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Reasonable Doubt

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Abandoned sneaker on a beach (phunkstarr/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Update: Watched "Making a Murderer" and pining for an update to our Reasonable Doubt segment? Producer Pat Walters sat down with the producers of "Making and Murderer" to talk about their show and we have an update for you! (Which you'll hear at the very end of this segment.) 

On July 29th, 1985, a 36-year-old woman named Penny Beerntsen went for a jog on the beach near her home. About a mile into her run, she passed a man in a leather jacket, said hello and kept running. On her way back, he re-appeared. What happened next would cause Penny to question everything she thought she knew about judging people — and, in the end, her ability to be certain of anything.

NOTE: This segment contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault and violence.

Comments [101]

I absolutely agree with caleb.
I am a big fan of radio lab and even donate money monthly but this piece is shockingly badly researched. I mean the whole conclusion of the piece looks like taken out of fox news. the reason I listen to podcasts like radio lab is that I think they are more sensitive than other mainstream media.

This is absolutely not worthy of Radiolab and I hope they do a proper piece on this to redeem themselves and not just a little phonecall tugged to the end of that podcast!

Feb. 06 2016 07:17 PM
Caleb from New York

Looking back at this story, after reading about this case, and seeing Making a Murderer... It is SHOCKING how poorly reported this story is.SHOCKING.

Feb. 03 2016 01:11 PM
Steven Bloskis from Pgh. Pa

Dear Penny a former police detective has written a book about a serial killer "It's me Ed Edwards" and states that not only is Ed Edward the Zodiac killer but also set up Steve Avery. Ed Edwards was a master mind in setting up innocent people. In this case he framed both the police and Avery
Everyone else I would like to ask what is the relation to Paul Avery and Steve Avery. Paul was the journalist who was writing and doing his own detective work in the zodiac killings and had a mental break down. Did perhaps the Zodiac killer seek out Avery in revenge ?

Jan. 30 2016 04:00 PM
Faith Currant from Los Angeles, CA

“He’d been arrested for small time stuff. Burglary, cruelty to animals...”

These two crimes are not equivalent. Burglary may be "small time" (although probably not to the victims), but being cruel to living, sentient creatures is not "small time stuff" and it's sad that Radiolab seems to think otherwise.

Jan. 14 2016 09:06 PM
antv from Atlanta, GA

What's interesting to note from the string of comments here is that everyone is wrong. post 2013 comments are all shocked reactions that radiolab could get the story so wrong -- this outrage stems from not understanding that this episode is a few years old-- and of course there are the comments from the original airing, where people are blaming Steve Avery and saying Penny was right all along.

Jan. 13 2016 07:01 PM
Cat from CA

The case should be retried again. And I think some independent investigation should be done. I believe the investigation officers involved in the case before should be treated as suspects here as well and should be not be allowed to touch this case again.
I don't think Penny should be blamed for anything. She was a victim or a horrible crime herself and she made a understandable mistake that people in her position do very often actually and unfortunately. But I don't think we can treat the police officers as if they can't commit a crime. They are the people that have a motive for the false accusations here. Steven did not have any motive. The kid's confession is out. It was not an interrogation it was a witch hunt. He obviously was trying to guess what they want from him. The forensic analysis also is very murky in this case. No blood neither in bedroom nor in garage. Watching that I actually believe that the system is wrong and we maybe have much more innocent people in prisons than we think. I think that only the following measures could improve the situation:
1) the forensic labs should be independent from a police department and especially from a prosecutor. Probably, the forensic experts should not even know the case details so it will not influence the results. The result of work of the lab should be judged by the accuracy of the analysis and not by the number of solved cases. They also should do the test for defense as well. They should be basically the third party that is not interested in any side.
2) interrogation procedure should be revised completely. Detective should not be allowed to express any opinion, does he trust the suspect or doesn't. Detective should interview the suspect, get the facts that suspect told and compare it to the other facts. He could ask suspect to explain discrepancy, but there should be no judgmental statements like "I don't trust you", "you are lying"... Detective should collect the statements and work with statements. We interrogator that collaborated with the kid's defense attorney should not be allowed to get even near the case. He sounded like a witch hunter. If I would be on a jury, these interview alone would make me reject the guilty verdict.
3) Plea bargain should be illegal. All the party of the plea bargain are not interested in the truth, they are interested just to close the case.

Jan. 13 2016 05:45 PM
Jim in Omaha from Omaha

Something that doesn't sit right with me is that the same prosecutor told two different stories in the two trials. In one trial the murder happened in the bedroom (no blood found) and in the other trial the murder happened in the garage (again no blood found).

Then there is the vehicle abandoned next to a crusher and never crushed. No blood found anywhere but in the back of the vehicle which makes it seem she was killed somewhere else and brought to the property in the back of the vehicle (but that version doesn't fit to the governments timeline).

Someone tampering with her voice mail messages after she was killed which neither of them had the password for. A mentally challenged child coerced into a confession.

A man about to receive a massive settlement from the government with no reason at all to kill her etc. etc.

Jan. 13 2016 10:20 AM

I watched the series, I've listened to your pod cast and am still shaking my head the either Steven or Brandon were convicted. Eliminate the coercion interview of Brandon, eliminate the planted evidence in the trailer and garage, what's missing is the blood or residual DNA from Teresa's blood in either location! I cut myself cooking dinner and bleed like a stuck pig and they can't find any blood or DNA in the bedroom where they said she was stabbed and had her throat cut? Or later where they said she was killed in the garage and was shot? I think the prosecution and citizens of that county and neighbouring counties need to watch a CSI marathon! Unbelievable miscarriage of Justice...

Jan. 13 2016 12:10 AM
dan collison from three oaks, michigan

dear producer,

you really need to watch the coerced interrogation of brendan dassey, the unethical interview by his public defender's 'investigator' which set dassey up to provide key evidence that was used to convict him and steven avery.

your 'reporting' was terribly irresponsible.

ps: why does almost everyone on your show sound like ira glass? it's creepy.

Jan. 12 2016 09:59 PM
Tod from Cumberland, MD

Another vote for an update here. After re-listening to this podcast (I heard it when it originally was available, but had since forgotten and even after watching the documentary hadn't made the connection,) one of the things that strikes me is the irony of all of this. Penny, and by extension the show's producers, are saying how this all goes to show that though we may feel certain about things, we have to acknowledge that that certainly may lay on shaky ground. It's ironic that, given that lesson that they were trying to teach, the producers didn't, themselves, question this man's guilt. With all of the talk about how this is so terribly unusual that a guy would be released from jail after being found innocent and then do something heinous, it's surprising to me that they didn't dig into that a little further.

It's understandable that there's only so much money to spend on a story, and so much time to put into it, but I'm still a little surprised someone on the staff didn't see any red flags that maybe all was STILL not as it seemed, that indeed the lesson they are conveying IS a powerful one, and that maybe this final truth, too, wasn't the truth after all.

Jan. 12 2016 04:03 PM
Suzanne Watson from England

The fact is Steven or Brendan will probably never get out as the compensation for wrong imprisonment not only once in Stevens case but twice would be way to high for the state to cope with. Has no one ever thought that is why they are simply blocking every channel they can so they are never found innocent ? Whilst behind bars the corrupt county NEVER has to pay out ! Innocent all the way from day one. Brendan was mearly picked on to collaborate a fabricated story made up by the police and make it stick '! DNA evidence that is cross contaminated is inadmissible. One serious corrupt county & police force !

Jan. 12 2016 03:52 PM
JRS from Keller, TX

So my two sons turn my wife and me on to "Making a Murderer" and it became a binge watch over this past weekend…now, I can't get the entire ordeal(s) off my mind! This is the FIRST time I've listened to Radiolab, and I will listen again. Hopefully, WHEN you do an episode on the current status of Stephen Avery.
I was impressed by your production along with the thoughts and feelings of Penny. Now, due to my concern over how Stephen was treated and the proceedings during his murder trial, I hope there will be an additional episode(s) on how Stephen can be helped since the Netflix documentary aired? Not to mention the totally inappropriate treatment of his nephew Brendan!!! Needless to say this story is both gripping and compelling, and one that I hope, through appeal, can be followed to a more JUST and legitimate outcome. We are praying for you Stephen and Brendan! God Bless.

Jan. 12 2016 03:27 PM
John

This just goes to show that Radiolab does not bring the full story for everything. Making a Murderer has taught us that. I feel like the producer of this show never even watched the "confession" by Brendan Dassey.

Jan. 12 2016 11:22 AM
Cory Colorado from USA

Mrs. Beernsten,
Maybe some of this emotion could be tied to the fact that you thought you were safe from your attacker for all those years, when really he was still out committing terrible acts to others. That to me is so terrifying to think that you had gone through the attack only to find out that you and your family were STILL at risk from Allen.
Stay Well-

Jan. 11 2016 08:34 PM
Heather from USA

Two things-
Bobby and Scott could have called using the*67 feature to check the time as to when Theresa was set to arrive without Steve knowing it. It is possible. I would like to see the phone records to make sure the way the phone lines were set up on that property. There are several residences on that site. Do they all have separate land lines?
Also, Bobby and Scott could have asked Theresa, " hey we have a car out back that we need picture of follow us back there. This may explain why Steven notices Bobby's car is not there after she left. They then do the unspeakable and use the gravel pit to start the fire. They then collect whatever remnants and bring them back over to Stevens burn pit in Barbs burn barrel.
On Redditt there is a link where you can access the WI state database on all crimes filed against a person. It is interesting to look at Scott and oddly enough Bryan Tadychs conviction records.

Jan. 11 2016 08:26 PM
rebecca from California

First of all, I feel compassion for Penny and the Halbock family and all the pain and suffering they have gone through. I am glad that Penny was able to speak on Radiolab and seek forgiveness for the wrongful conviction of Steven Avery. What I don't understand is how a jury could find Steven guilty for Teresa Halbocks murder and how so many people intelligent people in his county and state can believe him to be guilty. It is ridiculous that a jury found him guilty when only Stevens DNA was found on the key and non of Teresa's. That key was sanitized clean then smeared with Averys DNA then planted. The RAV4 was sitting on his property and not crushed......if he was guilty he would have crushed it!!!!!!!!!! Also, his nephew was coerced into a false confession that the jury took as truth. But where is all on Teresa's blood in the bedroom and garage???????!!!!!!! Her only blood was found on a bullet, obviously planted by the police department. He was suing the county police department for millions, of coarse they wanted to frame him.
Another point I want to make that NOBODY HAS MEANTIONED YET, is that Steven lived on a family property with his parents, his sister , nephew and many others. If he committed this horrible murder, all the family members on the property would have heard gun shots, screaming and most importantly, they would has SMELLED the powerful smell of Teresa's body burning. That terrible smell would have been smelled anywhere within a quarter mile radies. Everyone on that property would have noticed and probably looked around and found her body burning. i strongly believe that someone, NOT Avery, burned her body in a different location, possible the gravel pit where some of her remains were found a long distance away, then her remains were hauled in the burn barrel and poured I the firepit on the Avery property.
I am shocked and saddened that the jury, residents of Wisconsin, and Radiolab cannot use logic and common sense to see that Steven Avery and Brenden Dassey are innocent of the torture and murder of Teresa Halbock and are falsely imprisoned.
Rebecca from Sonoma County, CA

Jan. 11 2016 06:23 PM
KatrinaR from Wisconsin

I was really disappointed with this podcast. It seems as if the same old topics are covered, nothing new - nothing to change minds or provide rationale for Steven Avery's guilt in the Halbach murder. Why rely on Brendan's coerced confession? I am blown away that this seemed to carry weight.

I really think Steven and Brendan both deserve a new trial - with a fair and impartial jury. TYhe bottom line fact of the matter is that there is more compelling evidence in the police misconduct than Steven and Brendan's guilt.

Jan. 11 2016 04:05 PM

I saw Nancy Grace last night assert Steven's guilt (over and over and over again). The one piece of evidence that bothered me was that Steven had called Halbach's phone twice that afternoon and hit *67 before calling the number. This would have blocked out the caller's name on caller ID, and then later he called her without using *67 allegedly to have an alibi. Does anyone else know about this evidence? Otherwise, there is so much questionable evidence in this case, it is hard to understand how any jury could convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jan. 11 2016 03:39 PM

I'm more than a bit disheartened about this episode of Radiolab. From the beginning of the Netflix documentary, I felt the issue wasn't about the guilt/innocence of Avery, rather it was about our justice system. Is it possible for someone from the "other side of the tracks", not well-educated, not popular in a community, lower income, to have a fair and impartial trial? That in both cases, no other suspects were considered because the powers that be wanted Avery to be guilty both times. I was left with a powerful feeling of "how many times does this happen in our country, when there aren't talented documentarians to shine the light on our justice system failures?" I feel Radiolab went along with the presumed guilty until proven innocent. I have loved your podcasts & have donated. I'm afraid I'm now questioning your fair reporting, and further donations as well.

Jan. 11 2016 01:12 AM
Sunnie from Dallas, TX

I've heard several times that we don't have all the facts about Steven Avery. The same people portrayed the Netflix documentary to be one sided. Even though the documentary told his dark past regarding: assault, burglary, and harming the household cat.

I did online research to find some evidence that linked Steven to the murder that was not given in the documentary.I only found one small piece of information that was missing from the documentary. Nancy Grace said that Stevens sweat was found underneath the hood of the Rav4. Congratulations Nancy you've convinced everyone that Steven was giving the Rav4 a tune up before hiding it on his own property! Why would he be under the hood of the Rav4? There was no reason to hotwire it if he had the keys in his bedroom. If you ask me, this is just another way to try and frame him. So desperate and so stupid.

If anyone has any additional information that would persuade me to believe that Steven committed this crime please come forth and let me know. From what I have researched Netflix did a wonderful job of telling the truth and not leaving anything out.

Jan. 11 2016 12:49 AM
Cheryl from Canada

It is hard to believe that Steve or Brendan committed this crime as the police say it went down. If I understand it correctly, he (Steve) was smart enough to clean up all her DNA from the bedroom, as well as the garage. Leaving only his own DNA. With the same brush, he leaves the SUV on his property (easily could have crushed it), and left her bones 20 feet outside his home. Doesn't sound like the same guy to me. The one credible witness, the bus driver, has Teresa taking pictures of the van at 3:30 to 3:40 PM. Now if you believe Scott and Bobbie. Bobbie states when he leaves 2:45-3:15 she is entering his trailer. At worse she did, and apparently left unhurt and took her pictures. I believe as well that she was burned at the gravel pit and then placed in the burn barrel and brought down and placed in the firepit. She was clearly in the back of her truck bleeding. Now Steve may have done this, but not the way they offered in court. But I tend to lean towards someone framing Steve with the crime. Police, Scott, brothers, ex boy friend. Long list. But I do not believe it happened the way the police said it did, and I do believe they planted evidence to put her in the trailer and garage

Jan. 11 2016 12:47 AM
Ed from UK

I feel bad for Penny for what happened to her and it is not her fault that the wrong man was convicted. It was the incompetent police who did not do there job properly.

This pod-cast describes the coerced confession of a mentally disabled kid which the jury agreed did not happen and there was no scientific evidence to support this. In fact because there was not a trace of DNA inside the trailer the confession itself should not be considered as valid in anyway.

I have read a lot of posts about this and the majority of people think Steve is innocent. The people of Manitowoc keep saying "but you did not know certain things" or "He is known in the area as being a criminal." If there are bit's that the documentary is missing it would be good to know. I personally think he was convicted because Manitowoc knew him and therefore thought he would be safer behind bars.

The wrongful conviction in 1985 only goes to show that the police should have been more thorough in their investigations as a Rapist was not locked up then. A murderer is out there now and could do it again. The police however had already decided it was Avery as soon as she was missing and before any "evidence" was found. I feel really sorry for Avery and Dassey as they are the victims of corrupt police. Unfortunately the system will never want to admit it because it brings into doubt the integrity of the whole system which they can never allow.

Jan. 10 2016 10:50 PM
HC from Canada

While comments asking for a follow-up based on the Netflix doc series are understandable I think they miss the point of this story by Radiolab. This Radiolab piece did a good job of exploring the painful emotions Penny Beerntsen had to go through during the different stages after the terrible assault that happened to her. At the time of her interview here, we can begin to grasp her bafflement with trying to comprehend Steven Avery's second conviction after she went through the difficult process of realizing he had been wrongly convicted for the crime against her. It is inconceivable that a victim of violent crime would have to go through this process of recontextualizing their experience so many times. Revisiting how she feels now because of the Netflix series doesn't change what she must have been going through when the murder conviction occurred. I also want to commend Penny for taking her experience and making her life's work to try to prevent violence to others by working with convicts.

Jan. 10 2016 10:44 PM
Mike D. from NJ

You will never EVER get another donation out of me Radiolab. good job.

Jan. 10 2016 10:36 PM
John from Manitowoc, Wis

This does nothing to change the "reasonable doubt" that I have in the Avery murder case. Look at the time lines, the police lies told after being deposed and on the record. The 36 million dollars worth of reasons for the planting of evidence. The deletion of voice mail messages by the brother and ex-boyfriend of the murder victim. The fact that nobody other than Avery was investigated. Who in their right mind would kill a woman on their property, burn the body in their front yard, leaving bones everywhere, the park the car in you're junk yard in plain sight, covered by a couple of sticks. Add to that. A police search warrant that had the Avery property sealed by everyone EXCEPT Manitowoc County law enforcement. (That is the longest search warrant in HISTORY) Then on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th search of the bedroom the key to the victims car SUDDENLY jumped off the table, and ran around to the floor beside the table just as Deputy Lenk reached down to pick it up. Yeah right.

Sorry, Radiolab or whatever you claim to be. This woman already established that she has no credibility whatsoever and anything she says now about ANYTHING has to be thrown in the middle of Lake Michigan. She has absolutely NO credibility. What a waste of 25 minutes listening to her self absorbed guilt dribble and thoughts that are no more credible that that of a carnival harker.

Jan. 10 2016 07:58 PM
Bonnie from Henderson NV

Here in lies the problems with our justice system.You can't convict because the hairs on the back of your neck are standing on end.The whole media was convinced he was guilty before the trial even began. Steven and Brendan need a voice too. They are victims as well.I truly hope they find some peace from our so-called justice system. I would love to get their side of the story. What we do know is they found no blood or DNA in the trailer or garage. There is no way she was murdered in the way DA states. The whole story and evidence just don't add up. I'm truly sorry Penny but honestly, I don't believe he did these things. I truly believe he has been falsely accused and convicted again.

Jan. 10 2016 07:24 PM
Oggy

Let us not overlook the fact the judge and prosecutor in The Avery/Beerntsen case also had heard a case a few years earlier where a man had assaulted a woman on the exact same stretch of beach. That man was Gregory Allen so both the judge and prosecutor had seen Allen before and had information that Allen frequented that stretch of beach and that he was dangerous. FYI: they reduced the charge against Allen so he could quickly go back on the street.

Fast forward a few years and they had a nearly identical attack that went much further but happened on the same stretch of beach. Both the same judge and prosecutor never put 2 and 2 together (or ignored simple math) even though they both knew the description of the perpetrator and the crime and the location and the fact Avery had 20+ alibis and no record of this kind of assault and they had personally convicted Allen of the previous attack.

Yes, Beerntsen was brainwashed into her false ID but there were two other people in that court, the judge and prosecutor who had both met the real perpetrator and had all the information they knew to solve that case...and failed.

Or they chose to ignore the facts because their goal was to incarcerate Avery at all costs.

Jan. 10 2016 07:10 PM
Kim from New York

Please do a follow up to this segment.

Jan. 10 2016 01:28 PM
Frances Trotta from silver city Nm

Please,

Do that update...equally as worthy to ponder and probe as the original story. His former accuser has had her doubts justly noted, and for the record she is still a victim of a corrupt justice system. One in which it has been documented, falsely led towards an ID of Steven Avery by the local "law enforcement" officials. Not included in the documentary...and a question that has baffled me...even though inadmissible in court why were not the former boyfriend or brother or Steven Avery subjected to a lie detector? This a question that would make for a rich investigation in a follow up Radiolab program.

Jan. 10 2016 01:11 PM
cynthia

You would think that Penny Beernsten, who cost Steven Avery 18 years of his life would hesitate to even suggest he was involved in another crime. You would be wrong. She now says, she declined to be interviewed for the documentary because she was wary of the filmmakers’ relationship with Avery and his family, explaining, “They were very convinced that he was innocent. I was not convinced.” -Understand, that she had FEWER facts than she had when she sent him away for 18 years when he was a mere 23 years old. She doesn't seem to have any reservation, though, in saying Steven might be guilty of this new crime. - What a terrible person, this Penny Beernsten. At the very least, she should have NO opinion, but one suggesting she thinks Steven is guilty is beyond comprehension.

Jan. 10 2016 02:35 AM
Brooke

Shame On the Radiolab Team. While many details became available only recently, the details of potential corruption existed prior to the original Radiolab podcast of this story. You left us to believe this was simply a mistaken eye witness situation that then had a horrible end. I, unfortunately, say fail to you all. You put a very clear end stamp on a story that had not ended nor was clear. Poor journalism on your part.

Jan. 09 2016 09:58 PM
Patrick Legendre from Montreal

More than a reasonable doubt

Please update this podcast or add a note about the new developments regarding Steven Avery conviction.

For now, I will do it for you.

Making a Murderer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34M2zdLc-2U

Jan. 09 2016 09:31 PM

Great show as always. Penny has been brave and honestly introspective about herself even after being violated, bravo to her for having the grace to share her vulnerability. It would be interesting to see to study further whether or not eye witness testimony should be admitted due to the phenomena she experienced, and with dna technology, is it needed since we know it can go so wrong?

The people of Radiolab would truly put out an unbiased story and we would love to hear your opinion based science in this newer case sensationalized in today's news.

Jan. 09 2016 05:15 PM
Handy Barker from Roseburg, OR

Like everyone else, I thought: "Didn't I hear this on Radiolab?" You should know from this faithful listener for about seven years that your approach is so much more wise, broad-minded, and human. The TV show is like live-action Law and Order--the little sound cue should pop up to prove it: plink!--and especially the victim's humble turnaround and redemption at the end of your story.

They'll get the headlines, but you got the real deep ground of the story. As usual.

BTW, the Rhino story got me so upset but thoughtful, it might be my fave show of yours ever. After "Ooops." Because my dad--recently passed--was a forester of 50 years and the guy who cut down the world's oldest tree and the snow geese are just phenomenal.

You're my favorite podcast EVER

Jan. 08 2016 03:31 PM
James Duncan

Not that I am counting, but Penny Beerntsen has now thought Steven Avery guilty of two rapes he did not commit.

Have you seen the irony of your title "Reasonable Doubt?" Well done.

Jan. 08 2016 02:27 PM
Chris Hardy from Columbus, GA

I am a middle aged white collar educated professional.
I have been falsely convicted of a dui.
I was in downtown atlanta in the middle of the night at a convenience store smart ass drunk and asked the Georgia State Patrol Officers who were there parked in their cars for directions. A conversation ensued and it was determined by the Trooper I was driving my car. ( which i was not )
He lied on the stand in the case I took to trial even after being offered a reckless driving charge saying he witnessed me driving into the convenience store. Actually someone who resembled me was driving. How can you see what isn"t there?
Anyways in the end I was convicted and sentenced to some short time in Fulton county, ATL jail.
When I "hung with the homies" and casually told my story in the Fulton County Jail they would look at me and laugh, saying, "oh, you didn't know?" That let me know right there what kind of corruption is common place by the authorities in this Judicial System. Like it was no surprise a Georgia State Patrol was lying on the witness stand.
IT STILL SEEMS UNLIKELY TO ME!!! THAT SHOWS THE POWER OF THE FALSE BELIEF WE HAVE IN OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS. THATS WHY STEVEN AVERY WAS CONVICTED.
Where the hell is the FBI?

Jan. 08 2016 01:14 PM
lemonlady from Ottawa, Ontario

Wow Im glad I stumbled upon this episode! After watching the Netflix doc in one sitting this has consumed my brain...and to hear more of Pennys story makes this so much more emotional! I'll be keeping an eye out for the very requested follow up Radiolab :)

Jan. 07 2016 11:38 AM
anna from New York

I'm going to jump on this bandwagon, and ask that radiolab please follow up on this story. I watched the 1st episode of making a murderer last night and very quickly thought - I heard about this case on one of the most interesting radiolab episodes ever. I can even remember where I was when I was listening to it, that's how powerful it was. And yet the story on Netflix is quite different from the story on radiolab. Please explore!

Jan. 06 2016 10:36 AM
Steve from Portland, Oregon

I just watched the first episode of Making a Murderer. Ms. Beerntsen was victimized by the sheriff's department. This was not just an example of the fallibility of memory. She was manipulated. I believe Radiolab left out that before she was shown a photo of Avery, she was shown a sketch based on a photo of him, which she thought was actually based on her description. She deliberately memorized details of her attacker, yet Avery had a different eye color than what she put to memory. Nonetheless, she was led to identify him by suggestion, a process that included excluding Allen.

Jan. 06 2016 03:17 AM
Heidi from Boston, MA

Yes, Penny was deceived. Twice. By Manitowoc County. Please, Radio Lab, do a follow up on this. Interview Penny again and ask her what she thinks now of the situation. So many want to hear from her!

Jan. 05 2016 04:51 PM
Katherine from Chicago

I also urge Radiolab to revisit this story after the release of "Making a Murderer". I greatly enjoy Radiolab podcasts as they evaluate stories from a scientific perspective and give voice to voices that have otherwise been'overlooked'. Seems the Netflix documentary has unearthed several perspectives that have certainly been ignored thus far. Radiolab's take on this would certainly be interesting.

Jan. 03 2016 04:42 PM

Please Revisit this episode in light of this Netflix documentary. I'd like to know if she still feels the way she did when this was recorded a few years ago.

Thanks,

Jan. 01 2016 02:04 PM
Truckee Lynch from Berkeley

I think the Radio Lab team owes its listeners and episode dedicate to errors and omissions. For obvious reasons this story "Reasonable Doubt" needs revisiting. Additionally the fact that a regular contributor Jonah Lehrer was caught for plagiarism has never been addressed on the show. Please do this.

Dec. 31 2015 12:45 AM
rafael from Honolulu

Follow up story....? Have Penny or the husband watched the Doco?

Dec. 30 2015 03:10 PM
Jessica

Such conflicting accounts. Listening to Penny's words after watching the documentary were doubly chilling. Her judge of character is just fine. I'm so sorry she was used as a pawn to destroy Avery's life. Hoping the radiolab producers are going to take a second look at this story.

Dec. 29 2015 06:44 PM

@alex from manitowoc

Why should we question everything in this doc? i understand you're from the county, what was left out of this documentary? it seems to me, if anything, the court case was extremely one sided and hearing the other side isn't bias, it's the complete story

Dec. 29 2015 05:41 PM
Alex from Manitowoc, WI

It is an astounding thing for Mrs. Beernsten to share her side of this story years later. I have heard many perspectives of what has happened, but until now, knew little from her side--what an incredibly strong woman. Also, I just have to say, with all of the publicity the Steven Avery case has been getting lately, and with the various comments on this feed about "Making a Murderer", please do not believe everything you see from the Netflix "documentary." While I do think it exposed some interesting things about the judicial system as a whole (primarily with mental health and his nephew in this case), the film is extremely one-sided. Being from Manitowoc and knowing more to the story than what was portrayed in the film, there is no doubt in my mind that Avery is guilty of murder. While it is a continually fascinating and intricate case, I just ask that you do not jump to conclusions based solely on this film. Thoughts are with the Hallback family as they have to relive this nightmare again.

Dec. 29 2015 01:35 PM
S Tanaka from USA

Now that the Netflix documentary, "Making a Murderer," has been released and makes a pretty compelling case that Avery was set up, this would be a perfect time to revisit this episode. Reasonable doubt, indeed.

I also would like to say I'm incredibly impressed with Penny Beernsten. Not many people have the courage to admit that their initial impressions were wrong, and to then go and seek forgiveness for damage that this mistake might have done. The Manitowoc police department and attorneys involved in this case could learn from your example.

Dec. 26 2015 02:48 AM
Z from San Francisco

We know human beings are capable of designing and executing grizzly murders. But the most troubling thing is to know that those people, veiled in their badges and uniforms, are protected within an impenetrable network of power. The police officers in question held all the cards at all times and could run circles around poor, simple Steven Avery (and all over his house and property). He never had a chance in hell. And his defense attorneys, as good as they were, had one hand tied behind their back the entire time. Just as prosecuting attorney Ken Kratz said in his closing statement, in order to believe the defense's case, you have to believe that police officers killed Jodi. And that is where many people have to draw the line, less they lose all faith in everything they've ever believed to be good and true.

Making a Murderer is a beautifully eloquent cross-section, and it only peeks at a network of systemic abuse and corruption throughout our governing system. The body as a whole is not to blame, except for that it believes itself to be infallible. And by that fact alone makes it frighteningly dangerous.

Dec. 23 2015 06:24 PM
Rich from Chicago

Like others have stated please watch "Making a Murderer" on Netflix and update this story. In this piece it makes it sound like once Steven Avery's nephew confesses that it is basically a fact he committed the rape and murder. Under normal circumstances I would believe this as well, however in the documentary you can see that Brandon Dassey is extremely slow for his age and that his confession was the most coerced confession I've ever seen. He was trying to guess the details of the crime (very poorly) so the police would let him go, and then when he got a detail wrong the police would tell him exactly what happened and he would agree with them. He was also interrogated with out his lawyer or parents present.

I'm not saying Steven Avery was for sure innocent, but by simply blowing off the fact that the police and prosecution bungled the investigation is an injustice to him and poor journalism.

Dec. 22 2015 12:29 PM
NOLA28 from New Orleans, LA

After watching "Making a Murderer" on Netflix, the irony of this episode is almost too much to take.

My heart breaks for Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.

Dec. 21 2015 03:16 PM
Jackie from San Francisco

Wow. I just watched the Netflix series "Making a Murderer", and I'm not surprised in the false judgement by people, or the failings of our judicial system. Penny, I am sorry that this happened to you, but really, how could you have made a mistake like that? You even knew his eye color, and Steven's is different. Why were you going to prisons giving those talks? What would have happened if you gave one of your talks to the real perpetrator? Would you have recognized him them? Do you think that you're trying to save the inmates or make them better? This is an awful thing that happened to you, but what are you thinking? How about investing that energy in neighborhood watch, or women's self-defense, etc? Instead, you let your life be absorbed by this... not only was Steven's life ruined, so was yours.

At the end of the day, you can't talk rationally to people in a town like this. Watching the court case was like watching an extremely intelligent person talking to a wall. It's sad that the police department in Manitowoc are a prime example of schadenfreude (malicious joy in the misfortunes of others). The cops and sheriff in that town are ELATED when they are interviewed about every new horrific "finding" they have, even when it's false, and coerced out of the family.

That poor nephew. There is no evidence to back up his coerced statement. Blood stains anyone? Testing the bed for DNA? The fact that people would hang him, a kid with an extremely low IQ and too passive to speak up for himself and lacks the self-confidence? And without any, real, concrete evidence? I'm a fairly intelligent person, and I think that at that age I might have been suckered into saying those things too. Well, maybe if I was in 4th grade. It was revealed he had a 4th grade reading level. Shame on them.

Anyway, I'm not surprised in the least at the maliciousness of human nature, and the immediate response to blame someone and lash out. One victim looks for another, and really, it could turn a nice person into a mean, hateful one. We have many historical examples of injustice amongst individuals, entire groups, nations, and methods of dealing with it. I'm grateful for each day that I don't get wrongfully accused for murder or sexual assault, because I am certain that the judicial system would not protect me.

Dec. 21 2015 02:51 PM
TMC

This case is now the subject of a much longer, more in-depth, multi-part investigation in "Making a Murderer" (available on Netflix). Will RadioLab be doing an update? It seems that Avery's guilt -- even in the second crime -- is seriously in question (and I did not get that sense from this piece).

Dec. 21 2015 01:43 PM
Anna from WI

Greg, she did not mean to say that he should have been left in there... she said that her mistake, that caused him to go to prison, might have shaped his mind to become a murderer because prison is such a difficult place. Not that if he was left in prison, but if he never went to prison.

Dec. 21 2015 01:19 PM
Greg from St. Louis, MO

Part two of my post cause I couldn't fit in the first one.

I raise only one issue with her the same issue I raise with the producer of this podcast and the interviewer. Penny said she didn't know how could she have made a mistake of such magnitude, she said without a doubt that it was Steven Avery. I would have hoped she learned not to be biased. I heard at the end that oh Steven was charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach. She second guessed herself and said what if he was left in prison for a crime he did not commit, would Theresa be alive today. If you watch Making a Murderer, Netflix documentary I noticed everyone seemed to say what if we left him in there. I can't tell you how disgusted I felt when I witnessed people say say that.

All I can say is that I binge watched this documentary today and I a grown man cried not once, but many times throughout the documentary. I know this podcast focused on what it was like for Steven those 18 years and it felt emotionless to me, if you watch the documentary your heart will go out to him and his family. Penny may have suffered, but I truly believe Steven suffered greater and still does today.

If I sat in that jury box at the trials of Steven Avery for the murder of Theresa Halbach, I swear I would have fought till my last breath for everything I saw in the trial. PS Penny and the journalist/producer seem to me that they were influenced by the opinions and the gruesome details laid out on television by the corrupt department and prosecutors. I say again if I sat on that bench and I witnessed the evidence and testimony that I heard in the documentary I would have fought to my last breath for the life of Steven Avery. I would not have faltered, I would not have compromised and charged Steven. I can't explain this more than that YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS MAKING OF A MURDER.

My heart goes out to Steven Avery and his poor mother and father. God bless them and grant them the courage to continue in life and hopefully grant them their son back. I say this knowing that if everyone saw this in depth documentary and saw the trial and the evidence including Penny herself she would feel the same way I do.

I have never felt such disgust in my life, I am having trouble sleeping tonight. I was up doing searches on Steven Avery, which led me to this podcast. I hope the producer reads this and does a follow up on this story. If anything I hope this documentary helps to free Steven Avery and his Nephew. I witnessed a prejudicial system, and county that has ruined a man's life not once, but twice. I really just want to scream right now and I'm not even Steven Avery or his Nephew. I don't believe in any religion and don't pray to god. Today, I got on my knees and prayed to god for Steven Avery and his family and preyed an injustice like this never happen to anyone. I also hope there is a hell and that the men and women who systematically destroyed this mans life have a place reserved.

Dec. 21 2015 04:01 AM
Greg from St. Louis, Missouri

I was a young kid when all this took place and the first I've heard about this story is through Netflix's Making a Murderer. I am in my late twenties, I have graduated college with an undergrad and am currently pursuing my Graduate degree. I attended three courses throughout my life about Law, Into to law, Business law and Business Law 2. One of my professors was a prosecutor for the state. I remember a student one day said how can someone defend, public defenders and Defense lawyers are the scum of the earth. She halted class at that very moment and stopped the agreement and cheering that has ensued after the students comment. She got really upset and frustrated and made it clear to all of us that, she had more respect for public defenders and Defense lawyers than she did for herownself. She said it takes courage and honor in her opinion to stand up against everyone and defend another human being on trial for his life. She summed up by saying if anyone ever has the privilege to sit in a Jury box one day, to take it seriously. Ignore everything you may have heard and clear your mind no matter how heinous the crime and most importantly ignore everything the media says. Open your mind to only the evidence that is shown to you in the courtroom. She said I know it's hard and not everyone can, but she said sometimes there's only one juror who can uphold their oath.

I learned something that day, that I haven't forgotten, everyone deserves a fair and unbiased trial. It could be you sitting in the defendant's chair and when you get there you'll want someone to objectively look at the evidence.

Like I said, I've only learned about Steven Avery's case after watching the Documentary on Netflix which I felt was fairly unbiased and presented everything in a clear and coherent manner. Now I read online on readit felt that it only showed the defenses side, it actually showed his entire Teresa Halbach trial. The documentary covered Steven Avery's entire life. Both the trials and suffering he endured. I don't watch crime stories or real life dramas about crime. I urge everyone to watch Making a Murderer.

My heart goes out to Penny Beerntsen, I don't understand how monsters can harm any woman and I doubt we'll ever understand. I have never been a victim as Penny has been and have not known a victim like her. My heart goes out for her and I am extremely impressed with what she has done in her life, she has true courage and is a great human being.

I raise only one issue with her the same issue I raise with the producer of this podcast and the interviewer. Penny said she didn't know how could she have made a mistake of such magnitude, she said without a doubt that it was Steven Avery. I would have hoped she learned not to be biased. I heard at the end that oh Steven was charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach. She second guessed herself and said what if he was left in prison for a crime he did not commit, would Theresa be alive today.

Dec. 21 2015 03:37 AM
Robert Beatty from Atlanta, Ga

Netflix is trying to tell you guys to do a follow up episode to this one. And so far they are making a decent case that the latter half of this episode maybe you guys falling into the same trap that lead to the first half. Would love to see you guys look into it and give a second opinion on what the Netflix show 'Making a Murderer' is throwing out there.

I do have to say though, shame on you guys for not presenting the questionable circumstances under which Avery was arrested. This is not to say he's innocent and that the Netflix doc isn't a bit too much of an advocacy piece at times just that it's got a fishy smell and that's probably something you guys should have given more about at the time. Especially considering the nature of the show.

Dec. 18 2015 08:48 PM
DC from Portland, OR

This story is one as well-documented as it is tragic. As a Wisconsin native who also spent memorable time in the sand dunes around Manitowoc, it grabbed my attention years ago. After all the evidence is examined with the utmost care, it seems that Steven Avery may be as innocent a victim as Penny Beerntsen. If so, he is the more egregiously injured.

Although Gregory Allen is the perpetrator in the crime against Penny, what escapes even her is the very likely culpability of law enforcement in the ENTIRE tragedy thanks to their fixation on their persecution of Steven. Steven was railroaded by unscrupulous Manitowoc County law enforcement into false imprisonment. Penny was their unwitting patsy while Steven was the innocent target of their insanely illogical ire. When he was released from prison after exoneration, he again became a target for the criminal element in Wisconsin's justice system. Simply postulated, that rotten element orchestrated and conducted the murder of the unwitting reporter Teresa Halbach in order to silence, once and for all, both she and the man they'd persecuted for two decades and who threatened to litigate a monumentally, and justifiably, large damage settlement from the state.

As atonement, the least Penny Beerntsen should afford HER victim, Steven Avery, would be to voice whenever possible the opinion that, from her experience, the outcome of Steven's trial in the Teresa Halbach murder should not be accepted without question. Those reading this who count themselves among the masses who believe that powerful members of American justice systems in general--not just Wisconsin's--do not knowingly perpetrate crimes, are all complicit in the many crimes they do, actually, commit. Yet I grant that simply being open to the truth can exonerate one from that culpability.

I sincerely believe that proper investigation by a skilled and motivated outside agency--law enforcing or otherwise--would ultimately reveal the facts of Teresa Halbach's murder. Such an investigation would prove the murder was committed by Wisconsin police. Steven Avery would then be exonerated for ANOTHER crime he did not commit. Then, hopefully, the federal government could justifiably step in to see that he is summarily awarded the largest settlement in history against the State of Wisconsin for the crimes perpetrated by its government-sanctioned officials. Those officials are the criminals who should be rotting in Wisconsin prisons amidst those who would exult at the opportunity of having their "say" with them.

Although Steven Avery may be just one of many innocents who have been persecuted, and successfully prosecuted, by my "mean state," the crimes against him are perhaps among Wisconsin State's most atrocious and grisly. The current Walker government would never bring action against those of its own ilk; but I am not without hope that there are hero's out there with enough collective clout and power to bring Wisconsin to justice.

Apr. 11 2015 07:42 PM
Jen from California

Penny - thank you for sharing. I've been praying for you since I heard the podcast. What a nightmare to be faced with such evil and then to be faced with more. You have an army of listeners supporting you and wishing you well on your continued road to recovery.

Apr. 11 2015 05:32 PM

It's not often that a story moves me as much as this one did. Penny's honesty, strength, and courage are remarkable. My heart goes out to you.

Apr. 11 2015 04:36 PM
Robbie from United States

What a harrowing story for all involved. Am just curious. And perhaps I just did not listen closely enough. But why was it not clear from the onset that the DNA found did not match Steven Avery's? Why did it take 18 years to find that out? I am sure there must be a logical reason and I am just missing it.

Mar. 06 2015 09:54 AM
Patrick Burr

Was Gregory Allan in the original line up? If he wasn't and the police knew about Allan's previous history then they really dropped the ball.

May. 30 2014 10:52 AM
Johnny

Oh my god Penny. I feel for you. I am glad you found some healing in letting go of anger... but please let go of the guilt. You have been so strong and absolutely done your best in some of the most horrific circumstances anyone could go through. Humans aren't perfect. But you have tried really hard. Thanks for your courage, your honesty, and your work. Huge respect to you, from one survivor to another.

Feb. 07 2014 07:49 PM
Jon Rakos from Phoenix

I started listening to Radiolab a few weeks ago and worked my way up from the first episode on the recommendation of a coworker. I heard Pat say, Penny Beerntsen, but nothing clicked. I tuned in when i heard "on the shores of lake michigan" i thought, hey, i grew up on the shores of lake michigan. Then, "in a little town called manitowoc", i thought....I GREW UP IN MANITOWOC. I said to myself, the world cant get any smaller, then her husband said Beerntsens and i almost had a stroke. We lived right up 8th street next to waldo blvd. I remember thinking when i was little...i could live in this candy store...yes i could and it would be amazing. The people were always nice, they gave me tasty treats and the fortune scale was always a laugh.

The reason i decided to post something was because i saw you were commenting and i thought, this lady who was so nice to me went through this. The last statement about having to be comfortable with uncertainty, really hit me. I couldn't stop thinking about the little chocolate bears with tutu's you made for my moms dance students that they got after their recital at the CCC in the 90's. I just kept remembering all the little girls, and from time to time boys, being so happy to get that little bear. I just wanted you to know, my sister and i, were always ecstatic when we heard we were stopping by beerntsens. Its a safe bet that all children in manitowoc were more than happy at the news of a trip to your store. I suppose my recollection of you is that of a child, simple but honest. So, WITHOUT A DOUBT, thank you and keep all us kids in mind anytime you feel down.

Aug. 07 2013 08:03 AM
Kyle from Joliet, IL

I have a request of people posting - please read all the posts before asking questions. Several posts ask questions that have been addressed previously.

Regarding eyewitness testimony of unknown persons: this can always be a slippery slope, especially if detectives are steering a victim towards a particular suspect and this happens too often.

Some suggest Penny had a "sixth sense" about Avery when she saw him in the lineup: Please folks this is how the Salem Witch Trials were conducted and while Avery had committed horrid acts previously I must ask - Do you really want to introduce this kind of superstition into the justice system?

Hindsight is 20/20 but we should not throw people into prison for 18 years based on "creepy feelings" or someone's hair standing on edge.

I would be interested to learn more about the facts and evidence in the Avery murder trial. There are some unanswered questions for me but I hope they were addressed in the six-week trial. I understand TV shows, articles and interviews can't cover every detail.

I also understand prosecutors can be overzealous and can manipulative evidence. I don't necessarily mean planting evidence (although I am sure it happens) but it also includes errors of omission such as ignoring or eliminating evidence that contradicts the evidence they consider useful.

I also know defense attorney's are master spin doctors and will suggest every crazy story they can think of to create reasonable (or unreasonable) doubt.

This makes it tough for jurors to get to the truth when one or both sides are playing dirty pool.

Jul. 01 2013 10:04 AM
Dianne Martinez

I heard this broadcast interviewing Penny and it has haunted me. I can't imagine what she went through. He teooing the story was very moving and gut wrenching. I will never forget it.

Jun. 04 2013 03:48 PM
beautifulleper

haha, trolls are hilarious, I don't understand why people take them selves so seriously that they would care that much about what is obviously a trolling.

Jun. 02 2013 05:36 PM
TrollToll

She was probably wearing skimpy clothing to stay cool while running. Her fault for provoking him.

Jun. 02 2013 08:02 AM
one of many

Penny,
There aren't the words or the space to express my empathy for your experience. There's one comment I want to make regarding research, published articles, and experts on memory: they have limitations. Having experienced sexual assault at a very young age (as many have), there are few studies, published articles, and experts that I have come across that have explained how my memory worked in the recall and processing of the trauma. However, there are some, Jennifer Freyd to name one. I agree with Daniella (and Joseph, I know what you are saying but I think there is a misunderstanding of what she was describing.) To me it seems you sensed accurately even if you identified inaccurately. Have you considered that when you met Steven Avery maybe both of your responses to him (distrust then assurance ) were accurate? That maybe he had two responses to you as well (from possible prey to a human being he wouldn't harm)? Maybe it was the interaction and dynamics that changed how both of you perceived and treated each other in that encounter. Clearly though, Steven Avery didn't have control over his ability to treat all other human beings (and purportedly animals) humanely. Sadly, that is quite common but I believe changeable. Starts with healing.

May. 31 2013 03:37 PM
Ezwages from NW Florida

big fan of the show; I hated this episode. I expected science and analysis. the first two parts were find, I enjoyed them. the third segment will probably live in my mind for years. I hate to know what happened to those people that I can never have an influence over or help. LEAVE THE DRAMA to "This American Life" and stick to science. If I wanted to read a horror novel I would read one. stick to the science.
Yours truely
ezwages

May. 21 2013 11:29 PM
Leah from Idaho

This is one of the most compelling stories that I have ever heard. I want to thank Radiolab for their amazing work, and especially Penny for her bravery in sharing this story. This piece really represents all of the best things about this show-it's incredibly compelling and thought provoking. I have to admit, I almost bailed on this episode halfway through, but I'm so glad I stuck it out. Amazing.

May. 08 2013 12:53 AM
Nancy from Chicago

This is a compelling story and after listening to the podcast I did a little online research. It appears that there is some doubt as to the guilt of Steven Avery and his nephew in the death of Teresa Halbach. (Penny - I live one town away from your current residence.) http://justicedenied.org/wordpress/archives/736

May. 03 2013 11:12 PM
Rose from New York

Thank you, Penny, and your husband, and the producers, for having the courage to tell this story. I was deeply moved.

I had a few questions I was left with - I'm not sure if this is the correct forum, so please re-direct if so (Radiolab crew):

1) Was Gregory Allen in the original line up (along with Steven Avery) and if not, why? if the police had been following him?

2) Perhaps this could constitute an entire other episode, but I thought it was a tribute to Ms. Beernsten's character and strength that she continued to run, cross country ski, alone, and find solace in that. How did she manage this after the attack?

3) Ms. Beernsten spoke of her guilt regarding the unfortunate and tragic death of Teresa Halbach. Perhaps Ms. Beernsten can find comfort in the fact that because of her testimony (however false) she may have saved other women's lives over the course of Mr. Avery's sentence? Of course, this is part of a larger ethical and legal discussion, but could be a perspective that could bring her comfort?

Thank you for your consideration, and again, thanks to Penny and the Radiolab team.

Rose

Apr. 27 2013 12:03 PM
Hilary

This was an incredible story. Thank you Penny Beerntsen and your husband for both the original story and for your follow up answers (I was wondering about the line up as well).

Apr. 26 2013 01:46 AM
Joseph from New York

I actually want to reply to the comment left by Daniella which is pretty disturbing to me. What Daniella is prescribing is really just prejudice and it opens the door to racism and bigotry of all sorts. Moreover it seems to have completely missed the point of this entire episode.

Anyway I'm really sorry to hear about your tragedy Penny. There's no way you could have known so you shouldn't be hard on yourself.

Apr. 22 2013 05:48 PM
Hannah

I want to express my deep appreciation for Penny, her openness and honestness about a traumatizing experience in a public forum, and her continuing education and commitment to whatever clarity can be found on this forum. Ms. Beernsten you are a woman of extraordinary strength and I hope all the other survivors out there who hear your story can gain some solace from at least knowing they are not alone.

Apr. 14 2013 03:43 PM
Daniella from Israel

Dear Penny, I am a self-defense instructor and I wanted to tell you that you are not crazy and you did not misjudge anyone. You judged Steven Avery *exactly right* the second you lay eyes on him. Your intuition very accurately told you that this man was dangerous. The hairs on the back of your neck, your visceral reaction--you knew what he was capable of. You just interpreted the feeling to mean that you knew he was the man who assaulted you. No one could blame you for this misinterpretation. When our intuition gives a signal, the signal is emotional, physical, not logical. But it is real, and you felt it and responded in the most logical way possible under the circumstances.

Later, you quieted your intuition about Avery and managed--with some difficulty--to "erase" your initial reaction, but that initial, intuitive reaction did turn out to be correct.

What I'm saying is, you were not as "wrong" as you think you were. Please don't be so hard on yourself. You did the best you could under the circumstances. And trust yourself! You were right about Avery, even if it wasn't in the way you thought!

I was glad to hear you have managed to move forward and wish you only the best. You have incredible courage in sharing your story. Thank you.

Apr. 14 2013 05:35 AM
Sarah from San Francisco

Thank you, Penny, for sharing your story! It really resounded with me and I appreciate your openness and honesty. This whole episode is one of my favorite Radiolabs.

Apr. 11 2013 07:46 PM
Penny Beerntsen from Chicago, IL

As the woman involved in the assault in the third segment, I just want to lay to rest some of the speculation regarding whether I was assaulted by two men.

I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT GREGORY ALLEN WAS THE SOLE ASSAILANT. There was no semen to be tested, only DNA on hairs which were preserved. Steven Avery's 16 alibi witnesses were telling the truth: he was at his father's auto salvage yard pouring concrete at the time of the assault, then took his wife and five children to Green Bay, where they ran a number of errands. Although my husband and others who attended the trial felt that the alibi testimony of the various witnesses sounded rehearsed, it was true. (It's possible for testimony to be both rehearsed and true, if what you're rehearsing is the truth.)

The sheriff's dept. had a deputy recreate the trip from the beach to Green Bay, but it really wasn't a re-enactment of Avery's journey. The sheriff's deputy left the beach, got in his squad car and took the interstate from Two Rivers to Green Bay, exceeding the speed limit by 10-15 mph but no more than 15mph. He did not go through a drive through lane at a restaurant or to a car wash, but made it to the Shopko store in the 68 minutes time allotted. (I testified the assault started at 3:50 p.m., lasted 10-15 minutes. Steve had a time stamped receipt showing he went through the checkout at Shopko at 5:13 p.m.)

Steve testified that he gathered his family into the car following the 4 p.m. conclusion of a TV show. He took country roads to Green Bay (and did not exceed the 55 mph speed limit), went through a car wash, stopped at a fast food restaurant, arrived at Shopko, went to the back of the store to the paint department, spent time trying to find the right paint, and went through the check-out at 5:13 p.m. This testimony was all verified as true.

Although I faded in and out of consciousness, I was never unconscious for a lengthy period of time. THERE WAS ONLY ONE ASSAILANT, AND THAT ASSAILANT WAS GREGORY ALLEN. I wish I could say that both men assaulted me, because then I wouldn't have been mistaken about the identify of my assailant. However, I clearly made an error.

Unfortunately, eyewitness testimony can be highly unreliable. Dr. Gary Wells, an expert on how memory works, says eyewitness testimony should be viewed as "trace evidence"----the assailant left a trace in the memory of the survivor. My assailant told me he had a knife. When a perpetrator uses or threatens to use a weapon, victims often focus on the weapon. In my case, I spent time trying to figure out where he had the knife hidden and how much I could struggle before he decided to pull it out and use it. I gave a very detailed description of the leather jacket he was wearing because I spent time looking at it and trying to see if there was a knife visible in one of the pockets.

Victims should report the crime. However, it's very dangerous to convict someone if eyewitness testimony is the ONLY evidence.

Apr. 07 2013 08:24 PM

Thank you for responding, Penny!

Apr. 05 2013 05:33 PM
Tracy from CA

Penny may have been right after all. Steven Avery may have knocked her unconscious then Gregory raped her whike she was out. He may have been following Steven's case because he wasa partner in crime.

Apr. 03 2013 03:55 PM
Penny Beerntsen from Chicago, IL

Dear egbeier,
Please don't beat yourself up because your assailant was not prosecuted after your attack!! The decision whether or not to prosecute is made by police and prosecutors, not by victims. You survived---thank God----and did everything you could to convince the powers that be to press charges. I can't begin to imagine how horrible it was for you to be certain of your identification, and not have the person responsible be held accountable.

Your last paragraph says it all. As a survivor, despite initially wanting to vanish from the face of the earth, I realize that to have lived is the greatest gift of all, and carries with it a responsibility to move forward. We have to seek support wherever we can find it, and then make each day count. I was blessed to have the help of family and many friends during my healing journey. When Theresa Halbach was murdered by Steven Avery it was the worst way to be reminded of my responsibility as a survivor. Theresa didn't get a second chance. I did. Making the most of each day is one small way of honoring her.

I have been blessed with two beautiful granddaughters. Three year old Chloe bounds out of bed each morning and declares, "It's a beautiful day!" What a glorious reminder to live in the moment and to greet each morning with enthusiasm for what might be! Wishing you a beautiful day and many more to follow. Thanks for writing, and be kind to yourself!

Apr. 03 2013 08:33 AM

TRIGGER WARNING: My comment includes descriptions of violence.
Hello. Penny if you are reading this, thank you so much for telling your story. You did your best to move forward at every point and your service is a wonderful thing.

Your story really touched me because I was also attacked and raped by a stranger who made me feel that he would kill me. When I saw his picture later, I felt CERTAIN that it was him and wanted to prosecute. However, attorneys told me that my identification wasn't sufficient evidence because of witness mistakes. That was one of the most painful and frustrating parts of my journey - to know who did caused me the pain, yet to not be able to fight back against him. I had gone to the hospital immediately, and just like you Penny, tried to preserve the evidence as much as possible. But, there wasn't enough evidence left on my body and the detective did not believe me.

Eventually, unfortunately, my attacker went on to attack several other women and a little girl. He kidnapped and maimed many of his later victims. He is now in jail where he belongs. I had in some ways the opposite experience as Penny because I felt that if I had been more persuasive in convicting him earlier, other people would not have suffered so much.

One thing I take away from this is that we can only do our best, as survivors. We have to find it within ourselves to move forward, and only part of that is placing our assailants in jail... part of it is community service and other things that make our lives worth while. I am SO glad that you weren't hit by a train Penny, because you have SO much more to offer. Thank you.

Apr. 02 2013 05:50 PM
Mila

I found it incredibly disturbing that Steven Avery was met with free makeovers, donations, and support from the community on his return. I understand that he was misidentified and had to face 18 years for a crime he did not commit. But this was a man that threatened a woman at gunpoint and was guilty of other troubling offenses PRIOR to the misidentification. Police were watching him, he was not an innocent hero wrongfully convicted. It is frustrating that the love and support the community provided to Steve was not focused on (or perhaps not mentioned in the story) the survivor of an incredibly violent sexual assault. Penny is an incredible woman and should not feel any guilt whatsoever.

Apr. 02 2013 05:02 PM

I've read and seen allot of documentaries and such about this kind of thing. Witness testimony, line ups and such. I saw a tedtalk (much recommended, Scott Fraser: The problem with eyewitness testimony) about this kind of thing to. One thing that is an extremely driving factor in witnessing is the wish to get that f***er back for what he did... this invariably will mess with objectivity.
In the ted talk there was allot of people who identified a drive by shooter. After appealing, the defense where able to show that the light was not even good enough for the judge (or any one else), in a reconstruction on location, to identify who or even how many where in the a car that was standing perfectly still. In other words, none of the witnesses had been able to see even how many people where in the car and still a young man was put in jail for this and only let out after appeal...

The biggest conclusion I draw from this is that witness testimony can not be used to identify a unknown person in a court of law. It is simply not accurate enough.
Testimony can be used to determine order of events and to place people (known or unknown) in to these events. In some cases it can be used to give investigators suspects, but this can never beyond the shadow of a doubt prove anything.

Testimony can, in the best case, lead to a uncertain, correct conviction, witch ofc can never be verified to be correct and should not be carried through. And in the absolutely worst case a wrongfull death sentence, like in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (look it up, much recomended).

Apr. 02 2013 04:49 AM
Terry A Miller from Oakland, CA

Isn't it possible that Penny Beerntsen was right but not in the right case in one of those inexplicable events in which you're able to read a character? I have a job in which I do a lot of hiring and sometimes I've gotten a creepy feeling about someone but ignored it because they looked fine on paper. Almost every time I dismissed it, I've regretted hiring that person because they end up doing things that inevitably get them fired.

Penny stated that when she saw Steven Avery "her hair stood on end." Could that be because she had a feeling that he was capable of such a thing? Perhaps by accidently fingering Avery she kept him out of the community where he could have murdered someone earlier he eventually did.

Apr. 01 2013 10:51 PM
Roz from California

I listened to this episode twice because something was tickling the back of my neck too, and the second time both my husband and I found ourselves wondering if, just as in Teresa Halbach's case later, there hadn't been two men involved in the assault on Mrs. Beerntsen. She could well have gotten glimpses of Steve as she went in and out of consciousness. In fact, he could even have made the initial assault and then invited Gregory Allen to rape Mrs. Beerntsen, just as he later got his nephew to rape Ms. Halbach. This might also explain why Mr Allen was keeping such close track of Steven Avery's appeals.

Mar. 31 2013 11:53 PM
JenW from Coastal Bend of TX

Penny, your story left me breathless over and over. I am in awe of your courage, determination, and honesty. After all that was taken from you, you continue to give. So glad you persisted and survived.

Mar. 31 2013 01:49 PM
Austin from Brisbane, Australia

At the age of 22 I was next in line to be President of one of my college's religious groups. Realizing that I would have to stand up in public and defend the existence of God I went through an intense two weeks of prayer...then thought...then of reading all St Thomas Aquinas' reasons for the existence of god. None of them stood up. I then, in a few days, "saw the dark" as I jokingly put it. I went through, in reverse, the stages Billy Graham says you have to go through in "accepting" god. It was a huge relief. I walked lighter and am now not agnostic but truly atheist and have never looked back. I'll be eternally grateful for having had to make a definite decision. I lost my friends as I used to lunch with that religious group, but it didn't matter. I was free, and still feel that way. Re the story I feel really sad for people who retain that nagging doubt. It isn't fun.

Mar. 31 2013 03:33 AM
girlwithglasses

Regarding Mrs. Beerntsen's comments on judging the character of Steven Avery, I would have thought it would be almost impossible for her to make any kind of accurate assessment of whether he'd be capable of murder. It sounded as if the release from jail made him into something of a local hero, and with his compassionate performance at the meeting with Mrs. Beerntsen, it would be easy to see him as a poor innocent guy who had been dealt a terrible injustice. It would be difficult for anyone to accurately judge Avery at that point.

That Avery committed murder after his stretch in prison makes me wonder what an appropriate treatment for people like him would be. He had shown signs (animal abuse, attempted abduction) before the Beerntsen affair that he was headed down the wrong track; it would be interesting to know whether he thought that he would get away with the murder, or whether the thought of going back to jail was not enough of a deterrent to stop him killing the photographer. If you have people who seem to lack empathy and/or morality like Avery, is there any way to instill these senses into them, or is the best thing to lock them up and throw away the key?

Mar. 30 2013 11:04 PM
Donna Woomer

This was one of the best segments I have heard. Honest and sincere emotion. All I have to add is that although she misidentified the assailant there was something that made her know his true nature. Forgive yourself. Thank you for this story.

Mar. 30 2013 01:30 PM
Penny Beerntsen from Chicago, IL

Yes, Becca, Steven Avery and the actual perpetrator, Gregory Allen, did look alike in some respects. One would never mistake them for twins, but others without an emotional tie to this story, commented that they looked as if they could be brothers.

However, the fact that the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I saw Steven Avery in the live line-up might have happened even if the two men did not look much like one another, because of the way memory works. I would refer you to published articles by Dr. Gary Wells from Iowa, Dr. Steven Penrod, who I believe may now be at John Jay University in NYC, or Dr. Elizabeth Lofton. All of them have published extensively on memory and how it works.

In a nutshell, our memories are affected by post-event occurrences. I initially had a picture in my head of what my assailant looked like. Then I gave a description to a police artist, who completed a sketch. At that point I have two images in my head----the original image of my assailant and the image of the artists sketch. Immediately after completion of the sketch I was shown nine photos simultaneously of suspects. I selected Steven Avery's photo. I now have three images of my assailant in my memory. A day or two later, because I had received a threatening phone call, the sheriff put together a live line-up "to make sure we have the right person in custody". Steven Avery was in the live line-up and I selected him. As stated in my initial comments above, he was the only individual in both the photo array and the live line-up, and my actual perpetrator was in neither.

Based on extensive research, best practices indicated that line-ups should be sequential, rather than simultaneous, whether they are photo or live line-ups. A simultaneous line-up is sort of like a multiple choice test: if it's a halfway decent line-up, one of the individuals will look most like the perpetrator. A sequential line-up, where the witness views one photo or one person at a time, is more like a true/false question. The witness isn't able to compare the individuals in the line-up to one another. Rather, the witness must compare one individual at a time to the image in their memory. The problem in my case was that both line-ups were perpetrator ABSENT, so I never had an opportunity to identify my actual assailant. Once memory has been "contaminated" by post-event occurrences, it's impossible to go back and extract the original memory.

This is a VERY abridged description of the research, but hope it helps answer your question. Interestingly, when I saw Gregory Allen's picture for the first time, 18 plus years after the assault, I would swear I've never seen him before in my life. This was also to be expected, according to the social scientists and researchers. For 18 years, the face I saw in my nightmares and flashbacks (and whenever I was in court), was Steven Avery's.

Mar. 29 2013 06:02 PM
Karl James from London, UK

A stunning piece of audio. Penny Beernsten, thank you so much for sharing your painful story so honestly. Radiolab: this is some of your best work. No frills. Delicate use of music. Great story telling.

Mar. 29 2013 01:06 AM
Becca from Chicago

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Did Steve and the true perpetrator look alike? If not, how do you explain why the hair stood up on the back of your nek?

Mar. 28 2013 10:21 PM
Brenna

Thanks so much for the feedback everybody -- we've added a warning to our web copy.

Mar. 28 2013 12:47 PM
Nicole

Penny, your story is amazing. You are amazing. Your effort to own this experience and everything that came after it is nothing short of heroic. It is terribly difficult to question your judgment and live without certainty. You can be sure that you always acted in good faith. It's all any of us can do.

Mar. 28 2013 12:00 PM
Duncan Birch

Such a harrowing story must of been so difficult to deal with all those emotions!

Mar. 28 2013 11:16 AM
Penny Beerntsen from Chicago, IL

Ann, Gregory Allen was not in the photo line-up I viewed or the live line-up. Steven Avery, the man I misidentified, was in both line-ups, and was the ONLY individual present in both line-ups. I never had an opportunity to identify my actual assailant because both line-ups were perpetrator absent. It was the city police department who had been keeping tabs on Gregory Allen and tailing him in the two weeks prior to my assault. It was the county sheriff's department which had jurisdiction because I was assaulted on county, not city, property.

Molly and Jen and any other listeners: my apologies if the episode was upsetting. I think your suggestion to put a written warning on the website is excellent. (I have not yet downloaded the podcast, so I haven't heard how the interviews in this segment were edited.)

Mar. 27 2013 10:22 PM
Ann

At the time of Penny's assault, the police had been keeping tabs on Gregory Allen, the "known sex offender" eventually identified as Penny's actual assailant. Mr. Allen presumably matched the physical description Penny provided of the man who attacked her. I am curious if Mr. Allen was one of the other 8 men standing in the line-up in which Penny mistakenly identified Steven Avery?

Mar. 27 2013 09:26 PM
Jen from Pittsburgh

I agree so much, Molly. This one made me cry.

Mar. 27 2013 03:07 PM
Molly

Within the broadcast is a warning that this story could be upsetting, but please put in writing on your website a trigger warning for sexual assault and violence.

Mar. 27 2013 01:30 PM

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