A man who served 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit said Tuesday night he is afraid he is being framed for the disappearance of a Calumet County woman whose car was found at a junkyard run by his family.
"It's a headache. Everybody's worried about it. They can't sleep, they're so worried," Steve Avery said of himself and his large family, who live in Manitowoc County, mostly in the Two Rivers area.
Calumet County authorities are searching for 25-year-old Teresa Marie Halbach of Hilbert. Halbach, a freelance photographer for Auto Trader Magazine, was last seen Oct. 31, when she had three scheduled appointments for the publication. One of the appointments was at the salvage yard run by Avery's brother.
Investigators on Tuesday discovered evidence that makes them fear for the safety of Halbach, the Calumet County sheriff said.
Investigators still were searching Avery's property Tuesday, Sheriff Jerry Pagel said. He refused to provide any details except to say the search included excavations on or near the Avery property.
Avery's parents, Delores and Allen Avery, live on the property, and Steve Avery said Tuesday he's been living rent-free in "a house trailer close to the junkyard."
Avery was convicted of a 1985 sexual assault and exonerated by DNA evidence 18 years later. He was released from prison Sept. 11, 2003. Since then, the high school dropout has "been helping out at the yard, eight hours a day," he said. His work is unpaid, but "they help me out with food and gas. I work for my older brother. It gives me something to do until the lawsuit is settled," he said.
Avery sued Manitowoc County and its former sheriff and district attorney for $36 million over his wrongful conviction, and he has said he fears someone is trying to set him up as a suspect in Halbach's disappearance. Avery said he has nothing to hide.
"Everybody's taking it pretty rough," Avery said. "My mother breaks down. My brother broke down."
Rumors are flying, Avery said.
"I'm afraid. I heard tonight that a cop put her car in the (Avery salvage) yard."
The junkyard, his parents' adjacent home and his trailer remain under control of the authorities, and his parents have not been able to get inside their home for his mother to retrieve her medications, Avery said.
"I can't go home. Nobody can go home. They got it all blocked off," he said.
"I had to borrow a car. They took my car. Where I'm going to stay tonight, I don't know. I might stay in the back of the car."
Avery's attorney, Walter Kelly, has said he's confident Avery had nothing to do with Halbach's disappearance.
Is Avery afraid they'll arrest him in connection with the missing woman?
"That's always in my mind," he said.
Manitowoc County Sheriff Ken Petersen couldn't be reached for comment on Avery's suspicions Tuesday night.
Manitowoc County District Attorney Mark Rohrer has appointed the Calumet County district attorney, Ken Kratz, special prosecutor in the Halbach case because he wants to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Kratz said investigators executed search warrants on the Avery property as well as in other counties, including in Marinette County, where the Avery family has a cabin.
Halbach's vehicle was found at the Avery salvage yard Saturday, when Avery was at his father's vacation property near Crivitz. Officers searched the cabin Saturday and impounded Avery's car and a flatbed truck.
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.