'Making a Murderer': Is Steven Avery Guilty? A Deeper Look Into Netflix Series

Exploring the strange legal odyssey of Steven Avery in Netflix docu-series.

ByABC News
January 21, 2016, 3:04 PM

— -- The Netflix docu-series “Making a Murderer” explores the strange legal odyssey of Steven Avery, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2007 for the murder of Teresa Halbach.

In the four weeks since the series was released, the story has captivated the nation, launching a frenzy of binge-watching, and fueling conspiracy theories and outrage, both among those who think Avery was wrongfully convicted – even framed – and those who think the documentary was misleading.

The documentary begins in 2003 in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, when Avery had just been released from prison after serving 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. He had been exonerated by DNA evidence.

Two years later, in 2005, just as Avery was in the middle of a $36 million dollar lawsuit against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s department related to his 1985 wrongful rape conviction, he was arrested for murder.

Avery had gone from being a celebrated face of wrongful convictions to being accused of raping and dismembering Halbach.

Halbach, 25, was a freelance photographer working for Autotrader magazine when she went missing on Oct. 31, 2005. She had come to the Avery family’s salvage yard in Mishicot, Wisconsin, to take pictures of a vehicle Avery was selling. Her charred remains were found in a burn-pit near his trailer.

The story caught the attention of two aspiring filmmakers, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, who moved to Wisconsin to begin filming as Avery’s murder trial was about to start.

“We were there because we wanted to ask bigger questions about the system,” Ricciardi said.

“Is he guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Is the process fair? Can we trust the verdict?” Demos added.

The two devoted a decade to the project, gaining extraordinary access to the main players, from Avery, who spoke to them by phone from jail, to his family on the outside, to Avery’s defense team, who argued that their client was being railroaded, alleging that the local sheriff’s department, furious about Avery’s lawsuit against them, framed him for Halbach’s death.

But the defense had a difficult road ahead, overcoming what seemed like a mountain of evidence against Avery, including that Halbach’s remains were found on his property, along with Halbach’s car that was spattered with his blood, and Halbach’s car key that was found in his home with his DNA on it.

The prosecution also alleged that Avery was the last person to see Halbach alive.

The filmmakers embedded with the defense team and captured key moments, such as when Avery’s attorneys discover that a vial of Avery’s blood – still in evidence from the 1985 wrongful rape conviction case – appeared to have been tampered with.

Also in the documentary, viewers see that the defense attorneys believe the police planted Halbach’s car key to her Toyoto Rav-4 inside Avery’s trailer. The key wasn’t recovered until after Avery’s bedroom had already been searched for several days and it was found by two members of the local sheriff’s department who had recently been disposed in Avery’s civil suit.

But it wasn’t just Avery who was charged with the death of Halbach.

Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey, who was just 16 years old at the time, was also arrested for murder, accused of being an accomplice.

“Making a Murderer” has transformed Avery’s former defense attorney, the eloquent, emotional Dean Strang, into a digital-age folk hero.