The documentary series Making a Murderer has captivated audiences around the world and for Ontario forensic scientist Scott Fairgrieve the 2007 trial of Steven Avery is particularly personal: he testified for the defense.
The chair of Forensic Science at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., Fairgrieve was contacted by Jerome Buting and Dean Strang, Avery’s defence team, to review a forensic anthropology report on the site where the charred remains of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach were discovered on Avery’s property.
When he testified in 2007 during the trial, Fairgrieve said he was unaware Making a Murderer was being filmed.
“At the time I had no idea it would be anything like that,” he told Global News. “I was warned by the defence both Jerry Buting and Dean Strang that this was going to be Wisconsin’s trial of the century.”
The 10-part documentary series tells the story of Steven Avery, who had been wrongfully convicted in a 1988 rape case and served 18 years in prison. He was exonerated in 2003 based on newly discovered DNA evidence linking the crime to another man. Avery sued Manitowoc County law officials involved in the case for roughly US$36 million before he and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were convicted in Halbach’s death.
Making a Murderer raises questions whether the trial of Avery and Dassey were handled fairly and suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence. Authorities have vehemently denied the claims and prosecutor Ken Kratz has said evidence was left out of the series.
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Fairgrieve said he was impressed with documentary filmmakers Moira Demos Laura Ricciardi.
“To me it was very impressive and compelling,” he said. “I understand how people get caught up in it, because of the way it is presented.”
“There is no over narration by somebody you might recognize … and as a result I thought it was more powerful that way. It was in the words of the participants at the time.”
Avery’s defense team asked Fairgrieve to examine photographs and reports from the crime scene where Halbach’s remains were discovered. Among one of the questions raised by the defence was whether the body was burned in a pit by Avery’s trailer or whether it was burned at another location and then moved.
“One of my major criticisms is the methods used to document and recover the remains at the scene,” he said. “I think we are all in agreement there was a fire in the pit at some point, however the documentation and the way it was recovered wasn’t done in a systematic fashion where one could make concrete statements whether the body was burned in that location.”
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Fairgrieve, who has testified in court for the Crown in Canada, says the forensic anthropologist in the case made a “leap in logic” in concluding because a majority of Halbach’s remains were found in the fire pit that was the original burn site.
“I have been involved in cases where a body or bodies have been burned in a specific location and then moved by perpetrators to other locations as a disposal site,” he said.
While testifying during the 2007 trial, Fairgrieve got a first-hand account in the difference between the U.S. and Canadian justice systems.
“In Canada I find the system between Crown and defense is much more collegial, it is much more polite,” he said.
The Avery case has led to petitions and protests from those who believe he is innocent. In the latest theory surrounding Making a Muderer, ex-FBI cold-case expert John Cameron said earlier this week he believes Avery was framed by a serial killer.
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