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Who Is Kathleen Zellner, Lawyer For Steven Avery On Netflix's 'Making A Murderer’?
“You would have to be an idiot to hire me to prove that you're guilty,” the lawyer, who has gotten 19 men exonerated for their crimes, said.
As Part 2 of the wildly popular docu-series “Making a Murderer” dropped Friday on Netflix, the lawyer representing the show’s main subject has revealed her belief that he will someday walk free thanks to “explosive evidence” in the case.
Kathleen Zellner, convicted killer Steven Avery’s attorney, told People in an exclusive interview that since she has signed on to represent Avery, she has uncovered “big, explosive evidence” including her claim that prosecutors have withheld evidence from the defense. Zellner has been representing Avery since 2016.
The first season of the show was released one year earlier, in 2015, and it raised questions about the convictions of Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey who were both sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for the death of photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005. The documentary suggested that police might have planted evidence on Avery’s property and that investigators took advantage of Dassey’s limited intellect to coax him into confessing. Avery previously served 18 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen before being fully exonerated in 2003 through DNA evidence. He filed a suit against the county two years before he was arrested as a suspect in the Halbach murder. The second part of the show shows how challenging it can be to overturn a conviction, and it focuses heavily on Zellner.
So, who is Zellner?
She fights for the wrongfully convicted
Since she started her law firm in January 1991, she has gotten 19 wrongfully convicted men exonerated, according to Zellner’s site. Many of the cases she handled pro bono.
“There is no greater injustice than being accused and convicted of a crime that you did not commit,” she writes on her site. “A false conviction is a disgrace that can have a far-reaching impact on the wrongfully convicted, the victims of the crime, their families and communities, and on our society as a whole. Imprisoning an innocent person leaves the real perpetrator free to commit more crimes.”
Among the men she had exonerated is Kevin Fox, a man imprisoned for eight months for the murder of his own daughter Riley.
“Zellner obtained DNA testing, which cleared him,” Zellner’s site boats. “Zellner's firm filed a civil rights case while Fox was still incarcerated. Fox won a $15.5 million verdict against the defendant sheriff's deputies who framed him. The award was reduced to $8.1 million on appeal.”
She said she doesn’t like representing guilty people
In part 2 of “Making a Murderer, Zellner told the show’s producers that she told Avery, “if you hire me and you’re guilty, trust me I’ll do a way better job than the prosecutors.”
She said she told Avery that if she will run tests and if those tests show that he is, in fact, guilty, both sides will receive those tests.
“You would have to be an idiot to hire me to prove that you're guilty,” she said.
She did rep one guilty person, a serial killer
Zellner was the lawyer for serial killer Larry Eyler (also called the “Highway Killer”), who was convicted and sentenced to death in Illinois for the 1984 murder and dismemberment of 15-year-old Daniel Bridges. Before he died, he confessed to 21 additional murders of young men and boys between 1982 and 1984 and in five separate states. He died in jail while awaiting his execution Zellner posthumously released his list of victims and Eyler’s confessions about how they were killed.
“When he was gone it was a relief and I was glad to be able to tell these families, give them that information,” Zellner said in the first episode of the second part of “Making a Murderer.”
It was that case that changed her perspective of being a lawyer.
“I really didn’t want to do anything case like that and I didn’t want to represent anyone that was guilty,” she said.
She thinks that the prosecution may have planted evidence
The first 220 pages of a 2017 appeal to get Avery cleared are available on Zellner’s website. The appeal argues that there is new evidence that proves that Avery’s DNA was planted. Zellner said she had new scientific testing done, which previously wasn’t available. The attorney also stated in the motion that the bullet fragment found in Avery's garage was not the bullet shot through Halbach's head. She said a microscopic examination of the hood latch on Halbach's vehicle proved that Avery's DNA did not get there by him touching the car. Zellner claimed that the DNA found on a key contained too many cells to be transferred by Avery just holding it. She said it could have been planted using something like Avery's toothbrush.
To prove it, she bought the same car as Halbach
The first episode of the second part of the docu-series reveals that after Zellner took on Avery’s case, she purchased the same vehicle that Halbach owned when she died because so much of the case’s evidence revolved around the car: a blue Toyota Rav4. Zellner conducted tests using the purchased Rav4 with some of her associates. They put blood on a man’s fingers and then he reenacted opening up the car to see if the blood spatter stain is similar to what the prosecution claimed they found in the vehicle.
“The prosecution provided testimony that when Steven turned the ignition key that cut on the first joint of his middle finger had made the blood pattern stain by the ignition and that he had done that naturally as part of turning the key,” Zellner said in the episode. “That’s ludicrous. Once you get in the car and you put the ignition key in and you turn it, you're two inches from that stain. That’s not how it happened. I don’t care. You can get in that care and do that a thousand times with blood on your finger and you will never create that mark so what does that tell me? Once I uncover one lie like that, I know there’s a whole bunch more lying going on because no legitimate prosecution would ever resort to that.”
Zellner claimed that all the blood testimony that the prosecution gave is “a complete lie.” Additionally, Zellner also bought a mannequin as a stand-in for Halbach to try to recreate the blood of Halbach found on the rear cargo door of the Rav4.
She said she wants the truth
Zellner said that all of the work she has done on her post-conviction cases requires her doing two things simultaneously, taking apart the state’s entire case and figuring out exactly what happened. “I’m actually more driven by the desire to find out what happened because once I figure out what happened, then the state’s case collapses,” she said. “Both things have to be done because most courts are not going to vacate a murder conviction.”
[Photo: Getty Images]