'Making a Murderer': Nancy Grace Details Why Steven Avery is Guilty (Q&A)

nancy grace and steven avery Split - H 2016
Getty Images; Courtesy of Netflix

nancy grace and steven avery Split - H 2016

The HLN host says the filmmakers behaved irresponsibly as their hit series neglects key evidence proving Avery and his nephew raped and killed Teresa Halbach.

[Warning: This interview contains graphic details from Netflix's Making a Murderer and the Steven Avery case.]

Count HLN host Nancy Grace among those who think Steven Avery — the subject of Netflix's smash-hit docuseries Making a Murderer — is guilty of murdering 25-year-old Teresa Halbach, whose charred remains were found on his Wisconsin auto salvage property in 2005. Avery, who had previously served 18 years for a rape he did not commit, is currently serving life without the possibility of parole, as is his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who at age 16 admitted to being an accessory to the crime in what many viewers consider to be a coerced confession.

Grace has been covering the case since the murder investigation, having interviewed Avery on her show while the search for Halbach was still underway. (As she reveals in this interview, it was that conversation that tipped her off to Avery's guilt.) Grace recently devoted an hour to the topic, sharing a startling sit-down with Jodi Stachowski, who is portrayed in the series as Avery's devoted fiancee. But Stachowski now says she was coerced by Avery into maintaining his innocence on camera and that he is in fact a "monster" who she is certain is guilty. Also mentioned in the broadcast were portions of a detailed Dassey confession that did not make it into the series, a full transcript of which Grace shared with The Hollywood Reporter

Here now is THR's conversation with Grace about the case that has riveted the country. 

You appear in Making a Murderer. You covered the case early on, and one of the things you latched on to were letters Avery had sent the mother of his children while wrongfully imprisoned for rape — letters in which he writes things like, “I hate you, you got your divorce now you will pay for it,” and “If you don’t brang up my kids I will kill you. I promis. Ha. Ha. [sic]” What about those letters suggested to you that Avery was capable of the crimes for which he'd later be found guilty?

I’m going to talk about another letter first. I saw this letter, it was produced by his fiancee, Jodi Stachowski, and in it he is threatening her from behind bars. He’s telling her if she does not give him money that he will frame her for drunk driving. On other occasions she said — and I found her to be believable having worked with so many domestic violence victims — that if she did not make him look good to the Netflix documentarians, well, it was basically, “Do it, or else.” I’ve met women who would practically do anything rather than take another beating. It really struck me that she chose to eat rat poison just so she could get away from him and go to the hospital.

How did you get this interview with her?

When we first started covering the case, I had contacted so many people and we ended up getting to speak to her. She’s taking a lot of heat now, and I understand that because it’s easily argued that, well, when is she lying, then or now? However, having dealt with so many domestic violence victims, I don’t find it unusual that she chose to lie for him. Not at all.

And so nothing she told you in yesterday’s interview surprised you at all?

No. Not at all.

Before you had this information, what made you so confident of his guilt?

I hope you’re sitting down because this might take a while. Let me start with the most compelling evidence, which is the DNA evidence, mixed with the logistics, the timeline and common sense.

Starting at the beginning, Steven Avery was wrongfully convicted of rape. Why was he in the photo lineup to start with? Just before the victim was raped, Steven Avery had either rammed into a woman or run her off the road in his car and then pulled a gun on her. She happened to be married or related to a sheriff’s deputy. Another relative, a young female relative, had claimed that Avery molested her. The police knew this. When the rape victim gave her description and it sounded like Avery, who was on their minds because of the other incidents, they put him in the photo array — which is totally constitutional. She picked him out. It was not a plant by police — he was in the lineup with four or five other guys. This was in the late ‘80s, when you had to go on blood evidence, witness ID and corroboration. He was wrongfully convicted.

Now we fast-forward to this. He’s out two years. The DNA evidence is as such: His blood is found in six locations in her vehicle. Her DNA is on a bullet fragment in his garage. That bullet is without a doubt fired from his weapon which is hanging from a wall in his bedroom. Ballistics are like a fingerprint. Only one gun makes particular markings on a bullet as it hurtles down the barrel. It was from his gun and it had her DNA on it. It would be a very difficult thing for police to do to put her DNA on a bullet fragment that can only be identified under a microscope, in his garage.

Also very, very compelling is sweat DNA [found under the hood of his car that was not mentioned in the series]. Why is that compelling to me? Have you ever heard of a warrant for someone’s sweat? No. Because it doesn’t exist. You cannot extricate sweat from a human pursuant to a warrant. Blood, yes? I’ve done it a million times to get DNA. Hair? Yes. Pubic hair? Yes. Photographs of a naked body? Yes. Fingerprints? Yes. Walking sample? Yes! Writing sample? Yes! Speech? Yes! Sweat? No.

[Former Avery defense attorney] Dean Strang says there’s no such thing as sweat DNA — that you could never determine whether or not sweat is the source of someone’s DNA.

According to the trial lawyers, sweat was under the hood of Teresa Halbach’s car and it was his sweat. And there’s more. The day that Teresa goes missing she had been working for Autotrader. She had previously been to the Avery auto salvage lot on four or five occasions. She stated she did not want to go back [because] Avery creeped her out when he answered the door in a towel. They talked her into going back. That was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. She was never seen alive again. If we’re talking about a conspiracy then I guess Ma Bell is in on it, because the phone records show that Steven Avery hid his identity through *67 and called her twice to get her over, pretending to be somebody else. Why did he do that? He even tells me on my show that she came over that afternoon.

When did you talk to him?

I guess it was 2005 when we were trying to help find Teresa Halbach. And that’s on camera. He says she came over, but then, that afternoon at 4:35 p.m., he tried to cover his tracks. He does not hide his identity this time. He calls her from his phone and says, “Hey, how come you never came over? Where are ya?” So he’s pretending she didn’t come to throw police off the track. But he tells me on the air that she came!

Now to get to where her car was found on the edge of his property. It was hidden behind limbs and leaves and another car hood and plywood. To get to it, you had to pass by an office of sorts where he is. So how did somebody get her car after she left, plant his blood in it, plant his sweat under the hood and leave it in the back of the lot without him seeing them come in? Not only that, but her bones, there’s about 270 bones in the human body, just about every bone including the tiniest one in your pinky, every single one was found in his burn pit. All of them. So she was killed, murdered somewhere else, and all of her bones are burned and transported there? And they didn’t drop one? Also there's her tooth and a rivet of her "Daisy Fuentes blue jeans" that she was wearing the day she goes missing. All of this is found in his burn pit in his backyard.

What about the lack of blood?

What about it?

Well, Making a Murderer puts the question forth that if she was truly raped and stabbed to death in his bedroom, there would be blood evidence on the floors and walls. Same with the garage where she was supposedly shot. Investigators cut up the floor and went deep into cracks and found nothing.

Brendan Dassey’s family saw bleach on his pants that day and he said that there was a bleach cleanup. We know that Avery thought to burn all her clothes and everything to do with her person and hack her body up. The tool used to cut her body up was found in the burn pit along with her. Her camera, her phone, all that was found burned as well. If she were killed on the floor, on a sheet, because he was so thorough in burning everything, he would have burned that too.

He had a deep gash on his finger and his blood, I assume from dismembering her body, was found in his laundry room and around the door frame as well. So the logistics of her being there that afternoon, disappearing and never being seen alive again; her bones being found in his burn pit; her clothes; her tooth; her camera; her car; her DNA on a bullet fired from his gun in the garage. And she is never seen again. That evening, an Avery relative sees Avery sitting at his fire pit watching the fire. So how someone else could catch Teresa Halbach after she leaves sometime after 2:30 p.m., kill her, dismember her, bring her back to the fire pit, hide her car in time for him to be sitting there tending the fire that evening is ludicrous.

And her bones are not just dumped in the fire pit as if she was killed elsewhere, burned and dumped there — and this is critical. Her remains are interwoven with the steel-belt radials of the tires in the fire. That proves that is where they were burned. They were not burned elsewhere and brought there.

And his nephew Brendan Dassey

Brendan Dassey is a Pandora’s box. I spoke with his lawyer [Len Kachinsky], who says he had his defense investigator there at the time of the confession and that he had his cellphone with him and was available to be reached if any issues came up. His family was there. And if you watch the confession, you see him clearly telling about how he came in and Teresa Halbach was already face-down on a bed and she was [bound by] all limbs and he said, "Go have sex with her" and Dassey did. And then Avery killed her and he described it in chilling detail. Now everybody’s saying Dassey wasn’t there, he didn’t do it. Well, his confession jibes with the forensic evidence.

You didn’t find his confession coerced?

Now when you say coerced — and that rolls so easily off the tongue of a journalist, doesn’t it? — but other U.S. Supreme Court rulings [state that] coercion is not “continuing to ask questions.” No one was yelling at him. They didn’t even raise their voices for Pete’s sake. No cursing, no beating, no slapping, no threatening, no tricking. Nothing. They keep asking him questions in a very calm manner, I might add. But where’s the coercion? I don’t buy the whole coercion thing. I watched the videos and, yes, they keep asking him questions over and over. If I were a relative of Teresa Halbach’s, I’d hope that they do keep asking him questions. But even without Dassey, Avery can be convicted stand-alone. It’s overwhelming. 

But doesn’t he deserve to at least have a lawyer present? Kachinsky wasn’t even there.

As I just said, I spoke to his lawyer — who, P.S., is battling leukemia and is getting death threats including, “I hope you die of cancer,” which I guess technically is not a threat. But the police did not grab Dassey and spirit him off in the night. His defense lawyer knew he was there. The defense lawyer sent the defense investigator there. His family knew he was there. [Brendan] never said, “I don’t want to talk to you.”

Do you think he was intellectually capable of saying such a thing to figures of authority?

People have pointed out that he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. And that may be true. Is everybody so conditioned by the media that every [criminal] is like Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can? No! It’s not like that. Cops and defendants are everyday people. Not everybody has a Ph.D. Some people have a high school degree. Some don’t even have that. That does not mean you cannot commit a crime and in this case a heinous crime. [Dassey is now] 25 years old.

You mentioned a confession where Brendan goes through it and it all matches the evidence. What confession is that, because I did not see that on Making a Murderer?

I played portions of it on the air last night. Let me see if I can find it. [She calls her office and has a copy emailed to THR.] It’s during one of his confessions, and remember not all of his confessions came into evidence. Dassey’s confessions did not come in against Avery. But they had taped hours worth of confessions.

Here we go: “Dassey: He went to go pick up some stuff around the yard then after that we, he asked me to come in the house cuz he wanted to show me somethin'. And he showed me that she was laying on the bed, her hands were roped up to the bed and that her legs were cuffed. And then he told me to have sex with her and so I did because I thought I was not gonna get away from 'em cuz he was too strong, so I did what he said and then after that, he untied her and uncuffed her and then he brought her outside and before he went outside, he told me to grab her clothes and her shoes. So we went into the garage and before she went out, when before he took her outside, he had tied up her hands and feet and then was in the garage and he stabbed her and then he told me to.”

This is part of a four-hour confession. “And, after that he wanted to make sure she was dead or somethin' so he shot her five times, and while he was doing that I wasn't looking because I can't watch that stuff. So I was standing by the big door in the garage and then after that, he took her outside and we put her on the fire and we used her clothes to clean up the, some of the blood. And, when we put her in the fire, and her clothes, we were standing right by the garage, to wait for it to get down so we threw some of that stuff on it after it went down.”

As best as I can recall, that particular confession never made it into any of the 10 hours of Making a Murderer.

Correct. I mean he goes on and on.

That's a lot of detail.

I know, and I’ll tell you another thing: A lot of times what you see in the documentary he’s pausing, he’s waiting, he’s looking down — that doesn’t mean he’s stupid. When I have to say I’ve done something wrong or something I wish I hadn’t done, I catch myself looking down. I see defendants do it, I see my children doing it. It’s normal. You feel bad. You’re embarrassed. You don’t want to admit it. I’m not at all surprised that he was looking away and slow to answer. Who wouldn’t be at a time like that?

OK, here’s a little more:

“BRENDAN: [H]e said that he was gonna take her out to the garage and stab her and shoot her.

POLICE: He actually says that to her or does he say that to you or — who's he saying that to?

BRENDAN: To both of us.

POLICE: And what is [Teresa] saying when he tells her that?

BRENDAN: To not do that."

It goes on and on. I mean really, I’ll tell you the truth. (Crying.) I don’t like reading his statement. I don’t like reading it out loud. It makes me feel terrible to think what she went through.

What would you say to the filmmakers, then? Do you feel they behaved irresponsibly in the way they told the story?

Yes, I do. And I do not understand why I and other people that are pointing out the truth are taking so much heat for this. To blame the cops. And, by the way, Avery is now blaming his own blood brothers. He’s also trying to blame Teresa Halbach’s brother for the murders and framing him. "Blame anybody but me." And then there’s the testimony of his cellmates behind bars about how he fantasized about building the perfect torture chamber to torture, rape and murder women. And how the best way to get rid of the body is to burn it. Of course, anybody behind bars is going to be attacked for their credibility. Does that mean they’re lying? No. But when you look at all this evidence, it’s overwhelming. And to mislead viewers and make them think this horrible injustice has taken place is wrong.

One thing does hearten me and that is that people care. They care that somebody is wrongfully convicted in their eyes. They want to set it right. They want the right thing. I understand where people are coming from — but they have made their decision based on this documentary. And that is not right.

You’ve gone out on a limb on a lot of cases. Are you taking more heat on this one than other ones?

(Laughs.) Gee, that’s kind of hard to compare. What’s hotter: a white flame or a blue flame? I don’t know. They both burn, let me put it like that. Yes, it’s hurtful. Of course it’s hurtful. I’m not a robot. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t have any skin in the game. My deal with HLN doesn’t have anything to do with ratings. I don’t think that’s right for what I do. I’m not going to get a big bump in pay or raise or a promotion if I get 5,000 more viewers. My paycheck remains the same if I get a ton of viewers or very few viewers on a night. The reason I am speaking out is that I have been on the Halbach case since the get-go, when it was just a missing person. And I remember talking to Steven Avery about where she was. And I can remember the moment. I knew right then that he was lying. And if he was lying, then he killed her.

What was it that he said that tipped you off?

It was very simple. Him lying about her car being on the property. He was trying to explain that the car had gotten there and he never noticed. To buy the theory that the cops did this, you would have to believe that they knew that he called Teresa over that day; that they killed her; that they burned her body and planted all this evidence. It’s inconceivable. It cannot all be explained away. Why? Because it’s the not the truth.

If you had Steven and Brendan back on your show now, what would you tell them?

I know that they would lie. So frankly, having them on, other than for the pure prurient sensationalism of having them on and questioning them, I don’t know that they would ever tell the truth about anything. But if I did have them on I would like them to go through the timeline to prove once and for all what “really happened that day.” Because Steven Avery never took the stand. He knew he could not endure cross-examination so he never took the stand. So what supposedly happened when Teresa Halbach left? How could someone get on his property to plant all this evidence? Did he enlist the phone company to make up the fact that he hid his ID to lure her over? And why would he call her to say, “Hey, you never showed up?” What innocent reason could excuse that nefarious behavior? Why would he be covering his tracks if he had not killed her? Why would Dassey give a statement like that? No one was beating him, threatening him, disallowing him to leave. Nothing like that. He even implicated himself. Steven Avery killed Teresa Halbach. It’s just that simple.

Assuming then that Steven Avery is inherently bad, what does that make Brendan Dassey?

I think that when you choose to stand by when a murder and rape and torture takes place, then you’re just as bad. Standing by while this evil plays out is wrong. I’m not labeling anybody good or bad. I’m not here to make a moral judgment. I’m here to speak what I believe is the truth, and this is the truth.