Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Teresa Halbach

'They Are an Odd Lot'

Steven Avery at his release
Steven Avery at his release

Even though Steven Avery had been exonerated of his false conviction for rape and attempted murder, he had a long history of run-ins with the law.  When he was 18 years old, he had broken into the Northern Frontier Bar in Gibson, Wisconsin, and stolen "two cases of beer, two sandwiches, a toolbox, and $14 in quarters."  On March 23, 1981 he was convicted on two counts of burglary and sentenced to two years in prison.  The sentence was stayed, and instead he was ordered to spend 10 months in the Manitowoc County jail, pay $1,399.85 in restitution, and placed on five-year's probation.

Steven Avery
Steven Avery

Five months later Avery was charged with cruelty to animals for dousing a cat with gasoline and oil, throwing it in a bonfire, and watching it die.  He claimed that he was there when the incident happened but had nothing to do with it.  Nevertheless, his probation was revoked, and he served nine months in prison for that crime. 

In January 1985 Avery was charged with endangering safety and felon gun possession when he ran the wife of a part-time Manitowoc County sheriff off the road and pointed a rifle at her.  When Avery spotted the woman's infant daughter in the backseat, he backed off.  He was later sentenced to six years in prison for this crime.

Avery in 1985
Avery in 1985

In the summer of 1985, while out on bail, he was arrested for the assault on Penny Beerntsen, which earned him a 32-year sentence for a crime he did not commit.

Stephen is not the only member of his family to have had trouble with the law.  His older brother Chuck, 51, pled guilty to disorderly conduct in 1998 and ultimately served 60 days in jail.  In 1999 Chuck Avery's former wife accused him of sexual assault and attempting to strangle her with a telephone cord.  The charge was dismissed. 

Steven Avery in a police lineup
Steven Avery in a police lineup

Stephen's younger brother Earl, 35, pleaded no contest to battery and sexual assault charges in 1992, stemming from an attack on his wife.  He received 18 months probation.

The brothers all work for Avery Auto Salvage.

Avery family before the assault.
Avery family before the assault.

Jim Geux, a neighbor of the Averys, speaks highly of the family.  He told the Associated Press, "If you asked for a favor, you would get it from all of them."  But other neighbors refused to comment, "saying they still have to live near the Averys."

Harold Stahl, a retired tow-truck driver, who has had dealings with the Avery family in the past, told the AP, "They are an odd lot."

 

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