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Crime

Steven Avery's Ex-Fiancée Says His Family Soured Their Relationship But Says Avery Still Loves Her

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Steven Avery and Lynn Hartman

Steven Avery‘s ex-fiancée tells PEOPLE the convicted killer and Making a Murderer principal is still professing his love for her, and says Avery’s family deliberately sabotaged the couple’s engagement.

“I care about him a lot,” Lynn Hartman says in a new interview with PEOPLE. “I care about him and know that he so badly needs to know that I’m still here for him.”

Despite the couple’s split, says Hartman, she still spends several hours a week talking to Avery on the phone.

“He says I’m his future, that I’m his girl, I’m his life, and he can’t bear to think that I’m not there for him or that I don’t love him,” she tells PEOPLE.

On Oct. 3, Avery’s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, sent Hartman a cease-and-desist letter, notifying her that Avery was ending the relationship. (The letter was obtained by InTouch and its contents were confirmed to PEOPLE by Hartman.) The letter says Hartman cannot discuss the couple’s brief relationship in media interviews and asks that any of his correspondence from prison be kept private.

The letter also warned Hartman about using Avery’s prison letters or any photographs she may have taken with him for her own financial gain, and asks that she withhold all of her opinions regarding Avery’s innocence or guilt.

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Zellner’s letter arrived days before the airing earlier this month of a two-part Dr. Phil special that focused on the couple’s engagement.

According to Hartman, as soon as people close to Avery learned she and Avery were talking, they began harassing her online in the hopes that Avery would break off their engagement. She claims they posted personal information about her previous marriages to various Making a Murderer groups on Facebook, which caused Avery’s thousands of supporters to attack Hartman as a “gold digger” hell-bent on cashing in on the coupling.

“I was just devastated, to say the least, because they just crucified me publicly,” Hartman tells PEOPLE. “I can’t tell him that I love him anymore, because I’ve just been through so much public humiliation and embarrassment. I just got so much harassment. And I just couldn’t take it anymore. I could not take the stress of the threats and the harassment anymore from the support groups and from [people close to him].”

Hartman says she feels “like my life has been ruined” by the media attention and the thousands of online news reports she feels question her motives. “It looks really bad for me,” Hartman says. “I’m unemployable at this point with my name out there like that.”

But Carla Chase, Steven Avery’s niece, tells PEOPLE Hartman’s claims are baseless.

According to Chase, Avery’s family welcomed Hartman with open arms. “I only want him to be happy and if Lynn did that for him, that’s fine,” Chase says, noting she had “reached out to Lynn” herself to arrange a prison meeting between the three of them. “She even stayed in my home the night before the visit,” Chase says.

Chase says she believes Hartman convinced Avery to remove several of her family members’ names from his visitation list, and tells PEOPLE she hasn’t heard from Avery in two weeks.

She says Avery’s supporters dug up the information on Hartman, and alleges information about Hartman’s past ended up as an email in her inbox.

“We had a lot of that information on Lynn before that first visit, and we told Steven we had it,” Chase tells PEOPLE. “Steven’s supporters were concerned so they were checking in on her. Whatever they found, they forwarded to me. But I’ve always told Steven, as long as you’re happy, I’m happy. And Lynn seemed to be making him happy.”

According to Hartman, she still has feelings for Avery, and would consider a reconciliation.

“It’s really hard because I never expected him to do something like that to begin with,” Hartman tells PEOPLE. “So to tell you the truth, the person that I loved would never have done that. And it was a pretty big shock for me. So I guess it would depend on whether he’s willing to own up to it and make it right or really show me — actions speak louder than words.”

Avery’s conviction for Teresa Halbach’s 2005 murder was the subject of the 2015 hit Netflix docu-series, Making a Murderer.

Filmed over a decade, it casted doubt on Avery’s conviction — advancing the theory that he might have been framed by authorities in retaliation for filing a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County and authorities after a wrongful conviction for rape that sent him to prison for 18 years before being overturned.

Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, was also convicted in the murder. But his conviction was overturned in August. He’s slated to be released from prison in the coming months as the Wisconsin district attorney appeals the decision to overturn the conviction.

Avery, meanwhile, has consistently maintained his innocence in the Halbach murder. Zellner, who specializes in wrongful convictions, announced in January that her firm would represent Avery along with Tricia Bushnell, the legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project.