In Depth

Making a Murderer: where are Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey now?

Defence lawyer Kathleen Zellner has been doggedly pursuing new evidence

The second season of Making a Murderer has landed on Netflix and filmmakers are not ruling out a third.

The series follows the case of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who were found guilty of the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer, in 2007.

The two men, from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, became notorious thanks to Making a Murderer, which left many viewers convinced they had been framed.

Here’s everything you need to know about the series and its protagonists:

What happened in the first series?

The ten-part series, which took Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos ten years to make, detailed the events leading up to Avery’s imprisonment for the murder of Halbach.

He was previously wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985 and served 18 years before he was exonerated by DNA testing. He was in the process of suing local law enforcement when the new murder charge was brought in 2005.

Halbach had visited Avery’s scrapyard and his blood was found on the seats of her car after her death. However, his attorney discovered that a vial of his blood, held by police since the 1980s because of the previous rape conviction, had been tampered with.

Avery’s conviction also hinged on the testimony of Dassey, who told police he had helped his uncle kill Halbach. However, Dassey, whose IQ is very low and who was just 16 at the time of the killing, later said he had been coerced into making his confession.

Where is Steven Avery now?

In prison. Avery, now 56, is incarcerated for life in Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution for first-degree murder.

Part two of the documentary series focuses on the work of Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner and her pursuit of fresh evidence to help exonerate him. “I have one goal and that’s to overturn the conviction of Steven Avery. The deeper we dig into the Avery conviction, the more evidence we uncover of his innocence,” she says.

“It does not matter how long it takes, what it costs or what obstacles we have to overcome - our efforts to win Mr Avery’s freedom will never stop.”

There “seems to be a sense that Avery’s attempts for exoneration are getting blocked at every turn, particularly as the most recent request for new DNA testing was denied by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals”, says Digital Spy.

But in a Q&A on Twitter with fans of the documentary series, Zellner said this was no cause for concern, as: “The only decisions we’ve lost were at the trial court level and 99% of exonerations are at a higher court, and we haven’t gotten there yet.”

Shedding a little more light on the length of the post-conviction process, she explained that “all of these cases take an eternity”.

“We’ve been in the case three years,” she said of the Avery appeal. “Average time is 15 years.”

Zellner said her team are currently waiting for the Court of Appeals to rule on their latest motion, which concerns the whereabouts of suspected bone fragments from Teresa Halbach.

Avery’s attorney believes it’s a “good sign” that they have not had a response yet, as it could indicate that the court is “closely examining the issue”.

And where is Brendan Dassey?

Dassey, now 29, is locked up in the Columbia Correctional Institution, serving a life sentence for murder, sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse.

The latest series of Making a Murderer shows him coming very close to being released after a federal judge ruled in 2016 that he had been coerced into making a confession and ordered him to be freed.

However, this was blocked and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in December 2017.

In the maximum-security jail, Dassey “occupies himself writing letters - like his uncle, he receives many supportive messages - or else reading and watching TV, though neither one has been able to see Making a Murderer”, reports People magazine.

Dassey’s family “has been unfailing in their support”, according to Steven Drizin, one of his two lawyers.

“Life in prison isn’t easy,” Laura Nirider, Drizin’s co-counsel told the magazine. Dassey is “a hopeful guy”, Nirider says, “and he’s somebody who throughout all of this still manages to have faith that one day the truth is going to come out”.

What’s the latest on the case?

In October 2017, Avery’s latest motion for a new trial was denied. But this hasn’t stopped Zellner searching for more evidence.

She has claimed that Brendan’s brother Bobby should be considered a viable suspect and claims his testimony in Avery’s 2007 trial was false. He was never suspected by police at the time and was instead seen as a star witness.

Zellner has said “many images of violent pornography involving young females being raped and tortured” and photos of Halbach were found on the Dassey family’s computer hard drive, reports Rolling Stone. She believes that these images were accessed online at times when Brendan was at school and Bobby was at home alone.

The defence lawyer thinks Avery was framed using blood from a cut on his finger that reopened in the days after Halbach disappeared, rather than from the police vial. Avery has always said he had left blood on the bathroom sink of his trailer but that it had gone the next day.

Last week, in a string of tweets, Zellner laid out some of the information she has uncovered that didn’t make it into the second series. She says the suspect had to be someone who knew Avery’s finger had been bleeding and had access to his trailer to remove blood from the sink and plant it in Halbach’s car.

She believes the killer followed Halbach’s car after she had visited Avery, made her pull over and then struck her with an object. The lawyer thinks Halbach was put into the back of her own car and driven back to Avery’s salvage yard. Her body was later burned in a burn barrel and the Dasseys’ burn barrel contained human bones, says Zellner.

Bobby has not responded to the latest claims, but in season two he insists: “Everything I told was true. I had, I have no reason to lie… I’m at to the point where, you know, Zellner can blame me all she wants. Deep down inside, I know I didn’t do it.”

Will there be a third season?

Filmmakers Ricciardi and Demos have not ruled out a part three. Demos said she, Ricciardi and Zellner are committed for the long haul: “It’s hard to imagine what a true end to a story with so many threads and so many people who have gone through so much, would look like. We certainly have deep connections to many people in this story.

“For us, the questions of continuing past this Part Two will be the same questions that were there when we finished Part One: what is the story that’s taking place at this point? Can we maintain or gain access to it and does it offer something new? So we will continue asking those questions.”

Are there any other documentaries on the case?

Filmmaker Shawn Rech is making an eight-part series looking at the case from the point of view of the police and prosecutors, saying the original show was “one-sided”. Rech’s Convicting a Murderer is not affiliated with Netflix, says magazine site Joe.

According to /Film, Convicting a Murderer will have “unprecedented access” to figures seen in the Netflix series including former district attorney Ken Kratz and lead investigator Tom Fassbender. 

Rech said: “When Making A Murderer was produced, many on the law enforcement side of the story could not, or would not, participate in the series, which resulted in a one-sided analysis of the case… This docu-series will examine the case and the allegations of police wrongdoing from a broader perspective. It will also share with viewers the traumatic effects of being found guilty and vilified in the court of public opinion.

“We fight for the truth. We’ll present all of the evidence in the Avery case from the perspective of both the prosecution and the defence and see if viewers feel the same way they did two years ago following the first season of Making A Murderer.”

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