A man who served 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit was charged Tuesday with killing a missing freelance photographer who had an appointment with him the last day she was seen alive.
Investigators searching for Teresa Halbach found human teeth and bones in a burn pit behind Steven Avery’s garage, authorities said.
Preliminary test results Tuesday identified the remains as Halbach’s, according to a criminal complaint.
Avery was charged with murder and mutilation of a corpse in Manitowoc County Circuit Court.
Avery, 43, has denied any knowledge of Halbach’s disappearance. He has repeatedly told reporters he believes he is being set up because of his pending $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County for the wrongful rape conviction that sent him to prison.
Halbach vanished Oct. 31 after going to the Avery family’s auto salvage business in Manitowoc County to photograph a minivan that was for sale. Her relatives later found her sport utility vehicle at the salvage yard.
Avery said he saw Halbach that day outside his mobile home and paid her $40 in cash, the complaint said.
Suspect’s DNA found in woman’s car
Investigators found Avery’s and Halbach’s blood inside her SUV and her vehicle key, with Avery’s DNA on it, hidden in Avery’s bedroom, according to the complaint.
Avery told investigators he never was in Halbach’s vehicle, so his blood could not be inside her SUV, according to the complaint.
The homicide charge carries a mandatory life in prison sentence, while the mutilation charge carries up to 12½ years in prison and $25,000 in fines. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.
Calumet County Sheriff Gerald Pagel said investigators were waiting for the crime lab to finish analyzing DNA that was not Halbach’s or Avery’s. Pagel said they were trying to determine whether anyone else in the Avery family was involved in the murder.
According to two search warrants released Monday, investigators:
- Found handcuffs and leg irons in his trailer.
- Found Halbach’s license plates crumpled in a scrap vehicle at the salvage yard.
- Seized Avery’s computer, looking on the hard drive for images of sexually explicit material, including pornographic images, bondage, torture and death, that could point to a possible motive.
- Found steel belts of about six tires that were used as fire accelerants.
- Found a number of five-gallon buckets that appeared to have been used to distribute burned remains.
Avery was convicted of sexual assault in 1985 and was sentenced to 32 years in prison, but he was freed in 2003 after DNA samples exonerated him.