A rape victim whose eyewitness identification put a Two Rivers man in prison for 18 years for a sexual assault he didn't commit testified Tuesday that Manitowoc County officials "lacked the moral courage" to consider a second suspect.
The woman, who asked that her identity not be revealed, testified before a task force created by Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, to determine if changes are needed to better guard against wrongful convictions such as that of Steve Avery, 41.
Avery was freed Sept. 11 after DNA found on a hair on the victim was linked to another man serving a 60-year sentence for another sexual assault and kidnapping.
It was the first time she has spoken out about the case, and her testimony followed her first private meeting with Avery, who drove to Madison from rural Two Rivers with his parents, Dolores and Allan Avery, for the hearing.
"She went through a rough time, too," Avery said after their meeting. "Some days, I think (about) what she said back then, it makes me a little mad," but he has largely forgiven her and blames then-sheriff Tom Kocourek for not showing her a photo lineup that included the other man's mug shot.
"I hope they change the police departments, how they do their investigating," Avery said.
Kocourek, who has retired, could not be reached Tuesday.
The task force includes judges, criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and lawmakers.
"I say to you with humility that I bear part of the responsibility for (Avery's) conviction. I am the individual who identified him as my assailant. We now know that he is innocent of that crime," the woman told them.
"Of all the people I need to learn to forgive in this whole process, forgiving myself will be the most difficult," she said "Not a day goes by that I don't think about Mr. Avery, his family and the suffering they endured. My heart aches equally for the Green Bay woman who was brutally attacked in 1995 by ... my actual assailant."
She recounted details of the July 29, 1985, sexual assault and beating, which occurred as she jogged at Neshotah Beach in Two Rivers. At the hospital, she said she gave a description of her attacker and was told officials had a suspect in mind. Kocourek showed her a photo array of nine men, and she selected Avery's photo. The next day, she was shown a live lineup of eight men, and picked out Avery. She now knows that the actual rapist was not included in either lineup, she said.
A few weeks after the assault, she was called by the Manitowoc Police Department and told police "had another suspect in mind that matched the description I had given of my assailant," she said. Frightened for her safety, she called the Sheriff's Department to ask about the second suspect.
"The Sheriff's Department told me that the Police Department did not have jurisdiction in this case. They told me that talking to the police would only confuse me. ... When I later made a follow-up call ... I was told that other suspects had been looked at and were ruled out as my assailant," she said.
The woman said she believed that Kocourek and then-Manitowoc County District Attorney Dennis Vogel honestly believed they had arrested the right man.
"Yet in this particular case, a miscarriage of justice occurred because the state was unwilling to share with me all the information they had about other viable suspects," she said.
Vogel also could not be reached for comment.
"Unfortunately, individuals in positions of power in the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office lacked the moral courage to come forward and say, We need to put together a second photo array and a second live lineup,'" the woman testified. "We do not now have the luxury of knowing whom I might have chosen if I could have seen both Mr. Avery and (the other man). I was never given that choice. Steven Avery has paid with years of his life."