MISHICOT -- A man who was wrongly convicted of rape 20 years ago was arrested Wednesday and charged with a weapons violation by a special prosecutor investigating the disappearance of a woman whose vehicle was found on property owned by the man's family.
Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel, leading the investigation into the disappearance, told reporters evidence found in a search of the property included some that could be "human in nature."
Deputies found two guns in Steven Avery's trailer while searching for evidence in the disappearance of 25-year-old Teresa Marie Halbach, whose vehicle was found at the Manitowoc County salvage yard owned by Avery's family, according to a criminal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The deputies also found 11 spent .22-caliber shell casings in Avery's unattached garage, the complaint said.
Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz said the only connection the weapons have to Halbach's case is that deputies found them while searching for Halbach. He said he felt it was his duty to arrest Avery.
"I felt uncomfortable allowing that individual to remain on the street," said Kratz, who was appointed special prosecutor in the case because Avery is suing Manitowoc County over his wrongful conviction.
Pagel said deputies found significant evidence at the salvage yard, but he refused to say what evidence was found.
When asked whether investigators found human remains, Pagel said the crime lab is analyzing evidence its experts feel is "human in nature."
Kratz said authorities also ordered members of Avery's family to provide blood and saliva samples and palm and hand prints. They also were told to detail any wounds they may have.
Avery's attorney, Walt Kelly, said he thought deputies took Avery into custody so they could interview him about the missing woman.
"I fear ... that they will try to use his words against him," Kelly said.
Avery was convicted of burglary twice, in 1981 and 1982, in Manitowoc County, according to the complaint. He also was convicted of cruelty to animals in 1982 and of endangering safety and being a felon in possession of a firearm in 1985.
In the 1985 case, Avery was accused of running a deputy sheriff's wife off the road at gunpoint, according to the state Department of Justice.
Deputies searching for Halbach found the shell casings and guns -- a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle and a .50-caliber black-powder muzzleloader -- Sunday, a day after Halbach's family found her green SUV at Avery's Auto Salvage, according to the complaint.
Halbach, a freelance photographer, was last seen Oct. 31 when she had three appointments for Auto Trader Magazine, taking pictures of cars for sale. One stop was at the Avery salvage yard near Mishicot in Manitowoc County.
Avery, 43, has said Halbach took pictures of a minivan the family had for sale and left, apparently driving toward the Interstate. Halbach's family didn't hear from her for days, became alarmed and reported her missing Nov. 3.
Since her car was found, investigators have searched the 40-acre lot and the family's residences, seizing Avery's car and the salvage yard's flatbed truck. More than 100 volunteers have helped in the search.
Avery, who lives in the trailer near the salvage yard, was imprisoned in 1985 after a jury convicted him of sexual assault and a judge sentenced him to 32 years. He was freed after a law school group convinced a judge to allow new DNA testing, which linked the crime to another man already in prison for another sexual assault.
Halbach's brother, Mike Halbach, said the family was disappointed and worried to hear investigators may have found evidence of human remains.
"We are definitely hopeful still," he said. "At the same time we understand the reality of the situation. As they find more evidence, our opinion of what happened is slowly changing."
He said his family considered Avery's arrest unrelated to his sister's disappearance, and that ordering DNA tests for the Avery family was logical because her vehicle was found on their property.
About 60 people continued to search Wednesday. Halbach said Pagel told them to search within about a half mile of the Avery salvage yard.