Ex-Wisconsin Lawmaker Who Championed Avery Bill: Making a Murderer Subject's Arrest for Murder Was 'Deflating'
The ex-lawmaker refuses to comment on possibility he could be called to weigh in on a possible Avery appeal
For two years after DNA evidence cleared Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery of a sexual assault 18 years earlier, Wisconsin assemblyman Mark Gundrum worked hard to restore the freed man’s tarnished reputation, even partnering with him to introduce legislative reforms designed to ensure the innocent were never again punished in that state for someone else’s crimes.
The day after Teresa Halbach went missing from Manitowoc County, the Gundrum-sponsored “Avery Bill” was unanimously adopted by state lawmakers. Less than two weeks later, Avery was charged with the young photographer’s murder.
Now, more than 10 years after the reform package’s passage, Avery is back behind bars, serving life for Halbach’s death while Gundrum’s behind the bench, serving as a judge for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
“I put a lot of heart and soul into those reforms, and in a way, at the time, I was trying to play a role in helping to rehabilitate Steven Avery’s name,” Gundrum tells PEOPLE, fresh from seeing the binge-worthy true-crime series.
The “Avery Bill” has since been renamed the “criminal justice reform bill,” as the Netflix show notes.
“When this second case happened, and all you know is what you read about in the papers or hear from your friends, it was so deflating,” Gundrum says.
The bill amended provisions regarding the handling of eyewitnesses, the retention of DNA, and the timeframe for evidentiary testing. The legislation also mandated all police questioning be videotaped.
“Here I was, going around the state with the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and we’re very united with these reforms and trying to advance the criminal justice system so that there are no wrongful convictions in the future,” Gundrum says. “When wrongful convictions happen, someone’s out there, on the loose. And some innocent person’s stuck in prison, being punished for that.”
But Avery’s arrest “was very deflating in terms of my enthusiasm to continue with what I had been doing, and going that extra mile with it. That was really hard to do when all this was going on. But we did some very fine, very good work that I hope has been helpful for the justice system.”
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The 10-part documentary series examines Avery’s 1985 wrongful conviction for sexual assault, his release from prison, and his subsequent conviction 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, which he ultimately settled for $400,000.
Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, implicated both himself and his uncle in Halbach’s slaying, telling investigators he helped rape and murder her. (He later recanted.) Dassey was convicted in 2007 of homicide, sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse.
Gun drum, who makes brief appearances in the Netflix series, says he didn’t have much of a reaction to seeing all of Making a Murderer. But he does believe that the reforms Avery’s first case inspired were respected during the Halbach homicide investigation.
“I didn’t follow Steven’s trial super closely,” Gundrum says. “The reforms we worked on focused on requiring the taping of felony interrogations and I saw in the documentary that there was video and audio of Steven Avery being questioned by police. I am not sure if he was under arrest at that time or what and I’m not sure if the work we had done over those two years prompted police to tape those interrogations. But it s good to it was being done.”
At this point, Avery’s has exhausted virtually all of his legal options. His supporters are hopeful he’ll be granted another trial if fresh evidence is discovered.
Gundrum, who has been a judge since 2010, tells PEOPLE he handles cases that are filed with the state’s appellate court.
Does that mean that Gundrum could be potentially tapped to handle Avery’s appeal, should new evidence surface?
“I won’t even make a comment on anything like that,” Gundrum replies, declining to comment on whether he’d recuse himself from such proceedings.
“I’m just not going to,” he says.