(Reuters) - A convicted killer in Wisconsin whose legal troubles were dramatized in the television documentary “Making a Murderer” filed motions in the state’s appeals court asking to be released on bond, saying he was denied his right to a fair trial.
Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, are serving life sentences in the 2005 killing of freelance photographer Teresa Halbach, who was found outside Avery’s home in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.
“Making a Murderer,” a 10-episode documentary on the Netflix streaming service, questioned the handling of the case and the motivation of Manitowoc County law enforcement officials. The documentary has prompted public outrage and calls for Avery’s exoneration, including online petitions to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with more than 300,000 signatures.
Avery filed a notice of appeal last month with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. In the most recent motions, received by the court on Monday, Avery said officials conducted improper searches.
“Evidence seized or used at trial is clearly ‘fruit of the poisonous tree,'” Avery maintained, using a legal expression referring to evidence obtained in an improper search.
He also said in his motions that his attorney did not adequately defend him and that a juror bullied others on the panel into a guilty vote.
In an earlier, unrelated case, Avery was convicted of rape and sent to prison in 1985; he served 18 years before DNA evidence exonerated him.
In 2004, he filed a $36 million federal civil rights lawsuit against Manitowoc County, as well as its former sheriff and district attorney. That case was settled in 2006 for about $400,000, according to court documents.
A year after he filed the lawsuit, Avery and Brendan Dassey were accused of killing Halbach. They were convicted in 2007 in Manitowoc and sentenced to life in prison.
The documentary suggests authorities planted evidence, a claim rejected by Robert Hermann, the current sheriff of Manitowoc County, which is about 80 miles (130 km) north of Milwaukee.
Walker, a former Republican presidential candidate, said last week that he was not swayed by the online petitions for Avery’s exoneration at the Change.org website.
The Wisconsin attorney general’s office had no comment on Wednesday, other than to say that Avery has an active appeal pending.
Avery signed the motions himself last Thursday, before Kathleen Zellner, a prominent Chicago-area defense attorney, took over his case. Zellner was not immediately available to comment.
Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jonathan Oatis