A prisoner in Wisconsin has allegedly confessed to committing the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, whose death was the focus of the Netflix docuseries, "Making a Murderer."
Two men, Steven Avery, 57 and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, 29, were convicted in 2007 in connection to Halbach's death and have maintained their innocence.
The man, who has not been publicly identified, made his as-yet uncorroborated confession to filmmaker Shawn Rech during a prison phone call on Sept. 21. Newsweek first reported the alleged confession, which Rech disclosed during an interview with the magazine about his forthcoming project, "Convicting A Murderer," a follow-up docuseries unaffiliated with "Making a Murderer."
The Manitowoc County district attorney's office in Wisconsin did not immediately respond to The Washington Post's inquiries confirming that it was aware of the alleged confession. Rech, meanwhile, told The Post in an interview that he had passed an audio recording of the confession on to law enforcement.
"Steven Avery's attorney [Kathleen Zellner] has posted a few snarky tweets, and doesn't seem to believe much in [the confession]," Rech said. "But what were we supposed to do? If true, it would exonerate their client."
Zellner did not respond to The Post's request for comment. Laura Nirider, who represents Dassey, declined to comment.
"This person approached us 18 months ago and wrote a letter saying Steven Avery confessed to him. This person was trying to further the narrative that Steven Avery was guilty," Rech told The Post. A year and a half later as the production was entering the fact-checking and legal review phase, Rech wanted to revisit the man's letter.
"We found some problems with his story," Rech said, "so I scheduled a prison call to confront him - Saturday morning."
What the man revealed left Rech "stunned."
"He immediately called his letter [from 18 months ago] a fake and said that he in fact killed Teresa Halbach in what he characterized as a tragic accident," Rech said. The man allegedly decided to frame the homeowner at the scene, whom he didn't know was Steven Avery.
"It was the last thing I expected," Rech added. "It wasn't anything we were looking for. I was speechless."
Despite the revelation, Rech said he doesn't find the man to be particularly credible; much of what the man told him during their nine-and-a-half minute call matched the "very public" timeline of events that occurred during Halbach's Oct. 31 disappearance.
"But here's the way I look at it: He promoted something for 18 months that he now says was a lie, but he's demonstrated he was capable of lying. He's a felon, so he's demonstrated he doesn't live within society's guardrails," Rech said. "But, he has killed someone in the state of Wisconsin before - and he was free at the time of Teresa Halbach's murder. So it at least has to be looked at."
While Rech concedes the man feels guilty and could perhaps be telling the truth, he thinks the likelier motivation is the man's desire to collect a $100,000 reward that a private Wisconsin citizen posted earlier this month for tips that could lead to the "arrest and conviction of the real killer of Teresa Halbach."
Investigators must now corroborate the claim, which adds a new layer to an already complex legal saga that has taken several turns even before it became part of the national consciousness via Netflix.
Avery's first criminal conviction was in 1985 when he was accused of sexually assaulting a local woman - a conviction from which he was later exonerated after spending 18 years in prison. Upon his release, Avery filed a $36 million wrongful conviction lawsuit against the county.
Just two years later, Avery was charged with murdering Halbach.
On the day she disappeared, Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer, had an appointment at Avery's Manitowoc County home to photograph a minivan his sister was trying to sell. Prosecutors alleged Avery used a fake name to lure Halbach to his home, where he and Dassey, his nephew, sexually assaulted her and killed her before burning her body.
After her car was recovered, investigators matched bloodstains in Halbach's vehicle to Avery's DNA and Halbach's charred remains were found on Avery's property, where his family had an auto salvage yard. Dassey later confessed to investigators, a confession Dassey's defense later said was unlawfully coerced from a learning-disabled teenager who had no lawyer present.
Avery's defense has claimed local law enforcement framed him in retaliation for filing his wrongful conviction suit.
Dassey, charged as an accessory in Halbach's death, had his conviction tossed in 2016 before it was later reinstated on appeal. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case and both he and Avery remain in prison.
This article was written by Kim Bellware, a reporter for The Washington Post.