Judge Angela Sutkiewicz said there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a new trial.
“The defendant has failed to establish any grounds that would trigger the right to a new trial in the interests of justice,” she ruled. “No further consideration will be given to this issue.”
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‘Making a Murderer’: Brendan Dassey’s conviction overturned by federal court
Avery, 54, currently serving a life sentence (without the possibility of parole) for the 2005 death of photographer Teresa Halbach, has been working every possible angle with Zellner to have his case heard again.
Netflix’s Making a Murderer is a 10-part documentary series that follows the case of Wisconsin native Avery. The auto-parts yard owner had previously been jailed for 18 years for a sexual assault in 1985, but was exonerated in that case by DNA evidence in 2003.
Two years later, Avery brought a US$36-million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Wis., for the wrongful conviction. The documentary series calls into question the investigation and trial that put Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, behind bars, and alleges the investigators and police in the case planted evidence and otherwise manipulated the outcome of the trial.
After the judge rejected the possibility of a retrial, Zellner, who prides herself on overturning convictions and freeing the wrongly accused, said that she was going to appeal the decision.
“We are filing an amended petition because we have additional test results and witness affidavits,” she said. “The scientific testing is not completed. We remain optimistic that Mr. Avery’s conviction will be vacated.”
In June, Zellner filed a 1,272-page motion accusing Halbach’s ex-boyfriend of killing her; Zellner also requested a new trial “in the interests of justice.”
As clarified in her motion, Zellner believes that Halbach’s ex, Ryan Hillegas, is the true murderer. Hillegas appeared briefly in Making a Murderer giving vague testimony at the original trial about phone calls and messages, but was not a focal point of the docuseries.
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Zellner argues (among other things) that Hillegas still had romantic feelings for Halbach, and was jealous that she had moved on with her life. Apparently, she was in a new sexual relationship with her roommate, Scott Bloedorn, and Hillegas wasn’t happy about it. (It should be noted that this version of the story differs from Hillegas’ testimony: He said that the roommates were platonic friends.)
Zellner believes that Hillegas should have been more closely investigated because he had a motive and no alibi for his whereabouts on the day of Halbach’s murder.
Zellner also contends that Wisconsin law enforcement wanted to see Avery behind bars, and they did everything within their power to make that happen, including making up and/or planting evidence. Making a Murderer’s star defence lawyers, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, along with post-conviction lawyers Martha Asksins and Suzanne Hagopian, are accused of being complicit in the wrongful conviction.
READ MORE: Wisconsin wants ‘Making a Murderer’ inmate Brendan Dassey to stay in jail
Since joining (and taking the lead on) his defence, Zellner has been working to poke holes in the prosecution’s case against Avery. She has said that she and her team have an “airtight alibi” for Avery.
“They used forensic science to convict [Avery], and I’ll be using it to convict them of planting the evidence,” she said. “Half of my exoneration cases have led to the apprehension of the real killer. I’ve probably solved way more murder cases than most homicide detectives.”
As for Dassey, in August 2016, federal magistrate William Duffin threw out the guilty verdict against him, ruling the conviction was based on a coerced confession that the defendant, now 27, gave as a 16-year-old youth with a learning disability.
The state is currently fighting that ruling. Dassey remains in custody while the appeal is pending.
Netflix said last year that a second season of Making a Murderer, chronicling the latest developments in the case, was in production.
— With files from The Associated Press