The Innocent Killer
By Michael Griesbach
Reviewed by David Mandell
The quiet town of Manitowok, Wisconsin, is an unlikely setting for one of the most bizarre legal battles ever seen. In The Innocent Killer, prosecutor Michael Griesbach recounts the tale of how a wrongful conviction obtained by his office lead to an innocent man serving 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit. The Innocent Killer, however, is no redemption tale. It begins and ends in tragedy.
The story begins on a summer day in 1985 as a young mother, Peggy Berntsen, jogged around a pristine lake. On the return leg of her run, she was grabbed and brutally attacked. Quick thinking allowed her to escape bruised but lucky to be alive. When she reported the crime, the sheriff and district attorney quickly named a suspect, a local man named Steve Avery, whose strange habits and brushes with the law made him an easy target.
Griesbach details how a prosecution can go wrong and spin out of control. Despite numerous witnesses who testified to Avery's whereabouts, neither the sheriff nor district attorney would yield. Photographs shown to the victim violated standard identification techniques as did a purported sketch of the suspect. Despite a tenacious effort by his attorney, Avery was convicted and sent into the penal system. While everyone moved on, Avery began a series of futile appeals.
As Avery languished in prison, DNA science developed. Avery was able to get the old evidence tested and the results proved his innocence. DNA matched another inmate. Griesbach, who was not involved in the original prosecution, retrieved the prosecution file and found references to the person whose DNA was found to be a match. None of it had been shared with Avery's lawyers. Griesbach's office arranged Avery's release...