Indefensible: The Missing Truth about Steven Avery, Teresa Halbach, and Making a Murderer

Indefensible: The Missing Truth about Steven Avery, Teresa Halbach, and Making a Murderer

by Michael Griesbach

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786041145
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 82,346
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Michael Griesbach is a longtime Wisconsin prosecutor and a member of the board of advisers at the Wisconsin Innocence Project. He is a frequent presenter and panelist on the topic of wrongful convictions and their causes. He has also presented on other topics concerning the criminal justice system and its need for reform. Mr. Griesbach is the author of the widely acclaimed, The Innocent Killer: A True Story of a Wrongful Conviction and Its Astonishing Aftermath, published by the American Bar Association in 2014. He hopes to leave his readers better informed about the criminal justice system and more concerned about those whose lives it deeply affects. He lives in northeastern Wisconsin with his wife Jody and their four children.

Read an Excerpt

Indefensible


By Michael Griesbach

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2016 Michael Griesbach
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7860-4115-2



CHAPTER 1

"In on It Too"?


I sat there, frozen, staring over the open file. I couldn't move. How could I have forgotten? I prosecuted the case myself. Did we do it again; did we wrongfully convict an innocent man? Twice!


* * *

The troubles began almost immediately after the documentary aired. It started with social media; the bomb threats came later. You're an utter fool, pronounced the first message on my book's Facebook page, either that or you're in on it too.

"Utter fool," I could live with. Everyone's an utter fool sometimes, some of us more often than others. But "in on it too"?

The documentary — such an innocuous-sounding word — that had upset my former Facebook friend had just been released on Netflix, but it would soon become an international smash hit. It was, of course, Making a Murderer, about the Steven Avery case.

Avery is the wrongly convicted Wisconsin man who, two years after his release from prison for a crime he did not commit, perpetrated one of the most horrific murders in the history of Wisconsin, a state with a long and ignominious past of horrific murders.

At least that's what the majority of Wisconsinites and the few who paid attention to the story outside our borders thought before Making a Murderer turned the case upside down. All but the most conspiracy-minded agreed with the jury's verdict: that Avery and his sixteen-year-old nephew and accomplice, Brendan Dassey, were guilty of the unspeakably brutal murder of Teresa Halbach.

Still employed as an assistant district attorney in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, where these events occurred, but not directly involved in prosecuting either of Avery's cases, I had written my own account of this now thirty-year crime saga in a book entitled The Innocent Killer. The American Bar Association published it in the summer of 2014 — I began writing it more than seven years earlier — long before Making a Murderer was even a glimmer in the eyes of its Hollywood producers. The confidence I expressed in the final chapters of my book — Avery was guilty as charged of murdering Teresa Halbach, and that the police had not set him up a second time — was the source of my Facebook messenger's anger. I knew this because he admitted he enjoyed The Innocent Killer when he read it several months earlier, but after bingeing his way through all ten episodes of the documentary, his opinion had changed, and as I would soon find, he was not alone.

I had minced few words when describing the gross misconduct of the former sheriff and former district attorney in Manitowoc County. Steven Avery and his family were the victims of an injustice, horrific in its own right, in his 1985 wrongful conviction. Depending on whether you count the six year sentence Avery was serving concurrently for another unrelated but lawful charge, or not, he served either twelve or eighteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Either way, it's one hell of a long time to be sitting behind bars for something you didn't do. The county's top two law enforcement officials had intentionally, or at the very least recklessly, sent an innocent man to prison.

I wrote the book because I believed, and still do, that the three-decade-long Steven Avery saga is the best example of what can go wrong when police and prosecutors lose sight of their calling by seeking convictions instead of justice, as required by their oaths of office. An injustice that began in 1985 has festered ever since, leaving many victims in its wake and nearly destroying a local justice system that is still reeling from renewed exposure.

Steven Avery's arrest and trial for Teresa Halbach's murder in 2005 figures only into the final chapters of The Innocent Killer, and then only in the context of how his murder trial became intertwined with his wrongful conviction two decades earlier, nearly resulting in his acquittal. The book's treatment of the Avery saga was the opposite of Making a Murderer's, which concentrated heavily on the murder case, exhausting its treatment of the 1985 wrongful conviction case by the end of the first few episodes.

I thought I had been about as even-handed as anyone could be when writing a book. I spared no sympathy for Avery and his family in recounting the wrongful conviction in 1985, nor condemnation of the sheriff and the district attorney who were responsible. But at the same time, except for drafting the initial search warrant, I was not involved in the murder investigation or its lengthy trial. I experienced it from the same perspective as nearly every other Wisconsinite: from the media. After observing the murder case unfold, I had no doubt that the jury got it right that the innocent man had turned into a cold-blooded killer. Making a Murderer, despite its creators' claim that it takes no position on Steven's guilt, takes the opposite view.

My impression from watching the trial from afar was that the trail of evidence in the Teresa Halbach murder case led directly to Steven Avery. There was no way of escaping it, at least that's what I had assumed at the time. Those who chose the other direction, I believed, had taken a misguided trip through the brambles and smoke-filled brush laid down for them by the defense in the form of claims of evidence-planting and a police frame-up.

I also believed that the trial judge, Mr. Avery's skilled and devoted defense team, and, yes, even the prosecutors had provided Steven Avery with an exceedingly fair trial. The issues had been joined, and after carefully considering their verdict over the course of three days of deliberations, the jury members had followed where the evidence objectively led.


* * *

Since I had called out my predecessors for inflicting on Steven Avery and his family an inexcusable injustice, you might think viewers of the documentary, incensed at what they believed was a second wrongful conviction perpetrated upon Mr. Avery, would think twice before assuming I was "in on it too." But you would be wrong. Nor did it matter that during the past several years I had become an advocate for criminal justice reform, presenting frequently at conferences and other public forums on the topic of wrongful convictions, and particularly on those where police and prosecutor misconduct played a role. I'd written published articles on the topic and had become none too popular among a subset of my colleagues as a result. But none of that seemed to matter to those who were convinced after watching Making a Murderer that I was part of a corrupt, local law-enforcement community that did the unthinkable by convicting an innocent man not once, but twice.

I had spoken out extensively on radio, television, and print interviews about how Steven Avery was, to use a colloquial term, screwed over by the former sheriff and DA. Dean Strang, co-counsel with Jerome Buting, for Avery in the murder trial, served as a panelist in a presentation I moderated in Milwaukee, just a few months before Making a Murderer aired. As did Walt Kelly and Steve Glynn, who were Avery's attorneys in his thirty-six-million-dollar wrongful conviction lawsuit. I also serve on the advisory board at the Wisconsin Innocence project in Madison, a rarity among prosecutors but not enough to convince the conspiracy theorists that I was not "in on it too."

So why had my former Facebook friend and thousands that would follow in his social media wake become so angry at anyone who disagreed with Making a Murderer? What kind of spell had the documentary cast over its viewers that over five hundred thousand citizens would sign two separate petitions, one to President Barack Obama and the other to Governor Scott Walker begging for Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey's release? Why would legions of Netflix viewers all but convict local law-enforcement officers — some of them my friends, and none of them here when Avery was wrongly convicted thirty years earlier — of planting evidence to wrongly convict him again? And finally, how had one documentary so profoundly inflamed the nation's passions that dozens of troubled individuals threatened my life and that of several others who work in local law enforcement?

What was it about Making a Murderer that so firmly convinced people that lightning had struck twice, that Steven Avery had been wrongly convicted a second time? And why were they so mad?

There was only one way to find out. I had to watch the show.

CHAPTER 2

Wrongfully Convicted


When I first met Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, the filmmakers and creators of Making a Murderer, they were graduate students from Columbia University's prestigious film program. Laura was also an attorney. I had interviewed with them nearly a decade earlier in 2007, not long after the Avery and Dassey trials. Although I was already a veteran prosecutor and a good deal older than they were, I shared their enthusiasm for the Avery case's enormous potential to expose to a large audience the infirmities of a criminal justice system badly in need of reform, more so, I thought, than any other case that had or is likely to come along again. But none of us, least of all Laura and Moira, I suspect, had the slightest idea that the skill and tenacity with which they approached their work would result a decade later in a worldwide television phenomenon. I'm not even sure that Netflix had introduced streaming video to their customers back then.

Fast-forward to autumn of 2015, a few months before Making a Murderer aired. I received an email from Ricciardi, and later a call from someone working on her behalf. She was giving me a heads-up that their persistence had paid off. At long last, she and Moira had found a home for their film, though they did not disclose to me that their producer and distributor was the mother of all streaming-video giants — Netflix!

I was well into my obsession with the Avery case by the time I'd met the future Netflix documentarians, and when I interviewed with them in 2007, it was a cold and bitter time in northeastern Wisconsin, as nearly every scene depicted in their documentary. I was halfway through writing the manuscript for The Innocent Killer's self-published precursor, with the title Unreasonable Inferences.

I aimed to focus my book on Steven Avery's wrongful conviction in 1985 and not on what at that time I confidently believed was his rightful conviction for murder twenty years later. The murder case is the more sensational part of the story — mayhem and murder trump everything else in the world of true crime. But Avery's wrongful conviction spoke much more directly to the criminal justice system and how it can so badly misfire, which is where my interests lay. I knew, too, that anything that brought more public attention to Teresa Halbach's murder would be difficult for her badly shaken family to bear. A book that concentrated on the lessons for the criminal justice system from Avery's wrongful conviction would be the lesser of two evils for them versus a cheap true-crime thriller about her gruesome death.

A week or so before my interview, Ricciardi, Demos, and I had shared our admittedly sanctimonious disgust at the former sheriff's and district attorney's misconduct when they railroaded Steven back in 1985. In retrospect, this is why I was under the impression that my interview with them was to focus almost exclusively upon the wrongful conviction case, and not the murder.

Our opinions about the murder differed sharply. The physical and circumstantial evidence reported by the media had convinced me — not just beyond a reasonable doubt, but any shadow of a doubt — that Avery and Dassey were guilty as hell. I was confident then that the defense team's evidence-planting accusation was nonsense, an unfounded allegation that unfairly besmirched the reputation of Lieutenant James "Jim" Lenk and Sergeant Andrew "Andy" Colborn, the two most directly targeted officers whose character was defamed. I had known and worked with Lenk and Colborn for years. They were two of the least likely law enforcement officers I could think of to be involved in any type of misconduct, much less planting evidence to frame an innocent man. I thought Steven Avery had received an exceedingly fair trial, which in the filmmakers' minds was really the only question that mattered, not whether he was innocent or guilty. At least that's what I thought at the time.

The interview started predictably enough. They asked me to recount the brutal assault of Penny Beerntsen on an isolated stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline about ten miles north of Manitowoc. Penny was the victim in the case for which Avery was wrongly convicted in 1985 and is one of the unsung heroes in a case lacking many others, unsung or not. I spoke extensively about the misconduct of the former sheriff and the district attorney who led the charge to falsely convict Steven back in 1985, about three minutes of which would make the final cut for the film

But halfway through the interview the mood shifted dramatically. Maybe I was overreacting, but I sensed that Ricciardi and Demos believed Avery had been wrongly convicted a second time or, worse, that they would adopt that narrative even though they had to know he was probably guilty. Either way, they appeared virtually certain that local police had planted evidence to strengthen their case, and it seemed to me that they were doing their level best to get me to agree or, short of that, to say something on camera they could later manipulate so it would look that way.

Now it was less than a week before Christmas, and only a few days after Making a Murderer initially aired. The discomfort I had felt so poignantly during the second half of my interview not quite ten years earlier flooded over me again as I prepared to spend the next several nights, watching the Netflix series that was about to turn our previously unknown little Midwestern town into the center of the Netflix universe.


* * *

I sat spellbound as I began watching episode one — not because of its content, but from seeing the places and faces I have contact with nearly every day. It was an audio and visual masterpiece complete with a pitch-perfect piece of haunting music. The effect was Fargo-ish in a way, but more emotionally complex. If only I had not been involved in the Avery story myself, perhaps then I could have simply enjoyed the craftsmanship that made the film so engrossing rather than turn into an increasingly nervous wreck.

In one of dozens of national media appearances that Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos would make in the upcoming weeks, Ricciardi told an interviewer that "truth is elusive" in the Steven Avery case, and in some respects she is right. Even the title they, or someone at Netflix, chose could be interpreted in different ways. It might suggest that spending eighteen angry years in prison for a crime he did not commit made Steven Avery into a murderer. Or it may signify a belief that police and prosecutors made him into a murderer by planting evidence to frame him for Teresa Halbach's murder. The ambiguity of the title seemed to foreshadow a fair-and-balanced account of the Avery story.


* * *

It was an emotionally powerful beginning: Steven Avery, walking out of the prison gates in his red flannel shirt, sporting a shaved head, long beard, and twinkling bright blue eyes, reunited with his family on a clear September day, with green grass still covering the gently rolling hills of east-central Wisconsin. His extended family had turned out in full force to greet him at home as Steven's father, Allan, drove up with Steven in the backseat, smiling from ear to ear. The Avery Salvage Yard, which was also home to Steven's parents, Allan and Delores, was not filled with darkness and death on that warm September day. Instead, it was filled with happiness and life.

"I missed you," said Steven's cousin as they embraced. "It was like the same old Steve was back," chimed in a voiceover from the same cousin. "He was happy. He was smiling." Laughter, hugs, and kisses all around, and a genuine heartfelt excitement filled the air at the salvage yard that day. They may not have slaughtered the fatted calf for Steven, but Allan and Delores Avery's prodigal son had come home!

The tone shifted less than a minute and thirty seconds into the documentary. "This was one of the biggest miscarriages of justice I ever saw in twenty years in criminal defense work and thousands of cases," intoned Reesa Evans, Avery's public defender from previous charges.

"But I did tell him be careful. There was just something I felt, Manitowoc County's not done with you. They are not even close to being finished with you," added his cousin Kim Ducat as the video cut to a flock of geese taking flight into a gloomy and threatening-looking sky. As the night wore on, I grew increasingly fond of the birds' mysterious honking, expertly mixed in with the vaguely foreboding theme music, which together made for an excellent opening and closing to each episode.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Indefensible by Michael Griesbach. Copyright © 2016 Michael Griesbach. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Chapter 1 "In on It Too"? 1

Chapter 2 Wrongfully Convicted 6

Chapter 3 Hijacked 23

Chapter 4 Slicks & Stones… 44

Chapter 5 Convoluted Concerns 52

Chapter 6 Merry Christmas 63

Chapter 7 Dead End 73

Chapter 8 The RAV4 83

Chapter 9 The Key 94

Chapter 10 The Blood 104

Chapter 11 EDTA 110

Chapter 12 A Reprieve 126

Chapter 13 Mullets and Bones 143

Chapter 11 Who Is Steven Avery? 156

Chapter 15 A Mountain of Evidence and a Molehill or Doubt 171

Chapter 16 Motive and Intent 184

Chapter 17 Colborn and Lenk 204

Chapter 18 The Confession 210

Chapter 19 Parting Thoughts 228

Acknowledgments 235

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Indefensible: The Missing Truth about Steven Avery, Teresa Halbach, and Making a Murderer 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In today's climate of reality TV, sensationalism trumping truth, and downright dishonesty, it's nice to see something as objective as this book. I think it, along with the Rebutting A Murderer podcast should be required learning for anyone who watches Making A Murderer. I appreciate the time, energy, and effort you put into researching and writing this book to set the record straight. One note - I did find some grammatical errors and found some sections that felt run on or repetitive that detracted from my reading experience. I could see someone less resilient giving up after hitting some of those sections. That is the only reason I rated 4 stars instead of 5. The content, research, and story are beyond a doubt excellent. Thank you for bringing the truth to light!