Avery cleared -- DNA testing

Steven Avery walks out of Stanley Correctional Institution holding the hands of his sister, Barb Janda, left, and daughter, Jennifer Avery, on Sept. 11, 2003. Avery was released after serving 18 years in prison for an assault he didn’t commit. In a book, Manitowoc County Assistant District Attorney Michael Griesbach says police and prosecutors ignored crucial evidence that another man committed the crime.

Associated Press archives

One of Wisconsin's most notorious criminals doesn't deserve a new trial, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Steven Avery went from hero to murderer in just two years. He was released from prison in 2003 after spending nearly two decades behind bars for a rape he didn't commit, but in 2005 was charged with helping murder 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach.

Avery argued on appeal that he should have been allowed to blame others for her death, that police unlawfully searched his trailer home and a that judge improperly replaced a juror during deliberations. The 2nd District Court of Appeals rejected all three arguments.

Avery's attorney, public defender Suzanne Hagopian, said she was disappointed with the decision and plans to appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

"I felt that our issues were strong. But I think we recognized we have a tough row to hoe here," she said. "Really, all three issues involve matters that the Supreme Court hasn't precisely addressed."

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office handles felony appeals for local prosecutors, issued a statement saying Avery deserves to be in prison.

Avery, now 49, rose to fame after he was released from prison in 2003 for a rape he didn't commit. A DNA test exonerated him after he spent 18 years behind bars. His case sparked questions about the reliability of eyewitness testimony and became a high-profile example for DNA exonerations.

Two years later, though, investigators found Halbach's charred remains in a burn pit in the Avery family's Manitowoc County salvage yard.

Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, lived on the property. Prosecutors accused them of killing Halbach on Halloween after she visited the yard to take pictures for a car magazine. Avery's story — a wrongly convicted man who gets his life back only to become a murderer — dominated headlines across the state.

A jury convicted Avery of being a party to first-degree intentional homicide and being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2007. Another jury later convicted Dassey of being party to first-degree intentional homicide, sexually assaulting Halbach and mutilating her corpse. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Avery contended that police framed him because his rape exoneration made them look bad. He contended on appeal that he should have been allowed to argue at trial that other members of his family and customers were in the yard at the same time as Halbach and had an opportunity a kill her.

He contended that investigators took days to search his trailer home and the yard and should have obtained a second warrant since the search stretched on for so long.

He also argued that an alternate juror was improperly seated after the judge mistakenly dismissed another juror who said he was struggling with family issues.

The three-judge appeals court ruled the trial judge properly barred Avery from getting into who else was in the salvage yard. Avery couldn't show anyone had a motive to kill Halbach and allowing that line of defense would have prolonged the five-week trial even further, the court ruled.

The judges also decided that the original warrant was enough to cover the long search. Investigators had to cut their initial search of Avery's trailer short because they were exhausted and a driving rainstorm threatened to erase evidence as officers went in and out. The search of the rest of the salvage yard was exhaustive, covering thousands of junked cars over hundreds of acres and couldn't be done in a single day, the court noted.

As for the dismissed juror, the court noted that Avery agreed in an on-the-record conversation with the judge that the juror could be replaced with an alternate.