(Vince Vitrano is currently TODAY's TMJ4's Daybreak Live anchor, but back in 2003, he was a general assignment reporter at the station. He covered several Steven Avery stories, including when Avery was released from prison and when he was arrested again two years later.)
"These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em. Then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.” -- Ellis “Red” Redding, The Shawshank Redemption
Do you think he did it?
Fans of the Netflix series, “Making a Murderer” have been asking me that lately, having noticed I appear in some shots of the viral sensation depicting the extraordinary tale of Steven Avery.
If you’re only reading this to discover my answer to that question, spoiler alert -- I’m not going to say. I have my own opinions about this story having covered it personally, but I don’t think it’s my place as a reporter to announce publicly what I think about any of it.
I will recall what I observed during that time, and the one thing Avery said to me that gave me chills nearly two
years after the fact.
I met Steven the day of his release on Sept. 11, 2003. That apparently is where I pop up early in the first episode of the documentary.
The video segments posted here happened a few months later, on Dec. 22, 2003 when Avery testified about his wrongful conviction before a panel in Madison. He agreed to sit down with me and talk about adjusting to his new life.
As a fan of the prison break film "The Shawshank Redemption," I had one question I couldn’t wait to ask. Here’s a guy who’d been unjustly locked up for nearly two decades. I wondered if after all those years, freedom was as welcome as one might think.
I asked him, “Is it harder being out than you thought it would be?”
“Some days ... some days I think, I might as well go back in there. I wouldn’t have to deal with it no more. I can’t do that,” Avery said.
In fall of 2005, I was truly shocked to hear that Avery was a suspect in the disappearance of Teresa Halbach. I had just been up in Calumet County covering the story. The Halbach family held a vigil, still holding out hope Teresa would be found alive. I was moved by their strength, particularly that of Teresa’s brother, Mike. He was courageous in handling all the media requests and interest in the case.
It honestly never occurred to me that Steven Avery’s comment nearly two years earlier would prove prophetic.
That day in Madison, the newly assembled panel was charged with the duty of helping to prevent wrongful
convictions. They named it the “Avery Task Force.” Three years later, Avery was again sent to prison for a crime he maintains he did not commit.
Honestly, my thoughts lately have been more about the Halbach family than Steven Avery. People clearly have differing opinions about the innocence or guilt of Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey.
What no one can dispute is that something horrible happened to Teresa Halbach, and reliving this nightmare must surely be a challenge for all those who loved her.