A detective who says he was defamed by the Netflix show Making a Murderer is suing its creators.
Andrew Colborn, a former Manitowoc County sheriff’s detective, filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin on Monday against Netflix and the series’ executive producers as well as its directors, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.
Colborn alleges the show made it appear law enforcement planted evidence to frame Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who are both serving life sentences for the murder of advertising photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005.
The full text of the suit says that “significant aspects” of Making a Murderer are “not true as represented and are, instead, false and defamatory” toward Colborn, who, it argues, is not a public official as that term is defined in defamation law.
“Despite overwhelming evidence proving Avery and Dassey’s guilt and the utter absence of evidence supporting defendant’s accusations of police misconduct, defendants falsely led viewers to the inescapable conclusion that plaintiff and others planted evidence to frame Avery for Halbach’s murder,” the suit alleges.
Making a Murderer debuted on Netflix in 2015, with a follow-up series being released this year. Avery lawyer Kathleen Zellner recently issued an update on the case, saying that she was filing a 22,000-page document she hopes will exonerate him.
The former sheriff's suit takes issue with suggestions on the show that police may have planted Halbach’s SUV at the Avery salvage yard, or left traces of Avery’s blood in the vehicle. There were suggestions that an old vial of his blood had been used to contaminate the crime scene—the sample had been taken during a 1985 case when he was falsely convicted of raping a woman who was jogging along the shore of Lake Michigan. In 2003, Avery’s conviction was overturned after DNA testing by the Wisconsin Innocence Project proved his innocence and found a hair from another man, Gregory Allen, who was convicted of the rape. Avery sought $36 million compensation.
In 2005, Avery was arrested for Teresa Halbach’s murder. His Avery Auto Salvage business was the freelance photographer’s last appointment of October 31 (she took photos of cars for AutoTrader). Police later found her car, bones, teeth, and belongings at the site.
Avery pleaded not guilty but was sentenced to life in prison, a conviction which was upheld in a 2011 appeal.
The suit alleges that the show “heavily edited portions of plaintiff’s testimony in order to manipulate viewers to falsely conclude that he and other officers planted Halbach’s SUV at the salvage yard.”
The suit takes on central moments that will be familiar to viewers of the show; for example, the suit says that a hole in a rubber stopper of a vial containing Avery’s blood, which the show used to suggest tampering, was “was made when a specimen of Avery’s blood was drawn by a phlebotomist and stored in the vial in connection with a 1996 post-conviction motion in his wrongful-conviction case.”
The suit says: “Having attended the trial in its entirety, defendants Ricciardi and Demos were aware of the routine nature of the hole on the vial’s rubber stopper and that the phlebotomist who drew the specimen from Avery was prepared to testify.”
Another moment, where a key for Halbach’s SUV is discovered only on a second search of Avery’s trailer, is also raised in the suit, with the suit alleging that viewers were not shown pictures of a “crack” behind a bookcase where cops alleged the key was stashed.
The suit also says the filmmakers downplayed Avery’s criminal past and failed to include significant facts from the trial, like Avery’s DNA being on Halbach’s hood latch, Avery’s changing statements, and a bullet with Halbach’s DNA linked to a firearm hanging on Avery’s wall.
Netflix and the other parties named in the suit have not yet responded.