In the hit documentary “Making A Murderer,” Steven Avery is portrayed as a harmless, simple man whose skirmishes with the law prior to being convicted of a brutal rape and murder are chalked up to youthful idiocy.
The film notes that he was involved in a few burglaries, burned a cat alive, and ran his female cousin off the road in a fit of rage. But for the most part, there’s nothing offered by the filmmakers to suggest he had a history of violence against women.
In a new interview, however, Avery’s ex-fiancee Jodi Stachowski says he was a violent and abusive "monster" who strangled her and threatened to kill her during their two-year relationship.
"He'd beat me all the time, punch me, throw me against the wall," Stachowski told HLN on Wednesday. "He's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
Records from the Manitowoc County sheriff's department obtained by The Huffington Post confirm that police responded to domestic incidents involving Avery and Stachowski, as well as his former wife, Lori.
The documentary "Making A Murderer" follows the story of Steven Avery, who was convicted of raping Penny Beerntsen in 1985. He spent 18 years behind bars before being exonerated by DNA evidence. After release from prison, Avery filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against those responsible for his lost years: Manitowoc County, along with its former sheriff and district attorney.
In 2005, he was arrested in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach, a photographer who was last seen on his property. The documentary suggests that a vindictive and corrupt police department may have framed Avery because of the looming lawsuit.
Stachowski, Avery's former fiancee, appears in the documentary as one of his strongest supporters. Now, she says she was lying in the footage used in "Making A Murderer," and that Avery coerced her into saying positive things about him.
"He told me how to act,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to get hurt."
Stachowski described one incident in which Avery beat her and then strangled her. Police records show that in September of 2004, she reported that Avery pushed her to the floor, hit her and told her he was going to kill her. She then said he strangled her to the point where she lost consciousness. When she woke up, she told police, Avery was dragging her to his car. They were eventually stopped by an officer and Avery was taken into custody.
Police records also document another incident where Stachowski said she received a verbal threat from Avery while she was out of jail on work-release privilege.
There's also evidence that Avery may have abused his former wife, Lori. In a police report from 1983, Avery's sister-in-law told police that Avery "beat up on his wife, and she left home and went to a domestic violence center."
Then in 1984, police responded to a "family trouble" incident at the Avery residence, but Lori declined to give a written statement.
After Avery was imprisoned for the 1985 rape of Penny Beerntsen, Lori reported to police that she received threatening letters in the mail from her husband -- a fact the documentary breezes over quickly.
"Fuck you if you dont brang up my kids I will kill you I promis. Ha Ha (sic)" one reads. Another one says simply: "I will get you."
Of course, even if Avery is guilty of domestic violence, it doesn't mean that he is guilty of murder. But it's a relevant part of the puzzle, as it's not uncommon for men who commit violent crimes to have a history of abuse against intimate partners.
"Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first," wrote activists Pamela Shifman and Salamishah Tillet, who explained the phenomenon in the New York Times. "Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions."
It’s worth noting that strangulation is a known predictor of future homicide, meaning that some men who strangle will go on to kill. As Gael Strack, one of the nation’s leading strangulation experts, told The Huffington Post in a previous story, “The minute you put pressure on someone’s neck, you are really announcing that you are a killer.”
Stachowski said she is speaking out now because she wants people to know the truth. “He is not innocent,” she said.
Avery’s defense attorney, and filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi could not immediately be reached for comment.
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women's health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
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