Wisconsin State Journal

Avery to be charged with Halbach murder

MISHICOT - Steven Avery, the Mishicot man who served 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, will be charged with the murder of a 25-year-old woman who disappeared on Halloween, Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz said Friday.

Avery, 43, was the last known person to see Teresa Halbach alive, and his blood was found along with hers in her sport utility vehicle, said Kratz, who expects to file charges early next week.

Avery was taken into custody Wednesday on an unrelated weapons charge and remains jailed in Calumet County.

The ignition key to Halbach's SUV was found hidden in Avery's bedroom and has his DNA on it, Kratz said.

Teresa Halbach
Murder Victim Teresa Halbach

"It is no longer a question, at least in my mind as special prosecutor in the case, who is responsible for the death of Teresa Halbach," he said.

Halbach, a freelance photographer from the Calumet County community of St. John, had a photo assignment Oct. 31 at Avery's Salvage Yard, a business run by Avery's family. Avery has lived in a trailer on the property since being exonerated by DNA evidence on the rape charge two years ago.

Kratz and police officials sought to swiftly dispel any notions that Avery is being wrongly accused of a heinous crime for a second time or that Manitowoc County law enforcement officials are trying to frame him. Avery has a pending $36 million lawsuit against the county for wrongful imprisonment.

Kratz said that after Halbach's SUV was found Saturday on the Avery property by a volunteer searcher, it was immediately sealed in a container and wasn't searched until it arrived at the state Crime Laboratory in Madison. No local police had access to it, he said.

And Kratz called it "absurd" that anyone would think that someone trying to frame Avery would not only be able to plant a key in Avery's bedroom but also would be carrying around a vial of his perspiration or some other item with his DNA.

"I am convinced it is not possible that the evidence that's been obtained is tainted evidence or was in any way planted by the Manitowoc County law enforcement agency or any law enforcement agency for that matter," he said.

Calumet County Sheriff Gerald Pagel, who has been leading the investigation with the help of the state division of criminal investigation, said the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department has been asked to provide equipment, but "that's been their only role."

Steven Rollins, Manitowoc County corporation counsel, said Friday the week's events would have no legal effect on Steven Avery's $36 million civil suit against the county and its former sheriff and district attorney.

Whether insurance would cover a monetary judgment against the county "is a question we're looking at right now," Rollins said. The county has a number of insurance policies, he said, and officials are sorting out coverage questions dating to 1985, the year of Avery's arrest in the rape case.

Pagel revealed Thursday that the partially burned remains of an adult female had been found near Avery's residence. Friday he said a cell phone and camera material were found in a burn barrel on the property. Positive identification on the human remains and other items is still being done, he said.

Blood was discovered in Avery's trailer home and garage, according to search warrants filed Friday. Authorities have said investigators also found 11 spent .22-caliber shell casings in Avery's garage and two guns in his home. They also seized handcuffs, leg irons and pornographic material, according to the search warrants.

Kratz declined to speculate on how Halbach died, saying there are "various theories as to the mechanism of death." He said police are quite certain she died on the afternoon of Oct. 31.

Kratz said police are still investigating whether Avery acted alone and whether anyone else sought to cover up the crime. He said Avery has denied involvement in Halbach's death.

Carla Avery, 29, Steven Avery's niece, said the family is baffled by Friday's developments.

"We're still thinking to a certain point that he's being framed," she said. "We're still trying to figure this out. It's been very hard on the family. I don't really want to say more."

The Halbach family declined comment Friday.

At St. John Sacred Heart School in Sherwood, where Halbach coached middle school girls volleyball, a candle has burned since Monday at an outdoor shrine. Flowers, a balloon and a picture of Halbach when she was in first grade at the Catholic school are nearby.

"You can't make sense of it," parish secretary Patti Sevela said of Halbach's death. "All that you can do is take it to heart that amid the evil, there is an overpowering picture of love and deep faith in this community."

About 400 people prayed for Halbach at a church vigil Sunday, and several hundred attended a candlelight service Monday initiated by the volleyball team.

Students also began tying blue ribbons - Halbach's favorite color - around the village and wearing them on their shirts and coats.

"Blue stands for hope, and we hope that Teresa is in God's loving arms tonight," said Lisa Olson, who coached volleyball alongside her.

Around Mishicot, a Manitowoc County community about 30 miles southeast of Green Bay, there was relief that police apparently had made an arrest.

"I live alone and I'm her age," said Angie Cortbein, 25, who lives about a mile from the salvage yard. "I could have gone there for a car part. That poor girl."

Nicole Kobes, 25, who works at a Mishicot gas station said most of the people talking at the station Friday afternoon think Avery's being framed.

"I really don't think he did it," Kobes said. "If he had any brains at all he would have learned in prison how to get rid of evidence better than that."

State Journal reporter Anita Clark and the Associated Press contributed to this story.


Steven Avery
Avery Commission

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