Attorney for subject of Netflix series has a history of freeing the wrongly convicted — and landing them hefty compensation
Steven Avery — the Wisconsin man at the center of the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” — obtained new legal representation on Friday amid growing outcry for his release from prison.
Going forward, Avery — who was convicted of the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach — will be represented by Chicago-area attorney Kathleen Zellner, along with Tricia Bushnell of the Midwest Innocence Project.
Who is Kathleen Zellner, and does Avery stand a chance at exoneration with her as lawyer? TheWrap looked at the Chicago-area attorney’s track record for some answers.
Avery would seem to be in good hands with Zellner, who specializes in wrongful convictions. According to her website, Zellner, who was admitted as a lawyer in 1983, has “righted more wrongful convictions than any private attorney in America.”
She was also lauded as Person of the Year in 2014 by Chicago Lawyer, which called her a “standard bearer among civil rights attorneys and has long been known as a fierce courtroom advocate — armed with a recorder-like memory, trial techniques that include videotaped re-enactments of crime scenes and, perhaps most crucially for her clients, an ability to elicit the truth from co-defendants or witnesses who have previously lied about innocent defendants’ involvement in crimes in order to save themselves.”
Judging by Zellner’s record, she also has a knack for securing pretty hefty paydays for her wrongfully imprisoned clients, too.
Read below for a selection of wrongfully convicted clients for whom Zellner has obtained justice.
Ryan Ferguson. The subject of the documentary “dream/killer,” Ferguson spent nearly 10 years in prison for the 2005 murder of sports editor Kent Heitholt, despite a lack of evidence linking Ferguson to the crime.
Kevin Fox. Accused of murdering his young daughter Riley, Fox was exonerated by DNA evidence after eight months of incarceration, and was awarded $15.5 million by a federal jury in 2007, though damages were later reduced to $8 million.
Ray Spencer. A former police officer in Washington state, Spencer was convicted of sexually abusing his children in 1985 and spent nearly 20 years behind bars. Zellner secured a $9 million award for Spencer after a jury determined that a detective had “deliberately fabricated” evidence in the case.
Jerry Hobbs. Texas resident Hobbs sat in jail for five years while awaiting trial for allegedly raping and killing his daughter and his friend. DNA evidence pointed to a convicted killer living in the area where the murders took place, and Hobbs received a $7.75 million settlement.
Joseph Burrows. Burrows was sent to death row for the murder of retired farmer William Dulan, despite multiple witnesses stating that he was 60 miles away from the scene of the crime. Burrows was freed after Zellner and another attorney uncovered a letter written by Burrows’ alleged accomplice, Gayle Potter, asking a friend to provide false testimony. In light of the new evidence, Potter confessed to falsely accusing Burrows.