Steven Avery’s brother, Earl, gave a big interview to "Access Hollywood" this week that’s being presented by the media as a big twist in the case. This comes on the heels of bomb threats against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department.
Here’s why Earl’s comments might not matter – aside from the obvious point that, as Avery’s brother, he would have a reason to help Steven.
Earl told the media that, when he was driving around on a golf cart shooting rabbits with a friend, he did not see Teresa’s car that Halloween in the spot where it was later discovered by a mother-and-daughter search team. "We drove right through there, where that car was supposed to be, and it wasn’t there. That night of the 31st, we were rabbit hunting," Earl said.
This is presented as a wild twist, as shocking new evidence. However, this is fairly typical of the media exaggerating the importance of fragmented evidence in the case. If you want to read the fuller evidence in the case, you can check out the book that our OnMilwaukee investigative team has written.
Because his friend testified they were riding around on the golf cart between 4:45 and 5:45 p.m. that night, it’s simply possible that the murder had not happened yet and that, even if it had, Teresa’s car was still in Avery’s garage.
As to whether it’s possible that the murder occurred later that evening and that Teresa’s RAV4 was still in Avery’s garage, there’s some evidence for this. For one, Brendan Dassey stated the murder occurred after 8 p.m., not earlier in the afternoon. Of course, Dassey’s contradictory and very controversial statements are also an issue in the case. Even if you discount them completely, Earl’s friend said the garage doors were shut when he talked to Avery.
It’s never been proved the exact time the murder occurred (Dassey got off the school bus at about 3:40 p.m., and the bus driver said she saw a woman taking photographs, so it seems likely the murder probably happened after that point, as the bus driver is a completely neutral witness). It would be a tight time frame for Avery to murder Halbach after 3:40 and move and conceal her car before Earl and his friend started driving around at 4:45. Not impossible, but as a result of the above, Earl’s comment is hardly the bombshell it’s being painted as.
A defense appellate motion reveals that Earl told authorities at the time the case happened that he "admitted driving the golf cart past where Ms. Halbach’s car was found, and although Earl’s friend Robert Fabian would say that Earl knew every car on the lot, Earl claimed he did not see Ms. Halbach’s car. He also allegedly said that he and Steven were in the pit siting their guns on Nov. 4, and he didn’t see the gun then, either."
So, Earl told the story to authorities then that he is telling the media now; he’s consistent on that point, although he added the Nov. 4 angle back then. That’s the day before Teresa’s car was found on the lot.
The defense didn’t call Earl to testify. However, the defense motion used Earl’s comments as possible evidence to point to Earl himself as an alternative suspect because he was admitting he’d been near the spot where the car was found that day.
His friend, Robert Fabian, did testify, and the defense did not ask him about seeing or not seeing Teresa’s car. Fabian’s testimony seemed geared mostly to help the prosecution establish the fact that Avery had a fire burning that evening because Teresa’s bones were found in Avery’s burn pit and a burn barrel near his trailer.
Fabian said he arrived at the property that day at about 10 to or quarter to 5 p.m. He said he got home at quarter to 6 p.m. and lives just a short ways away.
Darkness approached as they "found their way up towards Avery’s trailer," Fabian testified. The garage doors were closed. He said he looked at them at about 5:20 p.m. and saw they were closed.
"When me and Earl had pulled up on the golf cart, we had stopped in between the house and the garage. And the smoke from the burn barrel was blowing right in my face. So, I told Earl to move ahead," Fabian testified.
Fabian said it was "kind of a heavier smoke. And it smelled like plastic. It didn’t smell like regular garbage."
They encountered Steven Avery. "The first we had seen him is, we were pulling up here on the golf cart, we were not stopped yet, and he had come out of the door of the house, and come down the steps and was headed towards the garage. I believe Earl asked him what he was doing, and he came walking over to the golf cart."
The defense suggested that Fabian might have smelled plastic from a plastic bag, milk cartons or plastic cartons from the grocery store. Fabian said he didn’t smell a tire burning.
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.