parts?" Dassey: "Well there was some garbage bags on there." Answering "No" would be a lie and answering "Yes" would be a confession. So, he chose not to answer the specific question. In denying he did anything to Halbach, he gave a poor denial of "not really." Later he would say that he "did some of it" which corresponds to his denial of "not really." Why did he recant his two confessions? Most likely because he didn't want to face his uncle in court.

Despite the appearance of some improprieties on behalf of the authorities I believe the jury got it right in finding Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey guilty of murdering Teresa Halbach.




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