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The fifth installment of "Convicting a Murderer," released Thursday, rebuts arguments that law enforcement framed Steven Avery for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach.
"Convicting a Murderer," a 10-part docuseries with episodes released every Thursday on DailyWire+, a streaming platform owned by conservative media company The Daily Wire, critiques Netflix's immensely popular series "Making a Murderer," which brought international interest to a Manitowoc-area homicide after its premiere in 2015.
"Making a Murderer" sparked widespread outrage for the convictions of Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, in the Halloween death of a 25-year-old photographer from the Calumet County community of St. John.
When Avery was arrested in 2005, he had only been out of prison for two years, after serving 18 years for a sexual assault he did not commit. Avery was only exonerated after DNA evidence identified a different man as the assailant.
"Making a Murderer" highlights the arguments Avery's lawyers made at trial — that members of the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office could have framed Avery for the killing, because he had a pending $36 million lawsuit against the county for his false conviction. Meanwhile, the series portrays Dassey as an intellectually disabled teen who was coerced by investigators to make a false confession and was unable to understand the consequences of his actions.
"Convicting a Murderer," however, argues that some of these contentions are misinformed. So far, the series has discussed evidence that Avery had a history of being violent and mistreating women, he made inconsistent statements regarding his interactions with Halbach on the day she disappeared, and unfounded claims the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office was out to get Avery.
While "Convicting a Murderer" was recently obtained by The Daily Wire, which added conservative political commentator Candace Owens as its host, the series has been in the works for over six years.
Here are some takeaways from Episode 5: Manitowoc's Involvement.
Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office was allowed to participate in searches for the investigation
Avery's lawsuit, filed in 2004, alleged that Manitowoc County officials intentionally ignored evidence that a different man committed the 1985 Manitowoc assault, thus allowing Avery to be locked away for nearly two decades, despite his innocence.
Because the lawsuit was ongoing when Avery was being investigated in connection with Halbach's disappearance, the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office took a step back from the investigation, allowing Calumet County to lead the search at Avery's Auto Salvage in the Manitowoc County Town of Gibson.
So it was not ideal for the prosecution when on Nov. 8, 2005, the keys to Halbach's Toyota RAV4 were found by two officers from Manitowoc County.
Avery's supporters say this, coupled with the fact that the keys were only located after numerous searches of Avery's trailer, is evidence they were planted to frame him.
However, law enforcement involved in the case explain in Episode 5 that the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office was permitted to participate in searches. Calumet County has a small sheriff's department, and the entire 40-acre salvage yard needed to be combed for evidence. Officers from Manitowoc County, as well as the State Patrol, dive teams, dispatchers and jailers all helped out on scene, says Tom Fassbender, retired special agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation and co-lead investigator on the case.
Because of this, when Detective Dave Remiker offered for Lt. James Lenk, Sgt. Andy Colborn and himself — all three evidence technicians at the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office — to help with searches for evidence, lead investigators accepted.
"We accepted that offer, because we needed the help. Calumet County’s a small county. DCI’s not a big agency, and we’re not evidence collection techs, we’re investigators," Fassbender says in the episode.
Still, to be cautious of perceived conflicts of interest, an officer from Calumet County or the DCI supervised Manitowoc County officers during searches.
Colborn testified at trial and told "Convicting a Murderer" filmmakers in an interview that Lenk found the key on the floor of Avery's bedroom near a desk, but only after Colborn had done a thorough search of desk and pulled it away from a bookcase. Previous searches in Avery's trailer were not as thorough. In fact, Colborn said he expected the Nov. 8 search of Avery's trailer would be futile, thinking they had already found everything they would find.
While Halbach's key in Avery's bedroom was important evidence for the prosecution, then-Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz recalls being upset it was found by Manitowoc County officers — and not just any officers, but Lenk and Colborn, who had been witnesses in Avery's civil lawsuit just weeks prior.
"As soon as that was found, I knew the significance of that. I knew that my case had just become very, very difficult, and I was angry," Kratz says in Episode 5.
It's unlikely Avery was weeks away from receiving $36 million from Manitowoc County when he was arrested
A major argument point for many people who believe Avery was framed is the question of why Avery would commit murder when he was so close to becoming a multi-millionaire, "Convicting a Murderer" points out.
Avery's civil lawsuit was settled in February 2006 for $400,000, which he used to hire his defense attorneys, Jerry Buting and Dean Strang.
However, even though Avery was seeking $36 million for his wrongful conviction, it's unlikely he would have actually received that much.
While Owens says in "Convicting a Murderer" she does not believe Avery would have received much more than the $400,000 settlement if his civil case had gone to completion, Innocence Project data from other DNA exonerees who pursued civil lawsuits for wrongful convictions suggest Avery could have received a total of around $8 million.
Regardless of how much money Avery could have received from the civil lawsuit if he had not been charged with Halbach's murder, part of the argument is that members of the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office had motive to frame Avery so they would not be on the hook for paying damages. However, experts in Episode 5 say this is misguided, because Manitowoc County had insurance to cover lawsuits.
For Manitowoc County's insurance to not cover the lawsuit, Avery would have had to prove that the sheriff's office willfully and intentionally targeted him — which did not appear likely, experts say in the episode.
Colborn, who was accused at Avery's trial of having motivation to frame him, tells "Convicting a Murderer" filmmakers he argues he had no desire whatsoever to prevent Avery from getting money in the civil lawsuit.
"In all truthfulness, I was happy for Steven Avery. I thought, 'I would not want to sit in prison for something I didn’t do.' You have that money coming. I don’t care," Colborn says in Episode 5. "They’re not coming to my bank account and taking that money out, they’re going to Manitowoc County, that’s who was shelling out that money. It doesn’t affect me one iota.”
Additionally, the completion of the civil lawsuit would have likely have taken significantly longer than a few weeks, especially if it was taken to trial, Owens points out. Avery wasn't quite standing on the brink of being a multi-millionaire at that point.
Manitowoc County officials did not purposely ignore evidence that Avery was innocent of 1985 attack, law enforcement says
Episode 5 of "Convicting a Murderer" also aims to set the record straight about Manitowoc County's knowledge of the fact that Avery was innocent of the 1985 sexual assault.
Like in Avery's civil lawsuit, Avery's attorneys at his homicide trial argued that some employees at the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office had knowledge that Avery may have been wrongfully convicted, but ignored additional evidence pointing to Gregory Allen, who DNA evidence later linked to the attack.
As "Making a Murderer" highlights, Lenk and Colborn were deposed in Avery's civil lawsuit — meaning they were called to testify under oath — just weeks before Halbach's disappearance. Although Lenk and Colborn weren't named as defendants, supporters of Avery argue their involvement in the lawsuit provided motivation to want Avery to be convicted in the Halbach homicide case.
Shortly after DNA evidence exonerated Avery in 2003, Colborn wrote a report, saying in 1994 or 1995, while working as a corrections officer at Manitowoc County Jail, he answered a phone call from a person who identified themselves as a detective from the Brown County area. The detective told Colborn there was a person in custody who admitted to committing an assault in Manitowoc County for which another man was imprisoned. Colborn, in response, connected the caller to a detective.
"I think I said to him, 'You’re probably going to want to talk to a detective.' I said, 'Let me transfer you,' and then transferred the call. That was the end of it," Colborn tells filmmakers in Episode 5.
Colborn said he mentioned this incident to Lenk when it came to him while they were discussing Avery's exoneration.
"And, regrettably, I made a flippant comment. I said something to the effect of well, had myself or anyone told the sheriff about it, he would have probably said something to the effect of, ‘Well, I got my guy,'" Colborn explains to filmmakers in Episode 5.
Lenk misunderstood this comment, Colborn says, and took it to mean Colborn had informed then-Manitowoc County Sheriff Tom Koucerak of the call, and that was how the sheriff responded. Lenk informed the current sheriff at the time, Kenneth Peterson, of this, who suggested both Lenk and Colborn write statements about this incident.
Rather than evidence of suspicious behavior, Colborn's and Lenk's reports of the phone call incident eight or nine years after it occurred was actually thorough policing, Fassbender claims in the episode.
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This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: 'Convicting a Murderer' Episode 5 disputes Steven Avery framing