The defense team's strategy in Steven Avery's murder trial was to claim the evidence was planted, and Steven Avery was framed. That defense including alleging:
Steven Avery's blood in the Rav 4
The defense claimed a vial of Avery's blood, collected related to his previous false conviction, had been used to plant his blood in Teresa's car. They went to inspect the vial of his blood, and found the evidence tape on the box cut through. Upon opening the box, they noticed a small hole in the cap of the vial, and excitedly claimed a needle had been inserted to draw blood out to plant. They spoke to an employee at Labtech, who confirmed that they did not "do that" to test blood samples.
While it is true that the testing lab does not insert a needle through the cap to withdraw a sample, the hole in the blood vial is completely normal. In this YouTube video, you can watch the process of blood being collected and inserted into a vial. As you can see, a needle is inserted through the rubber cap of the vial, then the blood is transferred into the vial. This hole was not the "smoking gun" the defense had hoped when they saw it; in fact, all vials have this hole. A nurse was set to testify she had placed the hole in the vial, but the prosecution decided not to call her. In addition, the evidence tape was cut in a meeting with Avery's own lawyers related to his wrongful conviction. Some have claimed the blood around the stopper is indicative of the stopper being removed, but again, there is a known reason. The blood vial was sent to Lab Corp for testing, and they removed the stopper to withdraw some blood. Avery's blood was found in six places in the car (front driver’s side portion, floor by the console, right of the ignition area, front passenger seat, CD case on front passenger seat, and a metal panel between the backseat and cargo area). Nick Stahlke, a blood pattern expert from the State Crime Lab, testified the blood pattern was consistent with transfer stains and "passive drops", which are indicative of active bleeding. Similar stains and drops were found in Avery's own Grand Am.
A test existed to determine if the blood in the car contained EDTA, an anti-coagulant used to preserve blood samples. If the blood samples taken from the car contained EDTA, which is present in preserved blood but not in blood from fresh wounds, it would lend great credence to the defense's claims of planting. For more on the EDTA test, see
Finally, the blood vial was held by the Clerk of Manitowoc County Courts, not the Manitowoc Sheriff's Department. The clerk testified she'd never seen Colborn in 2005, and only saw Lenk once in the summer of 2005. While Lenk had keys to the Clerk of Courts building, he did not have the access code to the room where the blood vial was stored. There's also no indication he knew the blood vial existed. He had not worked with the county during the 1985 case. While he had signed an evidence transfer form relating to the case, it did not list the blood vial on it, and he had not personally gone to the Clerk of Courts office to collect any evidence for transfer.
All evidence points to the blood in the Rav 4 not coming from the vial of Avery's blood in police custody.
Teresa's Rav 4 on the Avery lot
The defense also claimed the car was planted on the Avery lot. They alleged it could've been driven onto the lot by a back route, unnoticed by the Avery family living on the property. Their key piece of evidence was a phone call to dispatch made by Sergeant Andy Colborn of the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department. On November 3rd or 4th, just after Teresa was reported missing, Colborn made a call to dispatch. In the call, he gave Teresa's plate number and asked dispatch to run it, asking, "See if it comes back to that missing girl?" Dispatch confirmed it was registered to Teresa Halbach, who was missing. Colborn then asks, "'99 Toyota?" Dispatch confirms, they exchange thank-yous, and the call ends. Defense questioned Colborn on why he would make this call if he was not looking at the car. Colborn testifies that he was not looking at the car at the time. He does not remember the exact circumstances of the call, but assumes he had been told by Inv. Wiegert from Calumet County that there was a missing person's case, and given the plate number. He testifies, "I'm just trying to get -- you know, a lot of times when you are driving a car, you can't stop and take notes, so I'm trying to get things in my head. And by calling the dispatch center and running that plate again, it got it in my head who that vehicle belonged to and what type of vehicle that plate is associated with."
While the defense tries to frame this call as incriminating, simply listening to it causes problems for them. Neither Colborn nor the dispatcher sound excited, nervous, or confused. Their tones sound as though they're both participating in a routine call to confirm information. It is common for officers to call dispatch to confirm information they received in the field- for example, if they wrote it down sloppily, or were rushed when they received it. If this call was out of the ordinary, the dispatcher may at least ask if he had found it. It is also of note that Colborn uses the phrase "'99 Toyota?" when confirming the information. While it is possible he could be looking at the car and determining the model year by sight, it's highly unlikely. Most people cannot guess the exact model year of a vehicle by looking at it, and would say something more along the lines of "Toyota Rav 4" if they were asking about a vehicle they were trying to identify, as opposed to confirming information given to them.
The car was also found without plates, which had been folded and stashed in another car on the Avery lot, along the road from the yard to Avery's trailer. If Colborn was in fact looking at the car with plates on, he would've needed to take the step of removing the plates, folding them, and storing them in another car on the complete opposite side of the yard before leaving the car. It seems like an unlikely step to take by a cop planting a car that he wanted to be found. Rather than increasing risk of detection by running across the yard towards the residences, one could simply leave the plates on the vehicle, or plant them in the bushes or a closer car.
Finally, this call was made within a day of Teresa was reported missing. It would be extremely lucky for Colborn to find the car so quickly, before any of the search teams, and immediately devise a plan to frame Avery.
Another point the defense argued was that Avery had access to a car crusher, which he neglected to use to crush the car. Teresa was last seen the night of October 31st, and the car was discovered early November 5th, leaving four days to crush the vehicle. Avery was at the family's cabin in Crivitz starting November 5, and at a car auction on November 4, leaving him three days. Cars cannot simply be driven onto the crusher and crushed. First they must be drained of all fluids, including motor oil, gasoline, anti-freeze, transmission fluid, etc. The car must be lifted up to remove the tires. Then any non-crushable parts must be removed, which often requires using heavy equipment to remove the engine block. Finally, the car is loaded onto the crusher with either a crane, or front-loader, which is what the Averys appeared to own. This final step is recorded in the video below.
Obviously, crushing a car is a very time-consuming task. It requires the use of multiple pieces of machinery, all of which are very noisy and difficult to operate surreptitiously. Doing so after dark on the night of Teresa's murder would be almost impossible, as Chuck lived in a trailer about 100 yards from the crusher. It would make more sense to hide the car near the crusher to return at a later date. In interviews, Avery and his brothers stated Steven would rarely operate the car crusher, leaving it mostly to Earl, so one would think Steven suddenly using it to crush a perfectly operable car that no one else in the family had seen before would stand out to them. Whether or not he would've found time alone on the lot to fully strip and crush a car without his brothers (who worked on the yard every day) noticing is impossible to to determine, but seems highly unlikely. Brendan tells police Steven was planning on coming back from Crivitz early to crush the car, while Chuck was up at the cabin and Earl was at home off the property.
Based on what is known at this point, it is possible the police found the car almost immediately after Teresa was reported missing, took an unnoticeable amount of blood from Avery's vial and planted it in six spots in the car, removed the plates, drove it onto the Avery lot without detection, covered it with a car hood and tree branches, and ran across the yard near the residences to hide the plates in another vehicle. However, there is no evidence of that occurring, and it seems highly unlikely. Another theory is that someone else on the property murdered Teresa and hid the car on the lot, but it is unclear how that person obtained access to Avery's blood.
Teresa Halbach's key was found in Steven Avery's bedroom on November 8th. It was attached to the lanyard fob that Teresa's sister, Katie Halbach, testified she had given to Teresa after attending an event where it was given away as a promotional item. The key was swabbed for DNA, and returned a DNA profile that matched Steven Avery. None of Teresa's DNA was found. It was not separately tested for blood, so it is unknown whether this DNA was from blood or another source (such as skin cells).
This key was found after Avery's trailer had been entered multiple times. The first entry was a 10-minute sweep of the entire trailer, performed on November 5th after Teresa's car was found. This was just a cursory search to find any signs of Teresa alive. At 7:30pm on November 5th, officers again entered the trailer and searched for 2.5 hours, seizing around 50 pieces of evidence. They ended the search around 10:30pm, due to the late hour and bad weather. On November 6th, officers again entered the trailer for about 20 minutes, with a list of specific items to collect. The list included weapons, a vacuum cleaner, and bedding from the spare bedroom, noted the night before. This entry did not constitute a search, merely a collection of items previously noted. Also on November 6th, members of the State Crime Lab used special lighting to search the trailer for DNA evidence, and collected swabs from a few spots of blood found. (These were later matched to Steven Avery.) On the morning of November 8th, officers again entered the trailer for seven minutes. Their purpose was only to collect the serial number from Avery's computer, and they did not enter the bedroom. Also on November 8th, officers entered and spent three hours and 43 minutes doing a thorough search of the trailer. This was the search during which the key was located, and was a continuation of the search ended at 10:30pm on November 5.
Officers testified they were collecting pornographic materials from the bookcase in the bedroom, and bumped and shook it quite a bit while searching it. After searching the bookcase, they noticed a key on the floor next to it that had not been there before. They assumed it had been on or in the bookcase, and had fallen to the floor when the bookcase was moved. The back panel of the bookcase was separated from the body, so the key could've fallen through the back as it was turned and searched. The key was noticed by Lt. James Lenk, who had been deposed in Avery's wrongful imprisonment suit against Manitowoc County. He was under the supervision of Deputy Kucharski from the Calumet County Sheriff's Department, whose job was to oversee the search and keep watch over the Manitowoc County officers. Kucharski testifies that while he kept watch over the officers and did not believe the key was planted, it would have been possible when he was distracted.
The key is a challenging piece of evidence for either side. The prosecution must explain why the key was not found before November 8th. While most prior entries were short and only for collection of specific types of evidence, they did search for two and a half hours on November 5th, and did not find the key. Kucharski himself testified that it would've been possible for Lenk or Colborn to have planted it.
The defense has a number of questions to answer, as well. The key was found on a lanyard matching the one Teresa's sister testified Teresa used. Unless the police had asked specific questions about the lanyard previously, they would have no way of knowing it would be found on such a lanyard. The key also successfully started Teresa's car. The State Crime Lab's DNA expert testified it would not be unusual for Teresa's DNA to have been degraded or rubbed off after having been handled by another person. The key also may have been wiped clean (if Avery had used it and had a cut on his right hand, it is reasonable to think he would've wanted to wash the blood off before putting it in his dresser), and then carried to the bedroom by Avery, also resulting in only his DNA being present. As the key was Teresa's, even if it were a spare, the question of how the police got it before planting it must be answered. It presumably would've been with Teresa's body or belongings, which were all found burned on Avery's property. This would imply the police were the ones to burn Teresa's body and belongings after finding them and retained the key, which is an extremely serious accusation and requires a high amount of planning, and skilled execution without being noticed in a high-profile case with media swarming and five other agencies on the scene. Another alternative is that the real killer simply left the key somewhere else, and the Manitowoc officers were lucky enough to find it quickly, before anyone else searching the property, and plant it in Avery's room. There is also the question of how Avery's DNA would've gotten on the key, although it would be possible to transfer his DNA by rubbing it on another item containing his DNA.
The bones in the burn pit
In Avery's case, the defense attempts to provide proof that bones had been moved to the burn pit from another location. Leslie Eisenberg, a forensic anthropologist, gives testimony regarding the bones found on the Avery property. She states that a fragment of almost every bone in the human body was found in the burn pit, which she believed to be the primary burn site of the body. She suspected two bone fragments found in a quarry on the Avery property appeared to be human pelvic bone. However, these bone fragments were never linked to Teresa. If the bones had been moved to the burn pit from another location, she would've expected to see breakage due to transport, which she did not see. She finds it "highly unlikely" that the bones were not burned in the fire pit.
Additionally, Rodney Pevytoe, who worked with the Arson Bureau at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, testified regarding his work in investigating the burn pit. He found wiring from in excess of five steel-belted radial tires in the burn pit. He found bone fragments "inside the wire, deeply inside of it in some cases [...] to the point where I actually had to, physically, pull apart the wire in order to get it there." The bones could not have been thrown on top of the wires after having been burned- they were almost definitely burned with the tires found in the burn pit. He also testifies to the heat generated by tire fires, stating the average tire can generate twice the amount of BTUs that an average home furnace does, and the polyurethane foam found in the van seat also burned in the fire is referred to as "solid gasoline" by fire investigators. Burning a body in a fire pit, accelerated by tires and polyurethane foam, would've been possible and taken several hours. There were also a number of implements found near the fire, with evidence of charring and oxidation, that clearly had been used in the fire pit at some point. A rake, which could've been used to stir the fire and had wires from steel-belted tires in its teeth, and a spade and screwdriver, which could've been used to chop up bones as the fire died down, where all found near the pit with evidence of charring. The soil in the pit was consistent with what soil looks like after being exposed to the oils from burning tires.
Dr. Scott Fairgrieve, who had not worked on the case, had been contacted by Strang and Buting and shown pictures and reports. He said that he could not, in his professional opinion, conclude with perfect certainty that the remains had not been moved. He stated that in cases where bones were moved, the majority of the bones ended up in the location the bones were moved to, not the original burn site.
In addition, bone fragments were in some cases less than 1/2" in diameter. Fragments of teeth were found in the burn pit. The rivets from jeans matching the brand Teresa was wearing were found in the pit. A zipper was found. It seems unlikely that someone would take such care as to move the tiniest of tooth fragments to the fire pit, but forget two larger pieces of pelvis bone.
Everyone who investigated the case, working with the Wisconsin DOJ, State Crime Lab, and an independent forensic anthropologist, believed the burn pit to be the location where Teresa's body was burned. All evidence seems to suggest the body was burned in the fire pit. The defense found one forensic scientist who could not reach a positive conclusion about the primary burn site based on the pictures he was shown. It is very hard to conclude that the bones were planted, and not burned in the pit.
One explanation is that the two bones found in the quarry were unrelated. They were found in a debris pile with other charred bones. Most proved to be animal bones. The quarry was likely where hunters would burn animal carcasses after hunting and removing the meat they wanted.
An alternative theory, if in fact the quarry bones are related, is that Avery attempted to burn the body in the fire pit. He attempted to chop up the bones, and moved some pieces that were not breaking down easily into a burn barrel in an attempt to burn them further. After breaking down the bones further in the burn barrel, he was left with two larger pelvis bones that he could not chop down. He drove them to the quarry pile, where there were a number of burned animal bones, thinking they would blend in there and not be identified as human. It seems more likely that Avery would want to move the largest pieces of bone out of his backyard, than that someone burned Teresa's body in the quarry and managed to collect tiny tooth fragments, but forgot the two larger pieces of pelvic bone. The planting theory also fails to explain why some bones would be found in the burn barrel. The bones in the pit were so burnt and chopped up that they fit into a milk jug, so there would be no reason to run to the Avery property and grab a 50 gallon burn barrel to lug to the quarry to transport the bones. There would also be no reason to plant the bones in the Janda burn barrel if one was trying to frame Avery. It makes more sense that Avery, after extinguishing the fire and noticing some bones were still clearly identifiable, would start a smaller fire in the burn barrel to break them down further, rather than getting the whole bonfire going again.
Tiny fragments of tooth were found in the pit. Pieces of larger bones were found in the barrel. Large pelvic bones were found in the quarry. It looks a lot more like someone was trying to move the largest and most identifiable pieces of bone away from their property, than that a planter was managing to scoop of the tiniest pieces of bones to plant, while forgetting the largest and most obvious.
In November of 2005, investigators searched and luminol tested Avery's garage. They were not focusing on the garage as a possible crime scene, so they did not move equipment out for a thorough search. They performed an 8 minute sweep on November 5, when looking for signs of Teresa alive. On November 6, they searched the garage for about two hours. The garage was luminol tested, and a number of areas reacted to the luminol, including one large 3' by 5' stain. Luminol can react to a number of materials, including blood, bleach, and iron. The removed the snowmobile in the garage, as it was easy to remove, but all other equipment and vehicles were left in place. They entered briefly again on Nov 8, looking for tools. It was not until after Brendan Dassey's March 1, 2006, confession that they focused on the garage as a possible crime scene. On that date, officers returned to the garage to perform a thorough search. They moved all equipment and a vehicle out during the search, and went through the large amount of debris. On this search, they found two bullet fragments. One was a small, partially destroyed fragment in a crack in the cement. The other was under an air compressor in the back of the garage.
Later testing determined the bullet found in the crack was too destroyed to match to a specific gun, but the groove marks that were identifiable did match to Avery's. The second bullet was in better condition, and was conclusively matched to Avery's .22 caliber rifle. This bullet was later tested for DNA, and the small amount of DNA on it was matched to Teresa. During the DNA test, Sherry Culhane contaminated the negative control sample by getting saliva on it as she spoke with students who were observing. The actual sample of DNA being used, however, was not contaminated.
It's entirely possible this bullet was found elsewhere and snuck into Avery's garage sometime before the March search. There is no evidence of that happening, but no evidence can conclusively prove it did not happen. However, the bullet was matched to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty to have been fired from Avery's exact rifle, not just a rifle of that model. The Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department had never been in possession of Avery's rifle; it was stored at Calumet County or the State Crime Lab in Madison, two and a half hours away. The Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department had never had possession of an item containing Teresa's DNA; her vehicle and remains were also stored at the State Crime Lab and Calumet County. No matter where the bullet was found, it had been fired from Avery's gun and had contact with Teresa's DNA, before her body was burned. The only alternative is that the State Crime Lab or Calumet County participated in the frame-job, and provided Manitowoc County officers with a bullet and DNA to plant.
In addition, Brendan Dassey testified that he helped Avery clean a large, reddish-black stain in the garage on October 31, 2005, with a mix of gasoline, paint thinner, and bleach. Luminol testing confirmed a large stain that reacted to luminol, which does react to bleach and blood. It is almost impossible to believe that Teresa was shot 11 times while standing up in a dirty garage, and all blood spatter managed to be cleaned. However, if she was shot in the back of the head while kneeling or laying on the ground, blood would be confined to the area below her head. Blood does not defy physics by spraying out the sides of the wound to coat everything nearby. Dassey's testimony and luminol tests together confirm a large area on the floor was cleaned with bleach on October 31. It is entirely possible the stain was Teresa's blood, and not motor oil as Dassey claimed to believe. Many people seem to believe that any time a person is shot it will look like a scene from Dexter, but crime scene evidence photos show that is not true. If you do not have a weak stomach because these are graphic images, you can look at many pictures of people who were shot without leaving pools of blood larger than the 3' x 5' stain bleached up from Avery's garage floor on 10/31.