Advances in the science of DNA have benefited the world in a lot of ways. Like television, for example! Just where in the hell would we be as a society if entertainment options like Forensic Files and The Nightmare Next Door didn't exist? We talk about a few picks for the best true crime show of all time on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
It hasn't just been murder shows reaping the rewards of DNA testing. All around the country, men and women who'd been locked up for crimes they didn't commit have been exonerated after DNA evidence proved their innocence. That's a good thing, and that's almost always where the story ends. Almost.
In some cases, though, getting released from prison after years of wrongful incarceration is just the beginning of the story. For example ...
Steven Avery spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. Sad, right? Well, I promise your sympathy will be short lived. Let's power on, though.
In time, as has been the case for so many other "lucky" souls, DNA evidence tied the crime to another man. Avery was convicted on the basis of a witness identification and nothing else. As it turned out, he somewhat resembled the actual perpetrator. Sure, he delivered a whopping 16 alibi witnesses who were able to place him too far away from the scene to have possibly committed the crime, but that still wasn't enough to convince a jury of his innocence.
Remember, they're just average, everyday shitheads like the rest of us.
They deliberated for less than five hours before sending him to prison.
Almost two decades later, the Wisconsin Innocence Project picked up Avery's case and requested that DNA evidence that was present at the scene be tested by the courts. Sure enough, Steven Avery was cleared.
His case was so influential that on Oct. 31, 2005, lawmakers introduced "The Avery Act," a bill intended to prevent wrongful convictions like his from happening in the future.
The Insane Twist
On the exact same day the Avery Act was introduced, a photographer named Teresa Halbach was scheduled to meet with Steven Avery at a salvage yard he owned to take pictures of a minivan for Auto Trader Magazine, which she did freelance work for. She kept that appointment, and was never seen alive again.
The details of what's alleged to have happened during that ill-fated visit are too heinous to relay here, but on Nov. 11, 2005, Steven Avery was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach. His nephew was also implicated and charged in the crime. On March 18, 2007, Avery was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the crime.
Except for real this time.
It's tempting to assume that something about being an innocent man forced to spend years in prison might have had a role in turning Steven Avery into what he eventually became, and, sure enough, there will be some stories that read exactly that way on the rest of this list. That's probably not the case with Avery, though.
He'd been in trouble from the age of 18, when he was convicted of burglarizing a bar and spent 10 months in jail. There are certainly worse crimes you can commit, like ramming your female cousin's car, forcing her to pull over and putting a gun to her head, which he also did.
A few years prior, another relative admitted that he helped as Avery took his own pet cat, doused it in oil and gas and tossed it onto a bonfire so they could watch it burn to death.
JoSon/Blend Images/Getty Images
And you wonder why cats don't like to be carried.
That's serial killer shit, unjust incarceration or otherwise. Don't get me wrong, it certainly can't have helped much (aside from the part where it kept him from killing women and pets for 18 years), but prison didn't turn Steven Avery into a bad guy. He was already that way before the prison system really got a hold of him.
For what it's worth, the "Avery Act" was later renamed out of respect for the Halbach family.
Chicago Sun Times
Thaddeus Jimenez, for all intents and purposes, never had a chance. By the time of the crime that got him wrongly incarcerated, he'd already been arrested 22 times. He was also just 13 years old. That's not a promising start, but turning things around definitely isn't out of the question when you still aren't even old enough to drive. That turnaround is unlikely to happen in prison, though, and that, unfortunately, is where Thaddeus Jimenez spent most of his formative years.
In 1993, at the age of 13, he was convicted of murder in a gang shooting that he wasn't responsible for.
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Unfortunate stock photo alert!
A friend who held a grudge fingered him as the person who pulled the trigger, and the accusation stuck until 2009, when the conviction was finally overturned.
If there's a bright side to the story, it's that in 2012 a jury awarded Jimenez $25 million in damages from the state of Illinois. It was the largest award ever given for wrongful imprisonment at the time.
The Insane Twist
Unfortunately, money can't fix a lifetime of being raised in the harshest conditions imaginable. The reason Thaddeus Jimenez had been arrested so many times by the age of 13 was because, at the age of 11, he became a member of the Simon City Royals, a Chicago street gang.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty
Rap remix of that Lorde song forthcoming, I assume.
That was the gang he was alleged to have been killing for when he was wrongly sent to prison so many years ago. If you think that affiliation was just going to end because he went to prison, you've clearly never seen a single prison movie. By sending him into the system at that age, the state basically guaranteed that what family structure might have remained around him by then had zero chance of actually helping to raise him. Of course, what help they would have been at that point is debatable. His father abused his mother, eventually causing her to leave the family. His older sister went to prison for murdering her husband. In other words, Thaddeus Jimenez was raised with violence.
So, it really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that, despite being the beneficiary of a lottery-like financial windfall, he's been nearly incapable of staying out of trouble, being arrested multiple times since his civil suit was settled. It's even less surprising that he turns up around the 1:18 mark of this video ...
... flashing gang signs and talking about his love for the Simon City Royals. After going to prison at an age when most of us are still nervous about our first day of high school, they're probably the closest thing to a family he's got left.