Sometime during the day on October 31, 2005, photographer Teresa Halbach, 25, drove her blue 1999 Toyota Rav 4 along Route 10 in eastern Wisconsin. She had started out from her home in Hilbert and was heading east. She had three appointments that day to photograph used vehicles for the Auto Trader Magazine. One of those appointments was at Avery Auto Salvage in Gibson, Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan, about 35 miles from her home. She was scheduled to meet with Steven Avery, 43, one of the owners, and photograph a maroon Plymouth Voyager minivan that he was putting up for sale. She’d been there at least fifteen times before, taking pictures of other vehicles for the magazine.
Teresa had graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2002 where she graduated with honors, majoring in photography. While she was in school, she had worked part-time at a mall photography studio, taking portraits of children. In her senior year she’d worked as an intern at Pearce Photography in Green Bay, and after graduation Pearce hired her full-time. She specialized in doing sittings with kids. Teresa had a gift for making people feel comfortable—children and adults—and it showed in the portraits she took.
Photography by Teresa
She liked children so much she coached the girls volleyball team at the St. John-Sacred Heart School, the parochial elementary school where her little sister was a student. Teresa had attended Sacred Heart herself.
The second of five children, Teresa had grown up in the tiny farm community of St. John in Calumet County, Wisconsin. Her parents ran a dairy farm, and she had often helped out with farm chores, particularly milking the cows. She had been living in the Green Bay area while working at Pearce, but she decided to pursue her dream of opening her own studio, which she called Photography by Teresa. Making the switch from a regular paycheck to irregular freelance income was a big transition, so to help make ends meet, she had moved back to St. John where she and a friend rented a house on her parent’s property. The rent was more than reasonable.
Teresa most likely had the radio on as she drove along Route 10 on October 31, and she liked singing along with it. Since it was Halloween, the rock stations were probably playing old novelty songs like “The Monster Mash” and “Haunted House.” Teresa would sing along with just about anything, and she absolutely loved karaoke. Whenever she took the stage with a microphone, she became the life of the party, especially when she was singing her favorite song, “Picture,” made famous by Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock. It’s a catchy country ballad and a twangy tearjerker. If the radio station she’d been listening to had played that song, Teresa would have been singing along with it as she headed for Avery Auto Salvage.
Avery’s False Conviction
Avery Auto Salvage sits on a large tract of land and contains roughly 3,800 vehicles in various states of decay. Most of the dilapidated vehicles are kept for their parts, which are sold piecemeal. The better ones are restored and put up for sale. There are several buildings on the property—sheds, garages, and the mobile home where Steven Avery lives. The Avery family owns several hundred acres in the area, and the road that runs through it is called Avery Road.
Steven Avery had only recently gotten back into the family salvage business after a long absence. In 1985 Avery had been convicted of raping and beating a 36-year-old woman named Penny Beerntsen as she jogged along the shore of Lake Michigan in nearby Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
Beach attack location
Avery had maintained his innocence, but Beerntsen picked him out of a photo lineup and then a live lineup. On December 14, 1985, a jury found Avery guilty of attempted first-degree homicide, first-degree assault, and false imprisonment. Several witnesses testified that Avery had been at his parents’ home in Green Bay at the time of the assault, but the jury was unconvinced. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
Avery fought for a new trial to prove his innocence based on DNA testing of the scrapings recovered from Beerntsen’s fingernails after the assault. Initial tests indicated that Avery’s DNA was not present in these scrapings. In 1996 Circuit Judge Fred Hazelwood denied Avery’s request for a new trial, and a year later the Second District Court of Appeals upheld Judge Hazelwood’s decision.
Wisconsin Innocence Project
Avery’s case was then taken up by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, whose stated mission is to correct mistakes made by the criminal justice system. Lawyers for the Innocence Project convinced Judge Hazelwood that advances in DNA testing justified revisiting the case. Using 13 hairs recovered from Ms. Beerntsen after the rape, a state crime lab found that the DNA taken from these hairs did not match samples taken from Steven Avery. The DNA they found did match a man named Gregory Allen who was serving a 60-years sentence on a rape conviction in Brown County, Wisconsin. Allen had lived in the same area as Avery at the time of Beerntsen’s attack. Based on this new evidence, Judge Hazelwood, on Sept 10, 2003, ordered that Avery be released from prison.
Avery had spent 18 years behind bars. Shortly after his release, he filed a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County for wrongful conviction.
Avery in prison
Stephen Avery’s case had been a well-publicized cause celebre in Wisconsin, and it’s likely that Teresa Halbach had heard something about it in the news. If she had, she probably accepted the court’s decision and believed that Steven Avery was indeed innocent because she apparently had no reservations about going alone to his salvage yard on Halloween Day, 2005. She’d been there many times and had dealt with him before. What she probably didn’t know was Steven Avery’s history with the law prior to his wrongful conviction.
“They Are an Odd Lot”
Steven Avery at his release
Even though Steven Avery had been exonerated of his false conviction for rape and attempted murder, he had a long history of run-ins with the law. When he was 18 years old, he had broken into the Northern Frontier Bar in Gibson, Wisconsin, and stolen “two cases of beer, two sandwiches, a toolbox, and $14 in quarters.” On March 23, 1981 he was convicted on two counts of burglary and sentenced to two years in prison. The sentence was stayed, and instead he was ordered to spend 10 months in the Manitowoc County jail, pay $1,399.85 in restitution, and placed on five-year’s probation.
Five months later Avery was charged with cruelty to animals for dousing a cat with gasoline and oil, throwing it in a bonfire, and watching it die. He claimed that he was there when the incident happened but had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, his probation was revoked, and he served nine months in prison for that crime.
In January 1985 Avery was charged with endangering safety and felon gun possession when he ran the wife of a part-time Manitowoc County sheriff off the road and pointed a rifle at her. When Avery spotted the woman’s infant daughter in the backseat, he backed off. He was later sentenced to six years in prison for this crime.
Avery in 1985
In the summer of 1985, while out on bail, he was arrested for the assault on Penny Beerntsen, which earned him a 32-year sentence for a crime he did not commit.
Steven Avery in a police lineup
Stephen is not the only member of his family to have had trouble with the law. His older brother Chuck, 51, pled guilty to disorderly conduct in 1998 and ultimately served 60 days in jail. In 1999 Chuck Avery’s former wife accused him of sexual assault and attempting to strangle her with a telephone cord. The charge was dismissed.
Stephen’s younger brother Earl, 35, pleaded no contest to battery and sexual assault charges in 1992, stemming from an attack on his wife. He received 18 months probation.
The brothers all work for Avery Auto Salvage.
Avery family before the assault.
Jim Geux, a neighbor of the Averys, speaks highly of the family. He told the Associated Press, “If you asked for a favor, you would get it from all of them.” But other neighbors refused to comment, “saying they still have to live near the Averys.”
Harold Stahl, a retired tow-truck driver, who has had dealings with the Avery family in the past, told the AP, “They are an odd lot.”
Logo: Calumet County Sherrif’s Department
On November 3, 2005—three days after Teresa Halbach had driven out to Avery Auto Salvage—Karen Halbach, Teresa’s mother, called the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department to report that her daughter hadn’t been heard from all weekend. Karen Halbach said that it was unusual for her daughter to be out of touch with her family and friends for that length of time, and she was worried.
Teresa Halbach missing poster.
Volunteers had already started retracing Teresa’s steps, hoping to find her. On November 5, a group of volunteers arrived at Avery Auto Salvage. They asked Earl Avery if they could search the property, and he gave them permission to look around. After searching about 50 cars, the volunteers found a blue Toyota Rav 4 similar to Teresa’s partially concealed by tree branches and various car parts. The vehicle was locked and had no license plates. The volunteers immediately called investigators at the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department who obtained a search warrant that same day.
Halbach candle light vigil
Calumet County investigators went directly to Avery Auto Salvage, which is in Manitowoc County, and inspected the blue Toyota. The Vehicle Identification Number confirmed that it was Teresa Halbach’s car. It was placed in an enclosed trailer and transported to the Wisconsin Crime Laboratory in Madison for further search and analysis.
The Fire Pit
Investigators searched Steven Avery’s mobile home and found a “dried red substance which appeared to be blood” on the bathroom floor near the washer and dryer.” They also found “pornographic material” and “items of restraint,” including leg irons and handcuffs.
Deputy Dan Kucharski continued the search the next day and discovered two firearms in Avery’s bedroom—a .22 semi-automatic rifle and a .50 black-powder muzzleloader. The name “Steve” written on masking tape was attached to the muzzleloader. Officers searched a detached garage on the Avery property and discovered “eleven spent .22 caliber long rifle shell casings on the floor.”
The search continued for a third day, and Deputy Kucharski found a Toyota ignition key in Avery’s bedroom. The key was transported to the state crime lab and tested on Teresa Halbach’s car. A lab technician was able to start the engine with the key. By this time technicians had identified traces of human blood on the ignition area of the vehicle as well as in the rear cargo space.
On November 8, the fourth day of searching, officers found two crumpled Wisconsin license plates inside a junked vehicle on the Avery property. The plate number, SWH582, was registered to Teresa Halbach’s 1999 Toyota Rav 4. Officers also found a “burn barrel” containing the remnants of burned clothing, a partially burned shovel, a cell phone, and a camera. Upon inspecting a fire pit near to Steven Avery’s home, officers found “bone fragments and teeth” as well as the “remnants of steel belts of tires.” They believed the tire belts might have been used as “fire accelerants.”
A forensic anthropologist examined the bone fragments and determined that they belonged to an “adult human female.” A second forensic anthropologist examined the fragments and came to the conclusion that the corpse had been mutilated.
Sherry L. Culhane, a DNA analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, tested blood samples found in various locations inside Teresa Halbach’s car, including the driver’s seat, ignition area, front passenger seat, and rear passenger door entrance. Culhane found that the samples matched Steven Avery’s DNA profile. DNA material taken from the Toyota key found in Avery’s bedroom also matched his profile.
DNA testing was performed on blood samples taken from the rear cargo area of the Toyota and from an empty can of Wild Cherry Pepsi found on the front console. The two profiles matched, and Culhane believed that they belong to Teresa Halbach. A partial DNA profile obtained from the teeth and bone fragments found in the fire pit matched in seven out of thirteen areas and were thus consistent with the profile worked up from the Pepsi can and the blood found in the cargo area. As reported by the Green Bay Press Gazette, Culhane would later testify that the chances were “one in a billion” that the human tissue found in the fire pit did not belong to Teresa Halbach.
“It Was All Planted”
When questioned by the police, Steven Avery said that the blood found in Teresa Halbach’s car couldn’t be his because he was never in her car. He said that Teresa had been at Avery Auto Salvage sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 P.M. on October 31, 2005. According to Avery, she took a photo of the minivan he was putting up for sale, he paid her $40 in cash, she gave him a copy of the Auto Trader Magazine, and then she left. Avery chose not to have a lawyer present during his questioning.
On November 9, Avery was charged with illegal gun possession and taken into custody as the investigation into Teresa Halbach’s death continued. At the time of his arrest, Special Agent Tom Fassbender noted that Avery had “a very substantial cut” on the middle finger of his right hand.
Special Agent Tom Fassbender
Two days later Avery appeared by phone on the Nancy Grace television show on CNN and reiterated that he was innocent and claimed to be the victim of government retaliation because of his $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County for wrongful arrest and imprisonment.
“Mr. Avery,” Nancy Grace asked, “do you feel that you’re being framed in any way?”
“Yes,” Avery replied.
“Because every time I turn around, the county’s out here doing something to me…I’m being set-up because of my lawsuit and everything else.”
Avery at the Auto Salvage
Grace went on to ask about the fire pit on his property where investigators found teeth and bone fragments. Avery said that his property is not normally locked and that anyone could “just drive right in,” leaving the impression that perhaps someone else had murdered Teresa Halbach on his property.
In a telephone interview with the Associated Press from Calumet County Jail in Clinton, Wisconsin, Avery said that he believed that Manitowoc County had set him up so that they wouldn’t have to pay damages on his lawsuit if he prevailed in court. He singled out former Manitowoc County Sheriff Tom Kocourek, who had been sheriff when Avery was arrested in 1985, as one of his main persecutors. Referring to county investigators, Avery said, “They know what they look for so they know what they can plant and where they can plant it.”
His older brother Chuck later echoed that sentiment. “If they found anything there, it’s a big setup,” he told the Associated Press. “It was all planted.”
Their mother, Dolores Avery, believes her son is innocent. “I don’t know why the hell they do that stuff,” she said, referring to county officers. “They must like wrecking people’s lives.”
But Steven Avery’s uncle, Arland Avery, a retired Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputy, told the Journal Sentinel that DNA evidence would be hard to plant and hoped that his nephew would confess if he was truly guilty. “At least give both families a little piece of mind,” he said.
“That Would Be Too Hard”
On November 15, 2005, Steven Avery was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Teresa Halbach and mutilating a corpse. Avery appeared before Manitowoc County Circuit Judge Patrick Willis, wearing a black-and-white horizontally striped jumpsuit, his wrists handcuffed and attached to a belly belt. Eight uniformed deputies escorted him into court. During the hearing, Judge Willis set bail at $500,000. It was decided that Avery’s case will be tried in Manitowoc County because authorities believe that the murder was committed in that county, but the prosecutors will be from Calumet County because the case was investigated by Calumet deputies and Avery has a civil case pending against Manitowoc.
Though Avery family members continue to insist that the DNA evidence was planted in Halbach’s car and in Steven Avery’s home, Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz said that such allegations are “absurd,” adding that someone would need a vial of Avery’s perspiration to pull that off.
Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz
“It is no longer a question, at least in my mind as special prosecutor in this case, who is responsible for the death of Teresa Halbach,” Kratz said.
After the murder charge was filed against Avery, the University of Wisconsin-based Innocence Project was inundated with phone calls and e-mails supporting their mission to exonerate people who have been wrongly imprisoned. However, 80% of those who contacted them believed that Steven Avery should never have been released from prison. Co-director of the Innocence Project Keith Findley pointed out to the Associated Press that of the 163 inmates nationwide cleared of crimes through DNA evidence, Avery is the only one to have been subsequently charged with a serious crime.
If Avery is ultimately found guilty of the charges against him, he could be sentenced to life imprisonment. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.
Steven Avery is currently incarcerated at the Calumet County Jail. His next court appearance is scheduled for January 17, 2006, at which time he plans to enter not guilty pleas. He maintains that he’s innocent and feels that he’s being railroaded again.
Whoever killed Teresa Halbach “ain’t got a right mind,” he told the Associated Press. “There’s no way I could kill somebody,” he said. “That would be too hard.”
As investigators continued to probe for answers in the death of Teresa Halbach, the events that immediately lead up to her death and the details of the crime itself remained sketchy, and Steven Avery staunchly maintained his innocence. Among the many people Calumet County detectives had interviewed was Avery’s 16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, who lived in a house on the same sprawling property as Avery. On Feb. 27, 2006, detectives interviewed Dassey again, and something he said caught their attention. “We believed Brendan knew more than he was telling us,” Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel later told a news conference.
Detectives interviewed Dassey again on March 1, and this time he confessed to participating with his uncle in the rape, torture, and murder of Teresa Halbach.
According to the criminal complaint against Dassey, the teenager claimed that on Oct. 31, 2005, at around 3:45 p.m., he got off the school bus and walked to his home, which is next door to Steven Avery’s trailer. He then rode his bicycle to the mail box to get the mail and found a letter for his Uncle Steven. As he rode back to Steven Avery’s residence to deliver the letter, he passed a “burn barrel” and stopped to look inside. He saw a cellphone and a camera. As he approached Avery’s trailer, he heard a female voice inside screaming “Help me!”
Dassey knocked on the door and waited several minutes before his uncle answered it. Steven Avery was “covered in sweat.” He invited his nephew to come into the kitchen. Once inside Avery asked Brendan if he wanted to “get some of that stuff,” indicating the bedroom. Avery then led his nephew into the bedroom where he saw Teresa Halbach naked on her back, “restrained to the bed with handcuffs and leg irons.”
“That’s How You Do It”//
According to the criminal complaint against Dassey, Steven Avery told his nephew that he had already raped Teresa Halbach and wanted to “keep doing it.” He “encouraged” his nephew to do the same. Teresa pleaded with Dassey through her tears, begging him not to do it, to let her go, and to get Avery to stop the ordeal, but instead Dassey mounted her and had “sexual intercourse” with her “for approximately five minutes” while his uncle watched.
Dassey and Avery then went into the living room and watched television for “10 to 15 minutes.” “That’s how you do it,” Avery said to his nephew, telling the teenager that he had done a good job and was proud of him. While the TV played, Avery talked about killing Teresa and burning her body.
Avery went to the kitchen and got a knife with a blade “between six and eight inches long,” then he and Dassey went back into the bedroom. Avery announced to Teresa that he was going to kill her and then stabbed her in the “stomach area.” Avery handed the knife to Dassey and told him to “cut her throat.” Dassey obeyed.
Avery then told Dassey to cut off some of her hair, and Dassey complied.
After that, “Avery went over to Teresa and put his hands around Halbach’s neck and strangled her for approximately two to three minutes.”
Avery and Dassey took off the shackles and tied her with rope, then carried her to her car. They placed her in the trunk and drove her to Avery’s garage. Dassey believed that she was dead by this time, but Avery fetched a .22-caliber rifle and shot Teresa “approximately 10 times.” According to Dassey’s confession, Avery shot her one to three times in the left side of the head and then shot her in her midsection.
“A Little Slow”
According the complaint against Brendan Dassey, he told detectives that he and Steven Avery threw Teresa Halbach’s body onto a fire pit that had already been burning when Dassey returned from school earlier that afternoon. They put “tires and brush on top of her” to accelerate the fire. While her body burned, they drove her car to a remote area of the property and concealed it with “branches and a car hood.” They returned to the garage and cleaned Teresa’s blood off the concrete floor with “gasoline, paint thinner, and bleach.” Avery noticed that his finger was bleeding and covered it with a Band-aid that he got from his trailer when he went inside for the bleach.
Later that evening when Brendan Dassey returned to his own home, his mother, Barb Janda, who is Steven Avery’s sister, noticed bleached-out splotches on her son’s jeans and asked how that had happened. Dassey told her that he had been helping his uncle clean the floor of his garage.
Dassey told the detectives that Avery later informed him that he had broken up some of Teresa’s remaining bones with a shovel and buried them elsewhere on his property.
Dassey’s great uncle, Arland Avery, a retired Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputy, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Dassey was “a little slow.”
“I don’t think he [Dassey] could do anything on his own,” Arland Avery said. “He doesn’t have the initiative or the ability to do anything on his own. He had to be told what to do.”
“I Didn’t Have a Pencil”
On June 30, 2006, Brenda Dassey wrote a letter to Manitowoc County Circuit Judge Jerome Fox from the Sheboygan County Juvenile Detention Center, recanting his statements regarding the death of Teresa Halbach.
Sheboygan County Juvenile Detention Center
He started his letter by saying that he would have written sooner, but he “didn’t have a pencil.”
“The thing I was going to write to you about was that all my statements I gave the investigators are not the truth,” Dassey wrote.
In the letter, he claimed that he had been at home with his brother until 7:00 p.m. on Halloween 2005 when his uncle called and asked him if he “wanted to come to the bombfire [sic].”
According to Dassey’s letter, he and Steven Avery rode a golf cart around the property, gathering material to burn in the bonfire. Dassey’s mother called her brother on his cellphone at around 9:00 p.m. and told him that she wanted Brendan home by 10:00 p.m. He arrived home shortly after ten o’clock, talked to his mother for a while, then went to bed.
Dassey closed his letter with a postscript: “Me and my mom think you are a good judge. Thank you for your time.”
Dassey’s trial is scheduled to begin April 16, 2007. If convicted on all charges, including homicide, he could be sentenced to life plus 72 1/2 years in prison.
Steven Avery’s trial date is Feb. 5, 2007. He has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, mutilation of a corpse, and possession of a firearm by a felon. If convicted on all charges, he could face life plus 128 1/2 years in prison.
Avery Found Guilty
On Sunday, March 18, 2007, a jury found Steven Avery guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and illegal possession of a firearm. They found him not guilty of the third charge leveled against him, mutilation of a corpse. Despite his attorney’s contention that the police had planted the evidence against him, the jury was unconvinced.
Steven Avery in Court
During the trial, forensic anthropologist Dr. Leslie Eisenberg testified that she had found evidence of two gunshot wounds in Teresa Halbach’s skull. Dr. Eisenberg could not, however, determine if the shooting had occurred before or after death. The prosecution also presented expert testimony regarding a bullet found embedded in the floor of Avery’s garage, which contained trace amounts of Teresa Halbach’s DNA. Ballistics tests linked the bullet to the .22 caliber rifle found hanging on the wall in Steven Avery’s bedroom.
Avery’s nephew, Bobby Dassey—Brendan Dassey’s older brother—testified that he saw Halbach walking toward his uncle’s trailer at 2:45 PM on Halloween day, 2005. He also told the jury that he had overheard his uncle joking with a friend about hiding Halbach’s body.
Brendan Dassey had confessed to participating in the crime with his uncle but later recanted his confession and refused to testify against Avery, thereby forfeiting a plea deal with the state.
The defense attempted to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case by presenting an alternate explanation for the evidence found on Avery’s property. Manitowoc County law-enforcement officers had access to a vial of Avery’s blood taken during a review of his 1985 conviction. Avery’s attorneys suggested that the police had planted the blood at the crime scene along with the bullet and Teresa Halbach’s car key. Their motive: revenge. Avery’s monetary settlement in his wrongful-conviction suit against Manitowoc County had angered several county deputies, the defense claimed.
But the jury of six men and six women brought in from Dane County did not buy it. After 20 hours of deliberation, they sent down their verdict.
When asked how she felt about Avery’s conviction, Karen Halbach, Teresa’s mother, told a reporter from WISC-ABC television, “I’m happy, but I’m not really that happy. Teresa’s not here.”
One of Avery’s attorneys, Jerome Buting, said that his client was “obviously disappointed but not despondent. He’s not giving up.”
Since Wisconsin does not have the death penalty, he faces a mandatory life sentence.
“I Wanted to See How It Felt”
Brendan Dassey’s trial began on April 16, 2007, with Judge Jerome Fox presiding. The 17-year-old faced three charges: first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and first-degree sexual assault with a dangerous weapon. His attorneys, Mark Fremgen and Ray Edelstein, who had been assigned to the case by the state public defenders office, maintained that their client was innocent and that because he had a low I.Q., the police were able to manipulate him and coerce a false confession. But the prosecution contended that although Dassey recanted his confession, the physical evidence—including the rifle, the bullet embedded in the floor of the garage, the victim’s bullet-damaged skull, and her charred remains—supported everything that he had originally told the police.
Teresa Halbach’s sister Katie took the stand and testified that Teresa owned a pair of Daisy Fuentes jeans. Expert testimony revealed that rivets found in the fire pit where the same type as those used on that brand of jeans. Katie Halbach also testified that the lanyard attached to the car key found in Steven Avery’s bedroom had been a gift from her to Teresa.
State DNA expert Sherry Culhane testified that no traces of Teresa’s DNA were found on Dassey’s clothing, but she also pointed out that his clothes had extensive bleach stains as a result of the garage cleaning that Dassey and his uncle had performed. Bleach, Culhane said, destroys DNA.
The prosecution called Manitowoc County Detective Anthony O’Neill to the stand and asked him to describe his impressions of Dassey after his first interview with the teenager on the day that Halbach’s SUV had been found on the Avery property. O’Neill testified that he felt that Dassey had been holding back. Dassey kept asking the police that day, “Do you think he did it?,” referring to his uncle. This struck O’Neill as odd since at that point Teresa Halbach had been listed as a missing person not a homicide.
The jury then heard an 80-minute audiotape of that interview. When Dassey had been asked if he knew where Halbach was, he repeatedly said, “I don’t know where she is.”
The prosecution also played a three-hour videotaped interview with Dassey conducted by Special Agent Tom Fassbender of the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation and Detective Mark Wiegert of the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department. In this interview Dassey confessed to raping Halbach, slitting her throat, and helping to burn her body. He described the crimes without emotion, even when he said, “I feel really sad because I helped him [Avery]… I feel sad for the family because they lost a daughter.” He went on to say that he should have done something to stop his uncle.
When asked why he raped Halbach, Dassey replied, “I wanted to see how it felt… Sex.” Later on the tape he said that Avery forced him to rape her and threatened to stab him if he told anyone about it.
The defense tried to blunt the impact of the taped confession by calling Dassey’s 15-year-old cousin, Kayla Avery, to the stand. Kayla had told the police that Dassey had confided in her that he had seen Halbach tied to a chair in Avery’s trailer and that he—Dassey—had seen body parts burning in the fire pit. But on the stand Kayla testified that her cousin had never told her that. “He didn’t tell me anything,” she said. “I kind of made up the statement.”
Teen Behind Bars
Brendan Dassey’s attorneys attempted to show that the police had bullied their client into make a false confession, pointing out that the detectives who had interrogated him accused him of being a liar or suggested the same 75 times during their session. On the stand Detective Wiegert admitted that he and Special Agent Fassbender had doubted Dassey’s truthfulness and told him so during the interrogation. “Several times we told him that we did not believe what he was telling us,” Wiegert testified.
The defense team allowed Brendan Dassey to take the stand in his own defense, hoping that the jury would believe Dassey’s reasoning for his contradictory statements if they heard it from his own mouth. He testified that his videotaped confession was untrue but he didn’t know why he had lied to the police. He claimed he had taken the details of the crime from a novel, James Patterson’s Kiss the Girls, and the movie that was made from that book.
Book Cover: Kiss the Girls
But the prosecution pointed out that the details of Dassey’s confession were supported by physical evidence found at the crime scene, including the leg irons and handcuffs. Throughout the trial, prosecutors maintained that Dassey “stood ready and willing to assist” in the murder and mutilation of Teresa Halbach.
On April 26, 2007, the jury was sent out to decide Brendan Dassey’s fate, and after four and a half hours of deliberation, they returned with their verdict: Guilty on all charges.
After the trial, Teresa’s brother, Mike Halbach, told WBAY-TV, “Hopefully Teresa can now enjoy her time in heaven rather than worrying about us.”
Reporters followed Dassey’s mother, Barb, out of the courthouse, trying to get a statement from her. After refusing to speak, she angrily shouted from her departing SUV, “I think the Halbachs set this all up. I really do.”
Brendan Dassey is currently being held at the Manitowoc County Jail, awaiting sentencing. His Uncle Steven resides on another floor in the same facility.
In an interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette, Dassey said that he has been having trouble sleeping since his conviction. “It takes me an hour or three hours to get to sleep. It takes me awhile,” he said.
He also hasn’t been reading much. At the Sheboygan juvenile facility where he had been held for 13 months prior to his trial, he had read all the Harry Potter novels, but now he just doesn’t have the urge to pick up a book anymore. He did say, however, that was eager to read the next installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when it comes out.
Dassey is already facing a mandatory life sentence, so the only issue left for the court to resolve is whether he will ever be eligible for parole, and if so, when.
“He Chose Evil”
On August 2, 2007, Brendan Dassey returned to Judge Fox’s courtroom to face sentencing. As expected, Dassey received a life sentence. The judge ruled that Dassey would not be eligible for parole until he has served 41 years.
Judge Jerome Fox
“He knows and he knew the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. It was his choice and he chose evil.”
Teresa Halbach’s aunt, Kay Giordana, was allowed to address the court before sentencing. “He could have been a national hero or a murderer,” she said, referring to Dassey. “He decided to be a murderer. He knew Steven Avery’s plan to murder Teresa and he did nothing to prevent it. He is a coward and a disgrace.”
Dodge Correctional Institution
Dassey was taken to the Dodge Correctional Institution for evaluation to determine where he will serve his sentence. His uncle, Steven Avery, is currently serving his life term at Wisconsin’s super-max prison, Boscobel. Dassey told reporters that he’s afraid of what will happen to him in prison and has been crying himself to sleep.
Dassey will not be eligible for parole until 2048 when he will be 59 years old.