There’s still no word on when Netflix plans to drop Making a Murderer’s second season, but there’s been plenty of legal drama in recent weeks surrounding Steven Avery’s case. Last week, Avery’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner filed court documents that, amongst other legal issues, implicate Avery’s nephew Bobby Dassey – older brother to Avery’s co-defendant, Brendan Dassey – in the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach. The Avery and Dassey families were reportedly kept in the dark about the attorney’s plan to present Bobby as a suspect, and it’s provoked shock, anger and, it seems, additional revelations. Yesterday, Zellner filed yet another supplement with further evidence to support both allegations – and all of it came from statements made by members of the Avery/Dassey clan in just the last few days.
First, a quick refresher: In September, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Angela Sutkiewicz denied Avery’s request for a new trial in a six-page decision that didn’t address many of the issues Zellner raised in her 1,200 page brief. At the beginning of October, Zellner responded with a motion to reverse that decision on the grounds that the record was incomplete at the time of the ruling, and an evidentiary hearing on all the new findings was warranted. Last week, Zellner filed a 54-page supplement that mostly focused on new evidence that Bobby Dassey had given false testimony – which was key to the State’s theory that Halbach never left the Avery property — and had the motive, means and opportunity to be a viable alternative suspect.
That evidence included a signed affidavit from a third Dassey brother, Bryan, confirming what he told police during his 2005 interview. “I distinctly remember Bobby telling me, ‘Steven could not have killed her because I saw her leave the propery,” Bryan’s affidavit states. At trial, Bobby testified that he did not see Halbach leave and instead saw her walking in the direction of Avery’s trailer. Prosecutors repeatedly emphasized the importance of Bobby’s testimony to their case.
Perhaps most damning, however, are Zellner’s allegations about the contents of the Dassey family’s computer hard drive. Investigators seized the laptop in April 2006, believing it could contain evidence relevant to Halbach’s murder. Zellner says that it does – police recovered pictures of Halbach, as well as “many images of violent pornography involving young females being raped and tortured.” However, they were all allegedly accessed via the Internet at times when Brendan Dassey was at school and Bobby Dassey was home alone. It’s understandable then why the prosecution wouldn’t use this evidence at trial, but Zellner believes this further illustrates yet another missed opportunity by Avery’s trial counsel.
“There is a paragraph in a police report from 2006 describing what we were able to find with more clarity,” Zellner tells Rolling Stone. “All of this demented violent material was there and [the State] found it. [Avery trial attorneys Dean] Strang and [Jerry] Buting received the reports on this violent porn about 7-10 days before trial. Clearly, they should have investigated, gotten a forensic expert and pinned it to when only Bobby was home. But the State had no real interest in outing Bobby’s perversions and obsession with dead female bodies – after all, they didn’t want the jury to see their star witness was a developing sexual psychopath.” (Bobby did not respond to requests for comment when Rolling Stone reached out after Zellner initially made these allegations last week.)
Zellner’s new filing includes a new affidavit given earlier this week by a fourth Dassey brother, Brad, Brendan and Bobby’s half-brother. (There are five Dassey brothers.) According to Brad, in 2006, Barbara told him that she had hired someone to “reformat” the computer, and specifically to delete “pornography,” before the authorities seized it. Zellner has already filed an affidavit from a computer forensics expert who analyzed a copy of the laptop hard drive and discovered that numerous files accessed in the months prior to the murder had been deleted.
“[Barbara] said she did not want anyone to get what was on her computer,” Brad Dassey states in the affidavit. Concerned that she was “trying to remove evidence related to Halbach’s murder,” Brad contacted authorities – but he was never called to testify at Avery or Brendan Dassey trials, and the computer or the pornography was never mentioned. It’s not clear if investigators ever questioned Barbara about Brad’s allegations, but Zellner tells Rolling Stone, “There is no proof that the State’s forensic examiner had the technology to figure out the deletions.”
Barbara Avery was credited as Barbara Janda – her now ex-husband’s last name – on MaM, but she has since married Scott Tadych, who was also featured in the series. Tadych and Bobby Dassey were each other’s alibis, leading Zellner to posit that they both could be involved in Halbach’s murder. Her latest filing contends that “additional new evidence continues to develop.”
Two of the exhibits attached to Zellner’s latest filing are an audio file and transcript documenting a call between Avery, Barbara and Tadych that occurred just last week. According to Zellner, the conversation proves Barbara’s “lack of credibility” in regards to the laptop, contains admissions from Barbara and Tadych that Halbach did leave the Avery property before her disappearance/murder, and demonstrates that Tadych “has violent, homicidal propensities manifested by his uncontrollable temper.”
On the call, when Avery asks his sister about “all that shit on the computer,” Barbara repeatedly denies having Internet service back in 2005 and 2006, which Zellner alleges is a lie, as there is ample evidence to the contrary. Later in the conversation, Barbara changes her tune when Avery says that only Bobby would have been home when the disturbing material was accessed. “Then somebody else was in my fucking house and was on it,” Barbara responds, seemingly confirming that the household did indeed have Internet service.
And then there’s this exchange, where Avery references Bobby’s conflicting statements about whether he saw Halbach leave the Avery property.
AVERY: And he said he [sic] left. She left.
SCOTT TADYCH: That’s right.
BARBARA TADYCH: Yeah. She left.
BARBARA TADYCH: Yeah.
AVERY: Well, he [Bobby] didn’t testify for that.
Zellner says this is further evidence that Bobby did see Halbach leave the Avery Salvage Yard on the day of her disappearance, and Barbara knew it and thus would have known that Bobby was lying in his trial testimony. Zellner contends that Tadych’s response indicates that either he was also told this information, or he “observed and/or had contact with Ms. Halbach after she left the property.” Zellner also included a screenshot of a recent Facebook exchange in which Barbara acknowledges that Bobby’s testimony about seeing Halbach walking towards Avery’s trailer is also false.
Throughout the call, Scott Tadych uses abusive language and insults, threatens to assault Avery, and tell him he’s going to put him “in the fucking ground.”
“The phone call captures the great tragedy of Steven’s life,” Zellner tells Rolling Stone. “The people who should be helping him want him to shut up and quietly accept that he will die in prison. … I ask myself what would motivate Tadych and Bobby to be such obstructionists and I have reached the inevitable conclusion, as our court filings state, that they were involved in the crime and Barb, was and is involved, even unwittingly, in its coverup. … Tadych thinks he can intimidate us into looking away, but he has only succeeded in placing himself front and center in our investigation. Quite frankly, he is no match for our abilities, experience, resources or boundless commitment to freeing Steven Avery.”
Multiple requests for comment from Barbara and Scott Tadych went unanswered, but Avery and Dassey family cousin, Carla Chase, gave Rolling Stone permission to republish a statement she posted in a private Facebook group: “Kathleen Zellner’s supplement to the motion filed yesterday is difficult to read. My family appears to have been targeted and pushed to turn on each other, but no one in our family had anything to do with [Halbach’s] disappearance. Not Steven. Not Brendan. Not Barb. Not Bobby. Not Scott. Please let Kathleen Zellner do her job and wait to pass any judgement on our family. Steven and Brendan have paid the ultimate price of being locked away, but all of my family has been victimized by this horrible injustice. Barb and her family, all of us are doing what we can to get Steven and Brendan released. Please support our family while we get to the bottom of it.”