Does the name Steven Avery ring a bell? If not, hie thee hence to Netflix and binge watch the documentary series Making a Murderer. I’ll wait.
Since the documentary was released in December last year the world has become somewhat obsessed with one of America’s most notorious wrongful convictions. Steven Avery, a man with a limited IQ and a history of increasingly disturbing crimes, was arrested and imprisoned for a brutal rape that he didn’t (and couldn’t have) committed, spending 18 years in jail before DNA evidence was found that proved another man had done it. Two years after his exoneration Avery was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach, a young photographer whose last known whereabouts were at the Avery family salvage yard.
The Innocent Killer focuses on Avery’s early story, his bizarre behaviour towards his neighbour (who happened to be related to a Sheriff of the county) and the gross misconduct of the police officers and those higher up the chain in fingering him as the rapist. It’s a fascinating and extraordinary tale, a chain of events that the legal system should never have allowed to happen. However, man is fallible and people are easily manipulated. For example, the rape victim, Penny Beerntsen, was shown pictures of potential suspects, with police focusing on Avery’s picture. Afterwards a police artist, who had never drawn a police sketch before, drew the man (Avery) with scary accuracy: a man whose photo he had been given earlier and told that it was he who had done it (although this is denied – so much denial in this sorry story, it’s hard to pick out the truth). This is but one example of their neglect of duty; there is much to indict the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s department.
Griesbach was one of the lawyers who helped overturn Avery’s rape conviction. He writes with passion and grace without letting the legalese get in the way. He inserts his own personal story into the narrative without overshadowing the main focus. He truly believes in justice and is unflinching in his descriptions of Avery, a simple yet complicated man with whom one feels great sympathy while also never quite knowing what he is capable of.
Avery’s exoneration and release was followed by a lawsuit – he wanted to sue Manitowoc County for his lost years – and was on the cusp of settling for big money when Teresa Halbach went missing after her last appointment of the day. Steven Avery was, supposedly, the last person to see Miss Halbach. While the documentary series paints a picture of innocence, Griesbach sees guilt. This book is well worth reading as a companion to Making a Murderer. It fleshes out the earlier story but also gives a different perspective. Did the innocent man who had been free for two years really sacrifice his life and become a cold-blooded killer? Did the justice department fail again? Griesbach believes the former. One must suppose that only Steven Avery and Teresa Halbach know the truth.