News 01.21.16

FAQ: Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey Cases and “Making a Murderer”

What role did the Innocence Project play in the cases against Steven Avery?

None. The Innocence Project, which is located in New York, has not been involved in either of the cases detailed in the documentary series. The Wisconsin Innocence Project represented Steven Avery in overturning his 1985 attempted rape and attempted murder case. The Wisconsin Innocence Project secured DNA testing that proved Avery’s innocence of that crime and identified convicted sex offender Gregory Allen as the true perpetrator. (You can read a description of that case from the perspective of victim Penny Beernsten here.) Kathleen Zellner of Downers Grove, Illinois, and the Midwest Innocence Project have agreed to represent Avery in his challenge to the 2007 conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach. The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth is representing Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, in that case. The Innocence Project, the Wisconsin Innocence Project, the Midwest Innocence Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions are independent organizations that belong to the Innocence Network, an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, and working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions.

What can I do to help?

Many people have asked how they can support Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. Avery’s attorney Kathleen Zellner has established a legal defense fund for Avery. To donate to this fund, you can make checks out to the Steven Avery Legal Defense Fund and mail them to:

  • 1901 Butterfield Road, Suite 650
    Downers Grove, IL 60515
  • Donations to the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, which is representing Brendan Dassey, can be made here.
  • Donations to the Midwest Innocence Project can be made here.
  • Donations to the Wisconsin Innocence Project can be made here.

To support the Innocence Project in its efforts to overturn wrongful convictions and prevent them from occurring in the first place, go here.

To learn more about innocence organizations in other parts of the country or world, go here.

Did the Innocence Project take down Steven Avery’s case profile from its website after the Halbach murder, as some have suggested?

No. The Innocence Project maintains profiles of all of the nation’s DNA exonerations, including that of Avery. That profile has never been removed from our website. After Teresa Halbach’s murder, the Wisconsin Innocence Project’s website became the focus of angry complaints that it was adding insult to the Halbach family’s very tragic loss, and the site was generating considerable anger directed toward Avery. Out of respect for the Halbach family, and in hope of cooling public passions, the Wisconsin Innocence Project decided to remove, temporarily, not just the Avery case description, but descriptions of all of its clients and cases, from its website. All profiles, including Avery’s, were returned shortly thereafter. Read more here.

What role did the Wisconsin Innocence Project play in Steven Avery’s case involving the death of Teresa Halbach?

The Wisconsin Innocence Project did not represent either Avery or Dassey in their trials for Teresa Halbach’s murder because the Wisconsin Innocence Project (like the Innocence Project) is not a trial project; it works on cases only after defendants have been convicted and they no longer have a right to appointed counsel. The Wisconsin Innocence Project did, however, help to ensure that both Avery and (eventually) Dassey had good lawyers. As the film depicts, the Wisconsin Innocence Project did respond to a post-conviction request for assistance from Avery by telling him that it could not help him at that time. While attorney-client confidentiality rules bar disclosing the reasons for that decision, the Wisconsin Innocence Project has additional information about its decision here.

Is Steven Avery’s case unique?

Avery’s journey through the criminal justice system is a troubling one and deserves serious scrutiny. While most involved in law enforcement are ethical and well-intentioned, unfortunately, Avery’s case is not alone. Many cases in our files present compelling cases of injustice and wrongful conviction. Correcting these injustices is typically a long process, often requiring years of investigation and litigation before resolution, and many never lead to exoneration. Regardless of the merits of Avery’s claims, the documentary’s focus on this one case highlights flaws in the criminal justice system that recur and that must be addressed, both to rectify individual injustices and to improve the criminal justice system so that it is less prone to error. Learn more about the causes of wrongful convictions
here. Read an op-ed by Wisconsin Innocence Project Director Keith Findley on the Avery case here.

What can I do to help prevent wrongful convictions?

The best way to help prevent wrongful convictions is to educate yourself and others. One easy way to do that is to sign up to receive regular updates, action alerts and in-depth news and analysis about the work of the Innocence Project. Once you register for free here, you can email your friends, family and colleagues to ask them to sign up too. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Leave a reply

  1. carol sawyer says:

    Yes, I’m wondering, did they test the key to see if it was really the one that fit the car. You know, put it in the ignition to see if it would turn the motor on? Just a thought on that, maybe it is the key, but you never know, without testing it. Anyone could come up with a look-a-like key, so if it was planted, well it needs to be checked.

  2. Ken says:

    The possibility of being failed twice by the justice system should put him at the top of your list to at least give serious consideration of working on his case

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