Attorney for Making a Murderer's Steven Avery Wants New Trial, Points Finger at Victim's Ex
The attorney for Steven Avery, whose murder conviction is the subject of Netflix’s 2015 documentary true crime series Making a Murderer, filed a 1,000-page motion for a new trial Wednesday that implicates the ex-boyfriend of Teresa Halbach in the woman’s 2005 murder.
A copy of the motion, which was obtained by PEOPLE, further accuses law enforcement officials in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, of planting and concealing evidence during its investigation into Halbach’s killing.
Attorney Kathleen Zellner‘s filing alleges Halbach’s former boyfriend, Ryan Hillegas, killed her in a fit of jealous rage. When Halbach first went missing, Hillegas led a group of volunteers in a search for the 25-year-old photographer.
Hillegas has never faced charges stemming from Halbach’s slaying.
In 1985, the 54-year-old Avery was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault charges. His conviction was later overturned, but Avery was later convicted and sentenced to life for Halbach’s murder. Avery vigorously maintains his innocence and believes he was framed in retribution for filing a $36 million lawsuit against the county and authorities for his overturned conviction, which he ultimately settled for $400,000.
Many viewers walked away from Making a Murderer believing evidence was strategically placed in Avery’s home in order to secure his conviction. For instance, the key to Halbach’s automobile was found in Avery’s bedroom during a sixth and final search of his home; the key went undetected during the first five searches by investigators.
However, Halbach’s family has rebuked the show, claiming it was one-sided.
The prosecution’s case against Avery was buoyed by a confession provided to police by his teenage nephew, Brendan Dassey, described in the 10-part series as learning disabled.
In several interrogations shown in the documentary, Dassey implicated both himself and Avery in Halbach’s slaying, telling investigators he even helped his uncle dispose of her remains. Dassey was convicted in 2007 of homicide, sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse.
During Dassey’s trial, his attorneys argued that detectives pressured the confused teen into signing fabricated statements.
Dassey’s conviction was overturned by a judge last August, but prosecutors have since appealed that ruling. He is still incarcerated, with his fate resting with a panel of three judges, which has not set a time table for a ruling.
Filing: Halbach and Ex Had ‘Abusive Relationship’
Hillegas, according to Wednesday’s motion, wanted to revive his relationship with Halbach, but “she was no longer romantically interested in him.”
Halbach began sleeping with other men, the filing alleges, which insists “jealousy was the motive.”
Zellner’s filing further insists Hillegas and Halbach had “a verbally and physically abusive relationship,” and that Hillegas “had no alibi” for October 31, 2005, the day Halbach was killed. The motion also alleges Hillegas’ cell phone records contain “significant gaps” around the time Halbach vanished.
“Mr. Hillegas’ phone records have an over 17 hour gap from 7:47 p.m. on October 31, 2005, to 1:31 p.m. on November 1, 2005, during the time where Ms. Halbach’s body was transported and burned,” the filing reads.
The motion also alleges he “volunteered false information” to detectives and “intentionally diverted investigators.”
The filing also argues that pictures of Hillegas taken during the search show he “had sustained visible injuries to his hands, from fingernail scratches.”
In addition, the filing alleges that “Ms. Halbach’s voicemail messages had been deleted by the killer to keep her voice mailbox open and delay her family and friend’s realization that she was missing.”
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According to the motion, the former boyfriend “returned to the Avery property with Sgt. Colborn on the evening on November 4, 2005, under the pretense of helping Sgt. Colborn search for Ms. Halbach’s vehicle.” Colborn, the motion alleges, was unaware he was in the company of the real killer, who was allegedly purposely leading him to the location of Halbach’s vehicle.
The motion further alleges Halbach’s charred remains were found not only in a fire pit behind Avery’s mobile home, but also at a second location off of the Avery property. The filing alleges investigators repressed information about the second site.
Zellner’s motion also argues that Avery’s trial attorneys, Jerry Buting and Dean Strang, ineffectively assisted in her client’s defense.
The filing makes other allegations about police misconduct, ethical missteps by prosecutors, and evidence tampering.
According to the motion, a brain fingerprinting analysis performed on Avery clears him, as it proves he lacked specific knowledge about the murder only the killer would have known.
Wednesday’s motion seeks a hearing to consider this new evidence, and suggests the court should reverse Avery’s conviction so that he can have a new trial.
Hillegas could not be reached for comment.