MANITOWOC -- A man who served 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit was charged Tuesday with killing and mutilating a freelance photographer who had an appointment with him the last day she was seen.
Investigators searching for Teresa Halbach found human teeth and bones in a burn pit behind Steven Avery's garage, authorities said. Preliminary results Tuesday identified the remains as Halbach's, according to a criminal complaint charging Avery with first-degree intentional homicide and mutilation of a corpse.
Authorities believe the charred remains are all that's left of the 25-year-old Calumet County woman, who vanished Oct. 31 after going to the Avery family's auto salvage business to photograph a minivan for sale for Auto Trader Magazine. Halbach's family members later found her sport utility vehicle at the salvage yard.
Avery, 43, has denied any knowledge of Halbach's disappearance. He said he saw Halbach that day outside his mobile home and paid her $40 in cash, the complaint said.
Investigators found Avery's and Halbach's blood inside her SUV and found her vehicle key, with Avery's DNA on it, hidden in Avery's bedroom, according to the complaint.
Avery told investigators he never was in Halbach's vehicle, so his blood could not be inside her SUV, according to the complaint. He was taken into custody last week and charged with a weapons violation.
Avery appeared in Manitowoc County Circuit Court on Tuesday, when Judge Patrick Willis set bail at $500,000 cash and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Dec. 6 on the homicide and mutilation charges.
Avery, dressed in black-and-white prison clothes, looked straight ahead and said nothing during the 12-minute hearing, which did not cover the weapons charge. The judge set a tentative status conference Monday on that case.
The homicide charge carries a mandatory life-in-prison sentence, while the mutilation charge carries up to 12 1/2 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
Avery has repeatedly told reporters he believes he is being set up because of his pending $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction.
After the hearing, one of Avery's public defenders, Craig Johnson, said prosecutors had no doubt about Avery's guilt in the rape case 20 years ago, and they were wrong.
According to the complaint, investigators found:
Tree branches and vehicle parts around Halbach's SUV, as if someone tried to hide it.
A dried red substance believed to be blood on Avery's bathroom floor in front of a washer and dryer.
Handcuffs and leg irons in his trailer.
A .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle and .50-caliber black powder muzzleloader in Avery's bedroom.
Halbach's license plates crumpled in a scrap vehicle at the salvage yard.
Burned clothing and a partially burned shovel in a barrel near Avery's trailer.
Steel tire belts that were used as fire accelerants.