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Wrongfully Imprisoned Wisconsin Man Awarded $400,000, Now Accused of Murder

On February 14, 2006, a Wisconsin man who spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didnt commit settled his lawsuit against Manitowoc County for $400,000. Hell likely use the money to defend himself against a recent murder charge.

News of the settlement came as the plaintiff, Stephen Avery, sat in a Calumet County jail cell charged with the brutal rape and murder of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer for Auto Trader Magazine. Prosecutors contend that on October 31, 2005, Avery lured Halbach to his property to photograph a minivan he had for sale. Once there, prosecutors say, Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dasser, 16, chained Halbach to a bed and took turns raping her. Halbach was then stabbed, strangled and shot. Her body was dragged to a fire pit and burned. Police say that when they searched Averys property they found charred human remains and the key to Halbach's SUV in Avery's bedroom. The SUV was discovered in an adjacent salvage yard.

Dasser was charged in connection with Halbach's murder on March 1, 2006, and provided investigators with a videotaped confession. Several months later, however, on June 29, he recanted in a letter to the judge over his case, saying he had lied. Both Avery and Dasser are scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 5, 2007 on charges of murder, kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault, false imprisonment and mutilation of a corpse. Avery, who has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, contends county officials framed him in order to derail his civil suit.

Avery had become the poster boy of a criminal justice system gone wrong after his release from prison on September 11, 2003. His rape conviction, which was largely based on the victim's own testimony, was overturned after DNA evidence discovered almost two decades later proved he was not the rapist. Instead, the evidence pointed to a man already serving a 60-year sentence for other sex assaults. Averys case spawned legislation aimed at reforming certain aspects of the criminal justice system. Signed into law in December 2005, the new Wisconsin statute establishes guidelines for preserving DNA evidence, requires written policies on the use of eyewitness testimony, and allows courts to order post-conviction DNA testing. The law, initially called the Avery Bill, has since been renamed.

Milwaukee attorney Stephen Glynn, co-counsel with Walter Kelley in Avery's wrongful conviction lawsuit, said his client intends to hire a private attorney to represent him on the pending charges. As a result of the $400,000 settlement, of which $160,000 went to Avery's attorneys for legal fees, he no longer qualifies for a public defender. He also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Halbach's estate.

Following Avery's arrest in the Halbach case, the Wisconsin Innocence Project pulled his photo from their website. Avery had been one of the Projects biggest success stories. Keith Findley, co-director of the Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison law school, said he was horrified and saddened by the recent allegations but does not regret helping Avery win his freedom. Whatever may or may not be happening now doesnt change the fact that he did not commit that crime in 1985, Findley said. Its absolutely undisputed. Findley said the decision to pull Avery's picture was made out of respect to Halbach's family. He didnt say why they chose to do so before Avery was actually convicted a seeming irony, since he was innocent the first time around. See: Avery v. Manitowoc County, USDC ED WI, Case No: 04-C-08986

Sources: AP, USA Today, Appleton Post-Crescent,

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Related legal case

Avery v. Manitowoc County