Written by: Anna Rojas
In law class this year, we had the chance to become lawyers in a mock-trial of the case Wisconsin v Avery. Steven Avery is a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who was convicted of sexual assault at the age of 22. He served 18 years of a 32-year sentence and was exonerated by DNA testing. After his release from prison in 2003, Avery filed a $36 million civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County, its Sheriff, and its former District Attorney. In 2005, while the civil suit was still pending, he was charged with the murder of a Wisconsin photographer, Teresa Halbach.
When preparing for the trial, we had to look at all the different perspectives of the case. We had to see everything from the perspectives of both the prosecution and the defense in order to gather strong evidence to convict Steven. I was the prosecutor, and throughout my research, I had to learn about the person’s background and history. For example, we needed to know what kind of person we were trying to convict, what other crimes he had committed, and what his family relationships were like. In this particular case, we had to analyze the motive of the defendant and the physical evidence related to the case: Teresa’s car hidden in the salvage yard, the car’s key in Steven’s trailer, the bullet found in Avery’s garage, the gun that matched the kind of bullet that was recovered, but most of all, Teresa’s bones found on Steven’s yard along with Teresa’s personal belongings. Furthermore, we had to analyze the DNA evidence that was found, like Steven’s blood stains inside Teresa’s car, his sweat on the hood of her car, Steven’s DNA found on Teresa’s car key, Teresa’s own blood in the trunk of the car, her blood on the bullet found in the garage, and most importantly, DNA proving that the bones found were actually Teresa’s.
As the day of the trial came, I was very nervous because it was the first time I had to convince 12 jurors to convict a person that, in the eyes of everyone, was framed. When the trial started, I began to panic because, even though I practiced for days, I felt like I wasn’t going to get my point across to the jury. And most nerve-wracking of all, Dr. Sorensen was the judge presiding in the courtroom! When the time came that I had to get up and present my evidence, my stomach was in knots because everyone was expecting me to do well, and everyone’s eyes were on me. To my surprise, the nervousness went away as I started to present. I became confident and felt unstoppable. When I got to see the defense present their evidence, I was able to see the amount of effort they put in and their perspective on the case. The most exhilarating part was when the jurors came back with a verdict. We won the case!