In December 2015, the 10-episode documentary series Making a Murderer hit Netflix. By then, the podcast Serial had been out for a year and downloaded millions of times, unlocking our collective thirst for revisiting closed trials. Looking back, it’s evident the first season of Making a Murderer is an essential fixture in a cultural true crime craze. The show spurred Reddit theories threads, outrages, and controversies. Now, it's spurring a sequel. The second season of Making a Murderer landed on Netflix on October 19.
Since Making a Murderer premiered, we’ve all moved on with our lives – binge-watched other true crime documentaries, hurdled past personal milestones. Meanwhile, Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, the subjects of the documentary, have stayed put. Come season 2 of Making a Murderer, which Netflix states will focus on the "post-conviction process," we'll see what's happened to Dassey and Avery since their sentencing.
Where are they now? Succinctly put, Avery and Dassey are in prison. Making a Murder concludes with Avery and Dassey's sentencing: In 2007, Avery and Dassey were both convicted for the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach in separate trials. Avery was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, whereas Dassey will be eligible for parole in 2048. Making a Murderer, however, raises questions about the veracity of the sentencing — and the local Wisconsin police’s potential involvement in swaying the case. Avery and Dassey pled not guilty during the trial and continue to maintain their innocence.
What happened to Steven Avery?
First, let’s situate Avery within his larger history. Long before the events of Making a Murderer occurred, Avery served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In 1985, Avery was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. Years later, DNA testing revealed a man named Gregory Allen, who was suspected in other similar sex crimes, was actually responsible for assaulting Beerntsen. Avery was exonerated in 2003. Upon his release, Avery filed a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County for negligence in their policing and investigation (the case was settled out of court). Then, in 2005, Avery once again became the target of police scrutiny — this time as the the prime suspect in Halbach’s murder.
Avery and his nephew, Dassey, were convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. A month after Making a Murderer aired, Avery's new lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, filed an appeal for a retrial. Zellner claimed Avery’s lawyers in the initial trial, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, of providing her client with ineffective council.
Zellner hoped to uncover new evidence and bring the case to retrial. In June 2017, Zellner did just that. Zellner filed a 1,272-page motion that accused Halbach’s ex-boyfriend, Ryan Hillegas, of committing Halbach’s murder. However, in October 2017, Zellner’s request for a retrial was denied. “The defendant has failed to establish any grounds that would trigger the right to a new trial in the interests of justice,” Judge Angela Sutkiewicz of Sheboygan County, WI said during the ruling. Zellner was not swayed. Despite Judge Sutkiewicz saying “no further consideration” would be given to Avery’s case, Zellner stated her determination to appeal the decision. In November 2017, Zellner filed documents implicating Dassey’s older brother, Bobby, in Halbach's murder.
What happened to Brendan Dassey?
In 2017, Brendan Dassey nearly walked free. Dassey, who is intellectually impaired, was 16 at the time of the trial. During a four-hour confession, Dassey confessed to helping his uncle, Avery, kill Halbach. However, he later recanted and claimed the confession was coerced.
After Dassey was convicted, a lower court and later a three-judge panel of an appeals court deemed Dassey’s confession involuntary. However, those decisions were nullified in December 2017 when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Dassey’s initial conviction by a vote of 4 to 3, meaning that Dassey would have to carry out his sentence. The three dissenting judges wrote a scathing response to the decision. “Dassey was subjected to myriad psychologically coercive techniques, but the state court did not review his interrogation with the special care required by Supreme Court precedent. His confession was not voluntary and his conviction should not stand, and yet an impaired teenager has been sentenced to life in prison,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to to hear Dassey’s case. He remains in the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin.
So, what’s next?
Surely, the next 10 episodes of Making a Murderer will examine the post-conviction efforts of Avery, Dassey, and their legal teams.
There may be more to the story. Production of the docuseries Convicting A Murderer, which filmmaker Shawn Rech claims will give the "other side" of the trial, began on February 22, 2018. Convicting a Murderer will include more of law enforcement’s perspective than Making a Murderer did.
“When Making A Murderer was produced, many on the law enforcement side of the story could not, or would not, participate in the series, which resulted in a one-sided analysis of the case,” Rech told Deadline. “This docuseries will examine the case and the allegations of police wrongdoing from a broader perspective. It will also share with viewers the traumatic effects of being found guilty and vilified in the court of public opinion.”