CHILTON -- One day after jurors heard that Steven Avery asked a nephew and his friend to help him get rid of a body, his attorneys worked to blunt the testimony Thursday by framing it as a joke.
Steven Avery, 44, is accused, along with his 17-year-old nephew, of killing photographer Teresa Halbach on Halloween 2005 and burning her body near the family's auto salvage lot in rural Manitowoc County. Avery previously served 18 years in prison for rape before his release in 2003, when DNA analysis showed another man committed that crime.
Avery's nephew, Bobby Dassey, the older brother of a 17-year-old also accused in the case, testified Wednesday that Avery asked him and a friend, Mike Osmunson, for help disposing of a body on Nov. 3, 2005 -- the day Halbach was reported missing.
"He asked us if -- it sounded like he was joking -- he asked us if we wanted, he wanted us to help him get rid of the body," Dassey testified Wednesday, adding that he declined.
The comments caused his defense attorney Dean Strang to ask for a mistrial, saying he hadn't heard Dassey talk about disposing of a body and his testimony contradicted Osmunson's statements to police that the conversation occurred a week later. The judge denied the motion, but ended court early so they could interview Dassey.
Under cross examination Thursday, Dassey said the exchange happened after news organizations reported that Halbach was missing, he only caught the last part of the conversation between Avery and Osmunson, and it was clear to him that it was a joke.
"Steve followed that up by saying something like, People go missing all the time and this girl might have left for Mexico,' " Strang said.
"Yes," Dassey said.
Strang also tried to establish that the conversation happened on Nov. 4, partly because that's when Dassey didn't have to work.
Neither side planned to call Osmunson to testify.
Circuit Judge Patrick Willis denied the mistrial, agreeing with special prosecutor Ken Kratz that the defense had 15 months to interview Dassey.
Dassey's younger brother, Brendan Dassey, is facing a trial in April in Halbach's death. Four months after Avery was charged, Brendan Dassey gave a statement saying the two raped and killed Halbach, then burned her remains. But he later recanted the statement and has turned down plea deals that would have required him to testify at his uncle's trial.
Avery is on trial for murder, mutilating a corpse and false imprisonment.
Kratz downplayed the statements after court Wednesday, saying he hoped jurors decided the case on witness statements and physical evidence. Defense attorney Jerome Buting said Thursday after court that he couldn't talk about his preparation for trial, including why they didn't interview Dassey. But he said Dassey never reported the joke to police.
Halbach's family has been sitting through the trial. Halbach's brother, Mike Halbach, said they weren't worried when the defense called for a mistrial.
He said it took a lot of courage for Bobby Dassey to testify.
"We are taking this whole process very seriously, but if you notice during the breaks we are finding things to laugh about ourselves because we know Teresa would do the same thing," he said. "She wouldn't want us to be sad the whole time, to feel like salt is being rubbed on our wounds."