Inconsistencies with “discovery” of bones in burn pit – Steven Avery case

After watching Making a Murderer as a wrongful conviction advocate, I felt compelled to research the case further. I was pleased when the transcripts and reports became publicly available. I’ve focused most of my attention on the credibility of the bonfire story and the discovery, handling, and reporting of the bone evidence. I did so because I found it so difficult to believe that a body was burned in the location alleged — the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s trailer. The photos do not support the claim. My disbelief has been confirmed in my mind by a combination of evolved witness statements and inconsistencies.

It was shocking that no one bothered to document the presence of this very important evidence allegedly found on the Avery property. (The word allegedly wouldn’t need to be stated if they had simply done their job, and photographed and filmed it.) Not a single photo of a bone on site exists, despite the fact that the state crime lab sent photographers to the property. Yet everyone, including the defense team, seemed to accept the word of the investigators, despite the lack of documentation. I will highlight inconsistencies observed as I reviewed the statements and testimony from those involved in the discovery of the bones in the burn pit.

Sergeant Jost, of the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Office was the first to discover the bones in and near the burn pit. This discovery was a huge break in the case, in fact Jost’s report describes the light bulb moment when he realized the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s trailer had been overlooked. His report will be highlighted, but first let’s examine the bonfire story.

Was there a bonfire on 10/31/05?

In an earlier blog article, I highlighted the fact that none of the many initial witnesses interviewed recalled a bonfire that night, but the statements evolved in subsequent interviews. This is one of the clearest examples of an organized effort to coerce the witnesses to offer statements consistent with the official story — that bones were found in the burn pit. Investigators needed the bonfire for their story to work. In later interviews, witnesses changed their statements to reflect observation of a fire in the burn pit, and the fire grew in size on third and fourth interviews. Ultimately everyone accepted that there was a bonfire that night. In fact, in Brendan Dassey’s first interrogation interview, the police told him there was a bonfire that night. It had become a “fact” by then. Please read more about the evolution of statements in this detailed summary here.

This is really important, because the absence of a bonfire that night changes everything. It goes a long way toward refuting the claim that Halbach’s body was burned behind Avery’s trailer, and the lie becomes circumstantial evidence that the discovery of remains on the property was manufactured evidence, just like the key. Many like to claim that the bones were planted, but I go one step further and suggest that they didn’t even need to be planted. Maybe they were never there at all. There is no proof. Someone simply supplied Dr. Eisenberg with a box of bones from who knows where. Done. There is a reason that courts require documentation of evidence and chain of custody. It is too easy for fraud to occur, but no one objected to the inclusion of the evidence, so all of the bonfire/bones testimonies were in.

Here are portions of Jost’s narrative from November 8, 2005:

“>11/08/05@ 1247 Hrs .: I, Sgt. Jost, drove Unit 70 down to that property. I allowed Officer Joanne Mignon to take a break. Officer Mignon gave me the log sheet, and she then drove Unit 70 back to the command post area. While I was waiting for B&M WASTE REMOVAL to return from Green Bay,I walked toward the south encl of the property, still keeping watch on the septic tank. While at the SW corner of the property, I noted the burn pit area which was located to the south of the garage for STEVEN AVERY’S residence.

While I was standing near the SW corner of the STEVEN AVERY property, I noted several items lying within close proximity to the burn pile. The items were as follows:

  • There were numerous rings of wire lying in and around the area of the burn pile. I recognized these as steel beltings from inside tires.
  • There was a tire which had not been burned. This was on the SE corner of the burn pit area.
  • There was a rubber mallet which was on the grass, SE of the pile.
  • There was a metal hammer, believed to be a claw hammer, lying on the ground, NE of the pile.
  • There was a gravel shovel which was tipped upside-down, located on the west side of the pile.
  • There was a burned/charred metal scraper with a wooden handle attached which was laying NE of the pile, on the grass area.

Earlier, when I had been in the command post area, I remembered someone mentioning that JOSHUA RANDANDT had checked on his hunting trailers on Monday evening. He saw there was a large fire burning near STEVEN AVERY’S property. The fire was described as being “larger than usual.”

Let’s examine Josh Radandt’s statements to police.

This information was included in Avery’s recent motion.

Similar to other witnesses, Radandt’s statements evolved. Initially there was only mention of a burn barrel fire, but investigators likely coerced him to modify his statements in a subsequent interview to “open burn pit, large fire.”

Update: Radandt signed a new affidavit in February, 2017 that describes the coercion. If it happened to him, and we know Brendan Dassey was coerced, why stop there? It’s likely ALL the witnesses were coerced about the bonfire.

It is interesting that Jost became suspicious that a body may have been burned in the burn pit based only on a described burn barrel fire. But statements would confirm that Jost’s intuition was right (absent documentation of the findings).

Jost’s statement, continued

I, Sgt. Jost, started to piece all of this information together. I felt this area, if not already looked at, should be checked for any type of evidence. When Officer Mignon returned, I spoke with her about my feelings of the burn pile. She stated she also felt that something was unusual with that area. Upon returning to the command post, I made contact with CASO Lt. Sippel. I explained to him that I felt the burn pit area specifically should be checked further. He responded to the property with me. Without disturbing the area, we walked close to the burn pit to take a further look. I mentioned to
him that due to the aggressiveness of the dog, it was very possible that the other K9 handlers may not have walked their dogs this close to the area. This also may have hindered officers from specifically going to this location.

As we were looking at the ashes lying in the area, it was evident that someone used some type of front end loader to remove ground from this particular location. The ashes were inside this area. As we looked at the ash pile, we observed that there was a bone lying near the south side of the pile, on the east side. Without disturbing the bone, I looked at it as closely as I could. It appeared as though it may have been a vertebrae bone. I could see another bone in the pile. At this time, we decided that someone from the Crime Lab or DCI needed to further investigate the area.

I, Sgt. Jost, remained at the burn pit area. A short time later, I believe it was TOM STURTEVANT from DCI who walked over to the burn pit with one of his female partners. Utilizing a small twig that was present, TOM moved the bone mentioned above. Without touching it, it still appeared to be some type of vertebrae bone. He moved some of the steel belting wires which were located on the east side of the burn pile and found there appeared to be several other items which appeared to be burns. One piece appeared to be in the shape of a part of a skull.

Based on this information, I returned to the command post to speak with the Crime Lab. Members of the Crime Lab responded to the scene. Using their sifting equipment, they sifted through the majority of the burn pile. They located numerous bones and teeth which were present among the ashes. These items were later given to the CASO for processing. No further details to add.

To summarize — Jost thought the burn pit seemed important, he discussed it with Sippel, the two of them walked over to the pit, discovered what appeared to be a vertebrae, Agent Sturdivant showed up, Jost went back to the command center to inform the crime lab of their findings.

Next, let’s look at Sippel’s report.

Lieutenant Sippel of the Calumet Sheriff’s office accompanied Jost to the fire pit. Here is his account of the discovery of bones.

It’s already obvious that their stories are inconsistent. In Sippel’s version, he went to the command post to inform them about the possible bones they’d discovered; Jost remained at the burn pit with Sturdivant.

Finally, let’s look at Sturdivant’s account. Keep in mind that neither Jost or Sippel testified at any of the preliminary hearings or the Avery and Dassey trials, therefore, these inconsistencies would not be brought to light.

Special Agent Sturdivant

Interestingly, Sturdivant describes how he was assigned to look at items of interest, but how was he assigned to look at Jost’s discovery of the bones, when both Jost and Sippel had just discovered them when Sturdivant walked up?

Sturdivant describes a red flag near the bone Jost had discovered. Interestingly, Jost never mentioned placing a red flag to mark the item. Maybe the inconsistent story is the red flag.

Sturdivant claims to have been the one to contact the crime lab unit, and John Ertl testified that he received a call from Sturdivant requesting the sifting equipment. If true, it means that Sippel and Jost did not notify the crime lab of their discovery as they described in their reports. These inconsistencies may seem inconsequential, but it is circumstantial evidence of deception and possible fabricated evidence. This aspect of the investigation should have been memorable to all involved, so why do their stories differ? How was Sturdivant summoned to the location?  Why weren’t Jost and Sippel called to testify?

Is it possible this “discovery” was made up? It’s interesting to note that Sippel described seeing the bones on top of crusted ash. This is circumstantial evidence that they were placed there OR there is also the possibility that the investigators were dishonest, and that no bones were actually found at all. That is the reason documentation is so important. The issues with the bones does not stop here. Please read more about the bone evidence here and here. Thus far, nothing about this case holds up to even a minimum amount of scrutiny.

 

 

 

 

Ending Reid Method Interrogations to Prevent False Confessions

Wickland Zulawski, the firm responsible for instructing law enforcement agencies about interrogation techniques recently announced that they will no longer be using the Reid Technique.

“Approximately 29% of DNA exonerations in the US since 1989 have involved false confessions to the crime. A combination of factors could cause innocent persons to confess to a crime they did not commit. Academics have chronicled the commonalities among these cases and found the suspect is often mentally or intellectually challenged, interviewed without an attorney or parent, interrogated for over three hours, or told information about the crime by investigators.
In addition, the officers in these cases were often trained in the Reid Technique of Interview and Interrogation. Although one might argue that the officers misused their training in the technique, many courts and law enforcement agencies are moving away from this confrontational approach to non-confrontational styles.”

 

The Reid Method, which involves a confrontational interview, has been shown to result in false confessions and wrongful convictions. It was the method used in the Brendan Dassey interviews. Making a Murderer highlighted the official misconduct in the Teresa Halbach murder investigation. Steven Avery and his sixteen year old nephew, Brendan were convicted of the murders. Dassey’s confession was completely inconsistent with evidence at the crime scene and it was obvious police coerced him into admitting involvement in a crime of which he had no knowledge or participation.

Since the airing of the documentary, a federal judge has ordered the release of Dassey; however the State of Wisconsin appealed that decision and Dassey remains behind bars.  Understand that police are allowed to lie to people during interviews. They are permitted to claim that they already have evidence linking them to the crime, or a witness who has agreed to testify against them. That combined with the coercive techniques has lead to many false confessions, and teens are especially vulnerable. Dassey believed he would be able to go back to his class if he just told police what they wanted to hear. Instead he was arrested and still remains behind bars ten years later.

What tactics can the police use when questioning a suspect?

The police are prohibited from using physical or psychological coercion when conducting police interrogations. A confession or evidence that results from coercive tactics is inadmissible at trial. The police, for example, may not use torture techniques, threats, drugging, or inhumane treatment during an interrogation. The police, however, can use lying, trickery, and other types of non-coercive methods to obtain a confession from a suspect. (link)

Dassey Interview:

 

These are the nine steps of the Reid Technique:

Nine steps of interrogation

The Reid technique’s nine steps of interrogation are:

  1. Direct confrontation. Advise the suspect that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.
  2. Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will psychologically justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
  3. Try to minimize the frequency of suspect denials.
  4. At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the acknowledgement of what they did.
  5. Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
  6. The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
  7. Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. As stated above, there is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.
  8. Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
  9. Document the suspect’s admission or confession and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).

In many cases police have taken the technique too far, taking advantage of young or mentally challenged individuals who firmly believe they will be permitted to walk out there door if they only tell police what they want to hear; or doing excessively long interviews, wearing people down. Reid warns against such methods, but the amount of wrongful convictions based on false confessions indicates that police aren’t in fact obtaining the truth and solving many crimes. They are doing whatever is necessary to get a confession to make it appear as if the crime has been solved.

Hopefully the move away from the Reid Technique will result in fewer false confessions.

 

Steven Avery Case: Were the Remains Identified via Junk Science?

Everyone accepts the assertion that Teresa’s remains were found on the Avery property, but I wouldn’t be so quick to accept that conclusion. Remember that there is no evidence there were ever any bones found on the Avery property. Investigators can say what they want, but not a single photo captured this very important evidence. We are to blindly trust that they found bones where they claimed — in the burn pit and the burn barrels. It would be simple to fabricate this evidence. Agent Pevytoe even testified that the alleged bone fragments were smaller than half a pinky nail and that much of what was found was actually burnt insulation.

How were the remains identified?

The bones were so badly burned that only a single testable bone — reported to be a 2 1/2 inch section of a shin bone survived. The bone allegedly still had remaining tissue intact. How is it possible that a bone survived? The teeth were burned beyond any identification. Teeth are supposed to outlast bone when exposed to fire. Dr. Simley testified that he could crush the dental fragments with his fingers. They were consistent with cremains, not a body burned in an open fire.

Dr. Simley did not find a single tooth suitable for comparison to Teresa’s dental x-rays. He had never seen such an extensive amount of damage. He found root fragments. In fact he super-glued two sections of a root together and stated that they were “consistent” with one of Teresa’s roots. I have searched and have been unable to find a single case where remains were identified from a root. It’s likely because roots are pretty plain. They do not have unique enough identifiers to conclude that they belong to any certain person. That is likely the reason he could not make a positive identification.

Consider what a root looks like.

roots-image

This is how the roots appear on a dental x-ray

root-x-ray

How is it possible that burned-up super-glued root sections were even stated as “consistent” with Teresa’s?! Were they consistent simply because it was identified as a root? This seems like junk science. Forensic bite mark evidence has recently been discredited and this type of evidence should probably be discredited as well. Many are under the mistaken impression that Teresa’s teeth were found in the burn pit. There is NO evidence that is true!

Dr. Simley’s testimony, Brendan Dassey trial

Q: Would you tell us or describe for us the condition of – – uh, these — the 24 tooth fragments and the three bone fragments that you examined?

A. They were all burned. They were all charred. Uh, they were very brittle. Um, again, they didn’t look like normal tooth like we would normally see, and essentially, the crowns were all gone. What we were looking at was just the root structure, which was, um, part of the tooth that’s buried in the bone. There was one portion of a crown, um, but that portion was from a — cuspid or an eyetooth and was not able to be identified.

Is it possible investigators gave him a box of random cremains? I think it’s very possible, in fact likely.

Next, consider the DNA from the shin bone that miraculously survived. There were major problems with this as well. Both Dr. Eisenberg and Sherry participated in the process of identifying the remains with this same bone. Sherry tested the tissue; Eisenberg sent the bone to the FBI.

  • Sherry reported that she only obtained seven of sixteen markers in her STR DNA test because the tissue was too degraded; yet her results were accepted as a MATCH to Teresa’s DNA.

DNA pic

  • Eisenberg sent the bone to the FBI who reportedly tested “charred remains” using Mitochondrial DNA testing and reported that Teresa couldn’t be ruled out as a contributor. If they had a suitable bone for testing, why didn’t they use that for the mitochondrial DNA testing?
  • A year later the FBI received dozens more bone fragments, none of which were suitable for DNA testing.

shin-bone3

I am not convinced that the remains (from who knows where) matched Teresa Halbach. In fact, there is no chain of custody to reflect how Culhane even received the bone into her lab. Dr. Eisenberg testified that she shipped it directly to the FBI after identifying it as human remains. Sherry wouldn’t have received it before Dr. Eisenberg, as it wouldn’t have been identified as human at that point.  If there is no proof there were remains on the property (there isn’t) and there is no conclusive identification of the remains (there isn’t), how can Avery be responsible for Teresa’s death? We’re left with nothing but the car on the property and the (very questionable) blood inside. Is that enough evidence to prove a person was murdered there? Or anywhere for that matter?

It doesn’t add up. IF a shin bone survived, the teeth should have survived! It is impossible to trust any of this evidence.

Scrutinizing the DNA Evidence – Teresa Halbach Investigation

Updated for clarity 8/30/16

My previous article addressed the issues with chain of custody and documentation of the bone evidence. The issues don’t stop there. The testimony and DNA reports contain even more serious concerns about the validity of the bone evidence. Recently Reddit contributor, Amber Lea pointed out major red flags with the way the DNA evidence was presented at trial. Her research indicates that the only bone fragment found with intact tissue was purportedly processed simultaneously in two separate locations at the same time.

Special Prosecutor Ken Kratz displayed this photo during opening arguments and stated that Teresa Halbach’s shin bone was the large bone on the left.

bone fragments

That’s what Kratz asserts, but is there proof that this shin bone was identified as Teresa’s? Two witnesses testified about this key piece of evidence — Dr. Leslie Eisenberg (Forensic Anthropologist) and Sherry Culhane, lab analyst with the Wisconsin crime lab. The photo above was referenced as Exhibit #150 during the Brendan Dassey trial.

First, let’s begin with Dr. Leslie Eisenberg’s testimony about Exhibit #150. Dr. Eisenberg testified that she examined the bone specimens at the Dade County Morgue on November 10, 2005 and discovered the bone with the tissue.

Q All Right. And what is, um, Exhibit 150?

A One-five-zero is a portion of burned human bone that was recovered with other smaller burned human bone fragments and fragments of dried or desiccated human muscle tissue.

Q All right. And is the a fragment that you transferred to the crime lab for DNA analysis?

A That is one of the fragments that I transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigations for DNA analysis.

During the Avery trial, Dr. Eisenberg testified more affirmatively that she packaged and sent the items directly to the FBI when asked if she sent the items to the crime lab.

Q Now the one we’ve been examining more closely here, is that the bone that you arranged to be sent to the FBI, or excuse me, to the crime lab for further analysis?

A No, the contents of all of the items you see on this screen, this larger bone, which is about two and a half inches long, and some of these other bone fragments and this muscle tissue was packaged by me and transferred directly to the FBI in November of 2005.

So she was clear that the specimens did not go back to the crime lab and that is important.

Note that the FBI referenced the specimen as “charred remains“, rather than “bone fragments“, even though they referred to several subsequent samples that were sent by Dr. Eisenberg as bone fragments.

**Also very important is the evidence that the shin bone referenced in exhibit #150 is referenced as Q1 Charred remains in the FBI document.**

FBI report Q1The trial testimony revealed a contradictory claim about the shin bone fragment. Sherry Culhane testified that she received the bone fragment into her lab on November 11, 2005 and removed a portion of  tissue that she believed was suitable for DNA testing.

A Item BZ was taken into the laboratory on November 11th, 2005.

Q And when you examined this, was it a combination of bone and tissue?

A It appeared to be, yes.

She referenced it in her report as “charred tissue” and labeled it BZ.

Item BZ

Item BZ was the same specimen that Dr. Eisenberg claimed to have shipped to the FBI. How do we know that? This PowerPoint slide which was shown to the jury during Sherry Culhane’s testimony is proof.

Culhane powerpoint bone

Q When you examined this, was this a combination of bone and tissue?

A It appeared to be, yes.

Q And what is shown on the big screen here, which we will later get an exhibit for and mark it, is that the bone and tissue fragment that you examined?

A Yes, it is.

 

 

Sherry Culhane testified that she removed tissue from the very bone that Dr. Eisenberg packaged and shipped directly to the FBI.

A Um, this is a bone fragment here with a piece of charred tissue attached to it. When I sampled this, I took a portion of the tissue that appeared to be least burned towards the bone and that’s what I used for my examination.

Q And did you assign a crime lab designation to this?

A Yes, I did.

Q And what was that?

A Item BZ.

Q And did you conduct DNA testing on this tissue portion of this burned bone fragment?

A Yes I did.

 

What does this mean?

  • The shin bone photograph was used twice at both trials to illustrate how they were able to obtain testable material from a fire that caused such extensive damage that the crowns of the teeth were completely burned; yet the timeline and circumstances of the handling of the only tissue found on that single bone do not add up. Dr. Eisenberg stated that she sent it directly to the FBI. How could that be? Did Culhane receive the tissue/bone specimen before Dr. Eisenberg even identified it as human? If Culhane removed a section from it before Dr. Eisenberg received it, she would have been doing so with no confirmation that the bone was even human. She would have also been altering evidence before Dr. Eisenberg would have had a chance to examine it. It wouldn’t make sense.
  • Both the Wisconsin Crime Lab and the FBI characterized the specimen as  “charred tissue/remains,” even though it was described by Dr. Eisenberg as a “two-and-a half inch fragment of shin bone with intact tissue”. This is very suspicious in light of the fact that there are already obvious issues with the handling of the bones alleged to have been discovered on the Avery property.
  • Once again we are left with an enormous question mark related to the bones, the DNA and the identification of the victim. In fact, the absence of any characterization of a bone fragment in the lab reports could indicate that there were no bones at all! Perhaps the prosecution felt they needed to present solid proof that a bone from the pit was definitively identified as Teresa’s, and if there were no bones, maybe they had to get creative. Maybe there is nothing more than the photo of the shin bone of unknown origin and the box of bones, which by the way look very similar to pig bones.
bones3
Bones in Halbach investigation
Pig bones
Pig bones
  • One has to wonder where the tissue came from. Did the crime lab and FBI in fact test sections of the golf ball sized tissue alleged to have been discovered by Agent Pevytoe?

Pevytoe charred tissue

Summary of the bone discovery, collection and processing:

MTSO Deputy Jost finds 1 inch object believed to be a bone (11/8/05) 

Investigators dig up the burn pit, transfer everything to the Calumet SO (11/8/05)

Box of bones are transferred to Dr. Eisenberg (11/9/05)

Agent Pevytoe finds golf ball sized piece of charred tissue while examining debris at Calumet Sheriff’s Office (11/10/05)

Dr. Eisenberg examines bones at Dade County Morgue, identifies shin bone with charred, attached muscle – sends it to FBI (11/10/05)

Sherry Culhane claims to somehow receive same shin bone with charred, attached muscle, labels it item BZ (11/11/05) and reports that a partial profile was obtained and that seven markers matched Teresa Halbach’s profile.

 

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about the bone/tissue DNA evidence and exactly which types of tests were performed. There were three separate sets of specimens submitted for DNA identifications — one went to the Wisconsin crime lab, and two separate sets of specimens went to the FBI.

  1. We really don’t know where item BZ came from. We do however know that the reported result of the STR DNA test was grossly misstated. The reported “partial profile”  — 7 of 16 locations should have been recorded as “inconclusive” because it was an indication that the test didn’t work — the sample was too degraded to trust the result. Instead, it was reported that since seven alleles matched the standard profile, statistics indicate that only one person of a billion would have that partial profile in a Caucasian population. It was suggested that although it was not a conclusive match, it was very unlikely that the specimen could have originated from anyone beside Teresa. This was very misleading, but the defense never refuted it.

DNA stat

DNA pic

2. The FBI received charred remains purportedly from the shin bone on 11/16/05 and performed mitochondrial DNA testing. They compared it to DNA from Karen Halbach’s buccal swab. It is unclear why no one sent the FBI Teresa’s DNA to compare to the charred material (designated as Q1 by the FBI). Since the MtDNA database is small, the report only concludes that Teresa cannot be ruled out as the contributor. No one from the FBI testified at either the Avery or Dassey trials.

FBI DNA MT

To avoid confusion, the designation of the same shin bone/charred tissue specimens from Exhibit #150:

  • BZ – Wisconsin Crime Lab
  • 1B2 – Dr. Eisenberg
  • Q1 – FBI

3. In January, 2006 Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel incorrectly informed the media that the FBI confirmed the bones were Teresa’s, even though the FBI report clearly stated simply that she could not be ruled out.

On January 19, 2006, Calumet County Sheriff says bones found at the family auto salvage yard of a man charged with murder match those of a freelance photographer.Sheriff Jerry Pagel says the FBI confirms that the bones found at Steven Avery’s family salvage yard are those of 25 year old Teresa Halbach. The report from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia says Mitochondrial DNA analysis of evidentiary remains found in a burn pit match the DNA sample of Halbach’s mother.

Prosecutor Ken Kratz referenced this in an email to Sherry Culhane. Apparently the media was never instructed to edit their misleading articles about the FBI “match” so the public believed there was conclusive proof that Teresa’s remains were found on the Avery property.

Kratz Culhane email

4. In November and December of 2006, several additional bone fragments were sent to the FBI.  They reported that none of them were suitable for mitochondrial DNA testing.

DNA fragments FBI

This is not surprising, as many studies have shown that DNA cannot withstand high heat exposure — such as the heat alleged to have been generated in the raging bonfire.

Recent progress of DNA analysis techniques is improving its discrimination power and sensitivity on an ongoing basis and now this technique is routinely applied to the identification of skeletal remains.7476 DNA profiling was expected to be a useful tool for identifying severely burnt bones when morphological tests would fail because of the deformation and fragmentation. However, casework we have encountered and studies published on burnt bone DNA typing show the harsh reality of this application. As mentioned earlier, the organic matrix disappears at a comparatively early phase in the burning process, and DNA is no exception.

Several studies have reported the applicability of DNA typing to the investigation of burnt bones.28,33,36,45,52 As a pioneer of experimental study in this area, Cattaneo et al assessed the amplification of 120 bp products of the human mitochondrial DNA region V in experimentally burnt human compact bones (800°C–1,200°C, for 20 minutes) as well as in charred bones obtained from actual forensic cases.52 They found that none of these burnt specimens retained DNA that was amplifiable and concluded that DNA typing cannot be used successfully with charred bones. (source)

 

There is simply no evidence that bones were found during the investigation. No one documented the bones on site at any of the three locations where they were allegedly found. Not a single photo exists. No one documented the “charred material” — not a single photo is in evidence. The FBI and crime lab reports didn’t even designate the shin bone as bone. If true that no bones were found, one can only speculate about the origin of the tissue sent to the labs. Clearly there were problems identifying the remains as Teresa Halbach’s, though one wouldn’t  know that from trial testimony or media reports. The defense accepted Culhane’s report as proof that Teresa’s body was found. How can it be trusted when there is a huge problem with the chain of custody? If Dr. Eisenberg shipped it directly to the FBI as stated, how did Culhane test it at all?

The fact is the remains (if there were any found to begin with) were never conclusively identified and that means the fraud in this case may be much bigger than anyone could have imagined. Hopefully at some point Avery’s attorneys will look into this matter. It is too important to overlook.

 

 

 

 

Steven Avery case: New information questions if bones found were Teresa Halbach’s

Thanks, Global News for sharing my blog article on your site!

 

 

Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery may have even more hope for freedom after new research, conducted by Stop Wrongful Convictions campaigner and author Lynne Blanchard, has seen the light of day.

Blanchard points out a seemingly obvious fact: that people are taking for granted that the bone fragments discovered in Avery’s outdoor fire pit are those of murdered photographer Teresa Halbach.

Netflix’s Making a Murderer is a 10-part documentary series that follows the case of 53-year-old Wisconsin native Avery. He is serving a life sentence (without the possibility for parole) for the murder of Halbach and illegally possessing a firearm. Avery  had previously been jailed for 18 years for a sexual assault in 1985, but was exonerated in that case by DNA evidence in 2003.

READ MORE: Steven Avery’s lawyer: It’s “fairly obvious” who killed Teresa Halbach

Two years later, Avery brought a US$36-million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Wis., for the wrongful conviction. Making a Murderer calls into question the investigation and trial that put Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, behind bars in the Halbach killing. The program alleges that the investigators and police planted evidence and otherwise manipulated the outcome of the trial.

Steven Avery's fire pit

Steven Avery’s fire pit.

Netflix

In a blog post, Blanchard outlines why she doubts the bone-fragment analysis, and questions how the authorities knew they were Halbach’s.

“Obviously it appears to be very incriminating, but what is going on with this evidence?” she writes. “Why weren’t protocols followed? No coroner, forensic anthropologist, arson investigator or photographer was called to the scene when the evidence was discovered. They had all of these high paid experts at their disposal and didn’t call on them until after the evidence had been shoveled up and taken to the sheriff’s office.”

READ MORE: Juror involved in Making a Murderer homicide case stands by the verdict

“The DNA evidence described above is not conclusive,” she continues. “How is it even possible for tissue to survive a fire that disintegrated 60% of the bone mass? The teeth which are commonly used to identify a body because they outlast bone didn’t even survive the fire.”

According to Blanchard, lab analyst Sherry Culhane issued a report in December 2005, stating that a partial profile was retrieved from charred tissue, and that seven of 16 markers matched Halbach’s profile.

Netflix

Blanchard says the absence of a chain of custody of the bones is critical because it could have rendered the fragments inadmissible, especially considering all the accusations of police cover-ups and bias.

“They brought in the state officials right away to ensure that everything would be properly handled,” writes Blanchard. “Who dropped the ball? It is very suspicious given everything else that happened in this case. Since the scene wasn’t documented, there is no proof that any bones were ever on the Avery property.”

“As well, the Manitowoc County coroner was forbidden from entering the scene and none of the forensic experts were summoned until after the bones had been removed,” she continues. “We are to simply accept the word of the state witnesses who claimed to see the bones.”

Avery’s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, was also sent new research involving the bones by a Reddit blogger known as Amberlea1879.

The blogger, who claims she’s been poring over Avery legal transcripts and documents online, asserts that prosecution lawyer Ken Kratz and analyst Culhane were colluding to frame Avery.

Amberlea1879 says the FBI did not confirm that the tested bone fragments belonged to Teresa Halbach, and that Culhane was sent only “charred material.”

On Jan. 20, 2006, Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel released a statement to the media that confirmed the FBI matched the fragments found in the fire pit to Halbach. Shortly after, on Feb. 7, Kratz sent an email to Culhane reiterating that statement.

The new information put forward to Zellner suggests that the analyzed material is, in fact, a general mitochondrial DNA match connected to a relative of Halbach’s mother, and not the actual bones of Halbach herself.

All of these new findings suggest that evidence could easily have been tampered with, giving Avery and Zellner more opportunities to prove his innocence.

Zellner has been publicly announcing her discoveries on Twitter as the evidence-gathering continues. She recently told Dateline NBC that she has found evidence that proves Avery innocent.

Over 400,000 people have signed online petitions to see Avery freed or pardoned.

Steven Avery case: New information questions if bones found were Teresa Halbach’s

 

 

 

Scrutinizing the Bone Evidence – Teresa Halbach Investigation

There’s undoubtedly a lot of questionable evidence in this case – the magic key, the magic bullet and the possibility that Steven Avery’s blood was planted in the RAV 4. Should the bone evidence rise above similar scrutiny or can we consider the possibility that the bone evidence was also fabricated?  The suspicious mishandling of the bones is described in this article.

Summary of discovery and handling of bone evidence

  • Teresa’s ’99 Toyota RAV 4 was found at approximately 10:30 the morning of Saturday 11/5/05 on the Avery salvage yard. Investigators arrived at the scene and remained on site for eight days — searching for Teresa and/or evidence of foul play.
  • Bone fragments were allegedly found in the burn pit behind Avery’s garage on Tuesday 11/8/05.
  • Special Agent Tom Sturdivant requested sifting equipment from the Wisconsin crime lab (John Ertl).
  • No one photographed the bones or the collection process.
  • The (alleged) bones were placed into boxes and removed from the site.
  • Dr. Leslie Eisenberg, a Forensic Anthropologist with the crime lab received a box of bones on Wednesday 11/9/05.
  • Since Dr. Eisenberg often worked at the Dane County morgue, she carried the box to the morgue for examination on 11/10/05. She concluded that the bones were human. Specimens were submitted to the crime lab and the FBI for identification.
  • Special Agent Pevytoe allegedly discovered bones in the Janda burn barrel at the Calumet sheriff’s office on 11/12/05. No photos documented this discovery either.
  • Lab analyst Sherry Culhane issued a report on 12/5/05 stating that a partial profile was obtained from a charred piece of tissue and that seven of sixteen markers matched Teresa’s standard profile. The other markers were not present due to the condition of the sample.
  • On December 5, 2005 Dr. Eisenberg, Special Agent Pevytoe, John Ertl, Detective Wiegert and Special Agent Fassbender gathered at the crime lab (basement?) to sift through more of the ash and debris. They allegedly found metal grommets consistent with what would be common on blue jeans.

 

Sifting through ash and debris 12/5/05
Sifting through ash and debris 12/5/05

Exhibit-274-processing-debris-1024x676

The absence of a chain of custody of the bones is critical because it could very well have rendered it inadmissible. What happened? They brought in the state officials right away to ensure that everything would be properly handled. Who dropped the ball? It is very suspicious given everything else that happened in this case.

Since the scene wasn’t documented, there is no proof that any bones were ever on the Avery property. As well, the Manitowoc County coroner was forbidden from entering the scene and none of the forensic experts were summoned until after the bones had been removed. We are to simply accept the word of the state witnesses who claimed to see the bones.

Interestingly, the descriptions of the bones were inconsistent. Dr. Eisenberg claimed to have pieced together fifty-eight fragments of skull bones from the burn pit. That is consistent with them finding a considerable number of fairly large pieces; yet Agent Pevytoe described seeing very small pieces of bone fragments.

  “Yes, the fragmentation that I was finding from the burn pit was very small. Much of it was — in some cases was the size of half your little fingernail, if you will. Most of the bones were very fragmented there.” (Pevytoe testimony, day 18)

Pevytoe testified that three to four larger bones were found in the Janda burn barrel. If only a few bones were found in the barrel and tiny fragments were found in the burn pit, where did all the larger bones originate? This is a box of bones in evidence. Note that non-human charred bones were also found in each of the locations – burn pit, Janda barrel and quarry. Burnt insulation that appeared to be bone fragments was also found in the burn pit.bones3

 

Exhibit 391 skull bones
Exhibit 391 skull bones

DNA Testing

Crime lab analyst, Sherry Culhane reported that a partial DNA profile was obtained from a charred piece of tissue (item BZ) alleged to have been found in the burn pit ash. She used the STR Promega 16 amplification kit where fifteen markers are compared, with one gender marker. Culhane testified that since the specimen was degraded (likely due to extreme heat) she only obtained peaks for seven markers of the fifteen plus the gender marker, so less than 50%. The FBI CODIS database does not even record DNA profiles with less than nine identified markers.

The partial profile matched Teresa Halbach’s standard, but since it’s a partial profile it can’t be conclusively reported as matching Teresa’s DNA. What is the degree of certainty? Culhane reported that the probability of a random unrelated person matching the same seven (eight if including the gender loci) markers is 1 in a billion in the Caucasian population.

DNA stat

 

DNA pic

It’s unclear how she arrived at that statistic. Arizona is the only state that made their DNA database publicly accessible. Interestingly, based on the available DNA information from Arizona, it appears that the partial profile of item BZ would in fact be much more common than 1 in a billion. These are the actual matches based on a total of approximately 65,000 profiles:

  • 122 pairs match at 9 of 13 loci
  • 20 pairs match at 10 of 13 loci
  • 1 pair matches at 11 of 13 loci (full siblings)
  • 1 pair matches at 12 of 13 loci (full siblings)

(source)

This means that even with 12 of 13 markers matching there would be an occurrence of 1 in 65,000 — much more common than 1 in a billion. The less markers compared, the more common the occurrence. 122 pairs matched at 9 of 13 markers. Clearly a match of 7 of 15 would be considerably more common than the reported 1 in a billion at trial. The DNA evidence should have been reported more generally as “Teresa Halbach can not be excluded as source.”

FBI DNA Analysis

A section of the charred specimen (BZ) was also sent to the FBI in November, 2005. They conducted a mitochondrial DNA test and reported that Teresa could not be excluded as the source of the charred remains.

In 2006 investigators sent the FBI thirty-one additional samples – bone fragments. The FBI reported that no mitochondrial DNA testing was conducted due to the condition of the fragments but interestingly they also reported that some DNA was obtained and they were returning the processed DNA samples.

DNA fragments FBI

It is puzzling that they obtained DNA yet were unable to perform the mitochondrial testing. Is it possible it excluded Teresa Halbach as the contributor? Contrary to the DNA report, Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel incorrectly informed the media that the FBI confirmed the bones were Teresa’s.

The Calumet County Sheriff says bones found at the family auto salvage yard of a man charged with murder match those of a freelance photographer.Sheriff Jerry Pagel says the FBI confirms that the bones found at Steven Avery’s family salvage yard are those of 25 year old Teresa Halbach. The report from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia says Mitochondrial DNA analysis of evidentiary remains found in a burn pit match the DNA sample of Halbach’s mother.

Prosecutor Ken Kratz referenced this in an email to Sherry Culhane. Apparently the media was never instructed to edit their misleading articles about the FBI “match” so the public believed there was conclusive proof that Teresa’s remains were found on the Avery property.

Kratz Culhane email

Why question this?

Everyone accepts as fact that Teresa’s remains were found in the burn pit. Obviously it appears to be very incriminating, but what is going on with this evidence? Why weren’t protocols followed?  No coroner, forensic anthropologist, arson investigator or photographer was called to the scene when the evidence was discovered. They had all of these high paid experts at their disposal and didn’t call on them until after the evidence had been shoveled up and taken to the sheriff’s office.

The DNA evidence described above is not conclusive. How is it even possible for tissue to survive a fire that disintegrated 60% of the bone mass? The teeth which are commonly used to identify a body because they outlast bone didn’t even survive the fire. Something’s wrong and it becomes difficult to accept this evidence as presented.

Since there’s circumstantial evidence that all of the other evidence was fabricated, is it such a stretch to consider that the bone evidence doesn’t hold up either?  If we can accept that the RAV4 was placed on the property, key planted in his residence, blood planted in vehicle, bullet planted in garage, should we blindly accept 100% that the bones were Teresa’s just because Culhane reported the partial profile as a “match?”  It’s difficult to trust it when proof of the bones on the property doesn’t even exist!

Is it possible that police were unable to find a body but wanted to secure a conviction so they fabricated the bone evidence?

A Similar Case

Around the time of Teresa Halbach’s disappearance, Kristine Rudy of Clark County, Wisconsin also went missing. She was last seen November 12, 2005.  She was twenty-one years old and six months pregnant, married to Shaun Rudy. Search efforts were unsuccessful and in December, 2005 investigators discovered a burn pit — sound familiar?

In December, detectives piecing together a case against Christine’s husband Shaun were led to the suspect’s mother’s home in northwestern Clark County. According to court documents, they found a burn pile they believe Shaun used to destroy evidence of the crime. In that burn pile, they found what a well-respected forensic anthropologist determined were fetal remains.

Court documents show Dr. Leslie Eisenberg of the State Crime Lab in Madison wrote investigators asking them to consider the mechanisms by which the fetal remains, yet very few adult remains, made their way to the burn pile, and says it’s possible the fetus was deliberately removed and burned independently of the majority of the adult remains. (link)

The really interesting thing is that the victim’s body was found a few months later – fetus intact.

But investigators were surprised when what’s believed to be Christine Rudy’s body was found last month in the Chippewa River – the fetus was still intact.

It kind of throws us for a loop. It raised a couple questions, says Clark County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Jim Backus.

The bones found in the burn pile were severely charred, but Dr. Eisenberg has an excellent reputation and it’s seen as somewhat unlikely that her analysis was wrong, Backus says.(audio)

Dr. Eisenberg incorrectly identified bones as human. Though it may be possible to make a mistake like that, it certainly calls her credibility into question. Had they not found the woman, would they have prosecuted Shaun Rudy with the bone evidence?

We must consider the possibility that Dr. Eisenberg may have been mistaken with the Halbach case as well. We know there were charred animal bones mixed in. Is it possible there was nothing but animal bones?

We can also consider that maybe the state revealed just enough to convince the public that Teresa’s remains were found — photographs of random bones in a box and high priced experts sifting through debris. If true, it’s possible Teresa’s body was never found because it wasn’t on the Avery property. Police were searching in the wrong place.

 

 

There Was No Bonfire on Halloween: Making A Murderer

The state alleged that Steven Avery burned the victim’s body in a huge bonfire behind his trailer and burned her personal effects (cell phone, camera and palm pilot) in a burn barrel in the front area of the home the evening of 10/31/05.

burn pit behind trailer
burn pit behind trailer

 

burn barrel
burn barrel

While reviewing all of the initial statements made by Steven Avery and the others who had been on the property that day, I noticed that not a single person mentioned a bonfire on October 31 – the day Teresa Halbach disappeared. The witness statements evolved considerably over time so that by the time Brendan Dassey was arrested everyone believed there was a bonfire and/or burn barrel fire on Halloween night.

Let’s examine the statements beginning with the early interviews. Steven Avery was interviewed by Detective O’Neill with the Marinette County Sheriff’s Office on November 5 (the day Teresa’s RAV 4 was found) and again on November 6.

Steven Avery’s interview 11/6/05 @ 29:57:

Q: When’s the last time you burned?

A: Two weeks ago.

Q: What did you burn, just regular garbage?

A: Just garbage.

Steve Avery was interviewed again by Special Agent Fassbender on November 9, 2005, which was the day they arrested him on the weapon’s violation.

SA burn barrel statement 11-9-05

Exhibit-51-Avery-burn-barrel-1024x671Blaine Dassey was interviewed on November 7, 2005 — two days after the RAV 4 had been found at which time the burned phone parts and some of the bones had already been found in the burn barrels near Steve Avery’s trailer and the Janda/Dassey residence. Note that Blaine got off the bus with Brendan Dassey at approximately 3:45 p.m. He had plans that evening to go trick-or-treating with a friend and the fact that it was Halloween made it more likely that he would remember a bonfire that evening.

Blaine was first asked about the burn barrels.Blaine burn barrels 1

Then he was specifically asked about a bonfire.

Blaine burn barrels 2

And he further explained later in the interview that there was supposed to be a bonfire that Thursday but it was cancelled. This is important because Brendan Dassey’s statement about the bonfire was consistent with Blaine’s.

Blaine burn barrels 3

Trial testimony revealed that Blaine was interviewed by investigators again on November 11, November 15 and again on unknown dates. Between his initial interview and his trial testimony, Blaine’s statement about the bonfire changed. (Called by the state, day 12 p 52-107)

Blain burn barrel trial1

Later questioning . . .

Blaine trial 2

 

Blaine admitted during defense cross examination that he did not mention anything about any fires in his initial interview with investigators.

Let’s look at Bobby Dassey’s testimony (beginning on p 33)

Bobby testimony about bonfire

 

later . . .

Bobby testimony about bonfire2

Bobby’s testimony was consistent with what Steven told the investigators in his early interviews – there hadn’t been any bonfires since approximately two weeks prior to 10/31/05.

Scott Tadych: There are three documented interviews of Scott Tadych. Scott was dating Barbara Janda at the time of Halbach’s disappearance.

Interview 1November 10, 2005    No mention of a fire

 

tydach fire 1

Interview 2   November 29, 2005  This time he mentions a fire

Tydach fire2

Interview 3 March 30, 2006 This time the fire is described as “big”

Tydach fire 3

 

Finally, at trial Tadych described a fire with flames “as high as the garage” and he testified that it was the fire that stuck out the most about his day. (beginning p. 122)

Taydach fire 4

Taydach fire 5

Notice how Scott’s statements evolved from no mention of a fire to a fire to a big fire with ten feet flames. Were police pressuring him to provide a statement in support of their theory?

Brendan Dassey was interviewed on November 6, 2005. @11:30 he stated “We were gonna have a bonfire on Thursday . . .” He went on to explain that his mother, Barbara Janda cancelled the bonfire. There was no mention of a bonfire October 31, 2005. In fact, Brendan was the first person to mention a bonfire at all. Did investigators use the information to create a story that there was a “bonfire” on Halloween because it would sound incriminating to a jury?

Brendan was interviewed at his school by Detective Wiegert and Special Agent Fassbender on February 27, 2006. At the very beginning of the interview, the investigators told Brendan that there had been a bonfire. They stated it as if it were a fact confirmed by many when the truth is no one mentioned a bonfire in any initial interviews. They didn’t ask him if there was a fire, they TOLD him. That is not a proper way to conduct an interview.

BD confession 1

Note that the information about burning a seat referenced a fire that occurred weeks before October 31 but by February time had passed and it became easy to convince Brendan that the bonfire occurred on Halloween. Police needed this to support their theory — that the body was burned that night because bones were allegedly found in the burn pit behind the garage. I say allegedly because investigators did nothing to document that the bones were ever in the burn pit. See this article for more information about the bones.

It seems that by the time of Brendan’s arrest everyone had accepted as fact that there was a bonfire in the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s garage on October 31, 2005. During the Making a Murderer documentary, a phone conversation has Steven discussing it with Barbara.

“That night he (Brendan) came over, we had the bonfire and he was home by 9:00 because Jodie called me at 9:00 and I was in the house already.”

I believe even Steven became convinced that they were burning things on the 31st because everyone accepted it as fact, but it’s much more likely that the most recent fire occurred weeks earlier as told by Steven, Brendan and Blaine in initial interviews – when their memories would have been most reliable.

If we consider the possibility that there was no bonfire on Halloween, we can also consider the likelihood that there was never a body or phone and camera parts burned on that property. The remains were in a condition consistent with a cremation. No crowns of the teeth remained; only root fragments (link). The condition of the bones combined with the fact that the collection wasn’t documented with a single photo and the indications that there was no bonfire on 10/31 means that we must consider that not only was the key, the blood and the bullet planted — so were the bones, and there is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support this claim.