For days, however, the case of Steven Avery, who was once this state's living symbol of how a system could unfairly send someone away, has left all who championed his cause facing the uncomfortable consequences of their success. Around the country, lawyers in the informal network of some 30 organizations that have sprung up in the past dozen years to exonerate the falsely convicted said they were closely watching Mr. Avery's case to see what its broader fallout might be.As I've written here before, Avery was proven innocent of the rape he was sent to prison for and deserved to be released, and the Innocence Project does essential work. But it's a terribly sad thing to see someone who symbolized your idealism revealed as a monster.
Two years ago, Mr. Avery emerged from prison after lawyers from one of those organizations, the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School, proved that Mr. Avery had spent 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he did not commit.
In Mr. Avery's home county, Manitowoc, where he was convicted in 1985, his release prompted apologies, even from the sexual assault victim, and a welcoming home for Mr. Avery. Elsewhere, the case became Wisconsin's most noted exoneration, leading to an "Avery task force," which drew up a package of law enforcement changes known as the Avery Bill, adopted by state lawmakers just weeks ago.
Mr. Avery, meanwhile, became a spokesman for how a system could harm an innocent man, being asked to appear on panels about wrongful conviction, to testify before the State Legislature and to be toured around the Capitol by at least one lawmaker who described him as a hero.
But last week, back in rural Manitowoc County, back at his family's auto salvage yard, back at the trailer he had moved home to, Mr. Avery, 43, was accused once more. This time, he was charged in the death of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer who vanished on Oct. 31 after being assigned to take pictures for Auto Trader magazine at Avery's Auto Salvage....
Lawmakers who had pushed to have the state pay Mr. Avery more than $420,000 for his wrongful arrest have grown quiet. And the bill of changes - to the way the police draw up eyewitness identification procedures, conduct interrogations and hold onto DNA evidence - is no longer called the Avery Bill.
"The legislation is very important and very sound for our justice system as a whole," said Representative Mark Gundrum, a Republican who helped organize what was then called the "Avery task force."
"But this does detract a little bit," Mr. Gundrum said. "Obviously, we're not talking about Steven Avery anymore, not highlighting his conviction."
And plans for a "grand, glorious" signing ceremony for what is now simply called the "criminal justice reforms" package, he said, seem remote.
November 23, 2005
The NYT has a long, front-page story about Steven Avery, the man freed by my law school's Innocence Project who is now accused of murder: