Steven Avery

Time Served: 18 years

Steven Avery, at the age of 22, was wrongfully convicted of rape. He spent almost twenty years in prison before being exonerated through DNA testing.

On July 29, 1985, at approximately 3:50 p.m., Penny Ann Beernsten was out running along the Lake Michigan shoreline and was apprehended by an unknown man who forced her into a wooded area and sexually assaulted her.

Investigation and Trial

Based on a physical description of Beernsten’s attacker, police provided a photo array of nine men. Beernsten selected the photograph of Steven Avery, who was arrested the following day.

At trial, Beernsten identified Avery as her attacker. A state forensic examiner testified that a hair recovered from a shirt of Avery’s was consistent with Beernsten’s hair.

Avery presented 16 alibi witnesses, including the clerk of a store in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who recalled Avery, accompanied by his wife and five children, buying paint from the store. A checkout tape put the purchase at 5:13 p.m. Beernsten put the attack at 3:50 p.m. and estimated it lasted 15 minutes, which meant that Avery would have had to leave the scene of the attack, walk a mile to the nearest parking area, drive home, load his family into the car, and drive 45 miles in just over an hour.

The jury deliberated for only four hours and convicted Avery almost exclusively on the eyewitness account, on December 14, 1985. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

 Post-Conviction Investigation

After losing several appeals, a petition for DNA testing was granted in 1995 and showed that scrapings taken of Beernsten’s fingernails contained the DNA of an unknown person. The tests were unable to eliminate Avery, however, and a motion for a new trial was denied.

In April of 2002, attorneys for the Wisconsin Innocence Project obtained a court order for DNA testing of 13 hairs recovered from Beernsten at the time of the crime. The state crime laboratory reported that, using the FBI DNA database, it had linked a hair to Gregory Allen, a convicted felon who bore a striking resemblance to Avery.  Allen was then serving a 60-year prison term for a sexual assault in Green Bay that occurred after the attack on Beernsten.

On September 11, 2003, a request brought by the Manitowoc District Attorney’s Office and the Wisconsin Innocence Project to dismiss the charges was granted and Avery was released.

In 2005, with support from Beernsten and Avery, the Wisconsin Department of Justice adopted a model eyewitness identification protocol.

On October 31, 2005, 25-year-old Teresa Halbach was murdered. Avery and his nephew were convicted in separate trials and were both sentenced to life in prison.

State: Wisconsin

Charge: Sexual Assault, Attempted Murder, False Imprisonment

Conviction: Sexual Assault, Attempted Murder, False Imprisonment

Sentence: 32 years

Incident Date: 07/29/89

Served: 18 years

Race of Defendant: Caucasian

Race of Victim: Caucasian

Status: Exonerated by DNA

Contributing Causes of Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

Type of Forensic Science Problem: Flawed Serology

Death Penalty Case: no

Accused Plead Guilty: No

Type of Crime: Sex Crimes

Compensation: State Statute

Innocence Project Involved: Yes

Real Perpetrator Found: Yes

Real Perpetrator Convicted of Subsequent Crime: Yes

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