The cornerstone of the defense's case was that the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department had a strong motive to frame Steven Avery. Looking at the facts, though, might lead to a different conclusion.
Two officers of the Sheriff's Department, Lt. James Lenk and Sgt. Andrew Colborn, had been called to a deposition related to Avery's 2004 lawsuit. They also volunteered to aid in the Halbach investigation. Lenk found the Rav 4 key in Avery's bedroom, with Colborn on the search team. This is what laid the groundwork for the theory that they would have motive to frame Avery.
In 2004, Avery filed suit against Manitowoc County, Thomas Kocourek, and Denis Vogel. Kocourek had been Sheriff at the time of Avery's wrongful conviction, and Vogel had been the District Attorney. Both were no longer working for Manitowoc County at the time of the lawsuit, and the Halbach case. In the suit, Avery attempted to prove that both men had intentionally ignored other suspects, including Gregory Allen, the actual perpetrator. In an attempt to prove this, Avery's legal team had found a number of documents in Vogel's case file suggesting Allen as a suspect. They claimed these documents had been withheld from defense, but further review proved they had in fact been turned over before Avery’s trial. They also claimed to have evidence that multiple members of the Manitowoc Police Department and investigative team had attempted to discuss Allen as a suspect, but Kocourek would not allow them to pursue any other leads. Avery claims at least $1,000,000 and up to $18,000,000 in punitive damages from Vogel and Kocourek. He claims at least $1,000,000 and up to $18,000,000 in compensatory damages from Manitowoc County, Vogel, and Kocourek jointly.
Averys case against Manitowoc County was weakened by the fact that information on Allen had been turned over to defense and there had been no criminal wrongdoing in his conviction. However, he still had the potential to win between $1 million and $5 million. So how do Lenk and Colborn fit into all of this? In the mid 1990's, Colborn received a phone call from Brown County, stating they had an inmate claiming he had committed an assault in Manitowoc County that another man was in jail for. According to deposition testimony in 2005, Colborn did not recall at that time the name of the detective from Brown County, and he did not recall that either Avery or Allen's names had been specifically mentioned. Colborn said he forwarded the call to the detective’s division, who would handle such matters. However, according to a letter submitted by Douglass Jones regarding a conversation he had with Gene Kusche, Colborn had told Kusche that in the 90s, Colborn had told Kocourek directly about the call, specifically mentioning Avery and Allen, and Kocourek told Colborn they had the right guy in prison. During Kusche’s deposition, he said he had not heard about any of this or spoken to anyone about it until after Avery was released.
On September 11, 2003, Steven Avery was freed from prison. During a conversation about his release, Colborn told his new supervisor, James Lenk, about that phone call. Lenk told him to write a report to document it, and they passed the information on to the county's current sheriff. Had Lenk and Colborn not chosen to document the information, it most likely never would've been known. Because they realized the weight of the information and chose to document it, there was yet more evidence suggesting that Kocourek was ignoring information that would've led to Avery's release. Their actions actually helped Avery’s lawsuit, and there’s no evidence they ever tried to conceal the call. There is no indication, anywhere, that Lenk knew about the phone call prior to Avery's release, or that Colborn knew Avery was innocent prior to his release. Neither Lenk nor Colborn had been in Manitowoc during Avery’s 1985 case, and Avery was not a local celebrity at the time. To Lenk and Colborn, he would’ve been one of thousands of prisoners convicted before their employment, until his exoneration.
Lenk and Colborn were not facing any negative repercussions due to Avery's lawsuit. The Wisconsin Department of Justice had already cleared the department of criminal wrongdoing. Lenk and Colborn were not personally named in the lawsuit, and would not have been financially or criminally affected by its outcome. They were merely called to give testimony indicating that Kocourek had been ignoring information provided by his officers. In light of that information, it is hard to imagine that they would participate in a plot to frame Avery. The two men being sued had long since retired, and had no more authority over Lenk and Colborn. If they truly did participate in a plot to frame Avery, it would've been incredibly risky. It presumably would include at the very least somehow obtaining access to Teresa Halbach's key, somehow transferring Avery's DNA to it, and planting it in the bedroom while a Calumet County officer was watching them. Of course if you believe more than the key was planted, the risks become exponentially greater. One of the bullets found in the garage was conclusively linked to Avery's gun, which had been in storage at the State Crime Lab or Calumet County since November 6. Would they be able to drive to Madison, sneak into the storage room, fire a round from Avery's gun, collect the bullet, and sneak out without detection? If caught in such a high-profile investigation, with officers from two counties, the State Crime Lab, the fire department, dog search teams and diver search teams, and the Department of Justice all on the scene, they would certainly face severe consequences. Jail terms, steep fines, and lawsuits even greater than the one currently being faced. Would they be willing to risk all that to save two men who no longer even worked for the county, and had already been publicly exposed? It is a question only they can answer, but it seems unlikely. Once it becomes clear that Lenk and Colborn were not in any way civilly or criminally responsible in Avery's lawsuit, the risk seems to outweigh the reward.
Could they have had pressure from the County? The documentary claims insurance companies were refusing to cover damages from the lawsuit. However, a review of the case files shows only a motion filed by State Farm Insurance relating to Kocourek. Homeowners’ insurance generally includes a personal liability clause, so they filed a motion indicating they would not be covering this lawsuit. Kocourek was being sued in his role as sheriff; he was not personally liable. No such document exists from Manitowoc County's insurer, as required if their insurance intended not to pay. In fact, Manitowoc’s insurance did pay the for lawsuit when it was settled.
Reviewing the information related to Avery's lawsuit, it is very hard to find reason for anyone currently working for Manitowoc County to take the extreme risk of framing Avery. At least five other agencies, including the FBI, Department of Justice, and Calumet County, were involved in either the search or the investigation. The likelihood of getting caught, with that many agencies participating in such a high-profile case, would be high. The benefit to anyone personally working the Halbach case would be nonexistent. We cannot definitively prove Lenk and Colborn would not have been willing to take that risk, but it certainly seems most people would not.