Penny Beernsten, the rape victim in Netflix’s wildly popular docu-series “Making a Murderer,” spoke out to the Marshall Project about her role in the 1985 wrongful conviction of Steven Avery.
Beernsten opened up about her discovery that she’d falsely identified Steven Avery as the perpetrator of her violent assault, detailing her emotional reaction to Avery’s exoneration.
“The day I learned of the exoneration was worse than the day I was assaulted,” she said. “After the DNA results came back, I just felt powerless. I can’t un-ring this bell. I can’t give Steve back the years that he’s lost.”
When she made her first public appearance following Avery’s release, she recalled an acquaintance telling her, “I can’t believe you’re brave enough to show your face.”
“I went from having sympathy to being this horrible person who made a mistake and is responsible for someone else’s suffering,” she said of the public’s shifted perception of her. She continued, “My testimony sent an innocent person to prison… I absolutely wanted the earth to swallow me.”
Following Beernsten’s 1985 attack, she identified Avery as the assailant out of a police lineup. He was ultimately convicted for the crime and sentenced to 32 years in prison. Eighteen years into Avery’s sentence, DNA evidence revealed that Avery was not responsible for her violent attack.
Filmed over a ten-year period, the ten-episode Netflix series documents Avery’s 1985 imprisonment, his later exoneration for the crime in 2003 and his subsequent controversial arrest and trial for the 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
Beernsten has since apologized to both Avery and his family for her role in his wrongful conviction.
On the topic of Avery’s connection to the disappearance of Halbach, she conluded, “My emotions regarding Steven Avery are complicated.”
Though Beernsten appeared in “Making a Murderer,” 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.”
Since the series Dec. 18 Netflix release, a juror from Avery’s 2007 trial contacted “Making a Murderer” creators Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos to voice his regret for voting to convict Avery. During an appearance on Tuesday’s episode of NBC’s “Today,” the documentarians revealed that the juror believes Avery was “framed by law enforcement” and is deserving of a new trial. The anonymous juror also disclosed to Ricciardi and Demos that jurors engaged in a behind-the-scenes vote-trading comprise when the time came for the jury to deliberate on the case’s verdict.
Though the filmmakers haven’t verified the juror’s claim or yet communicated with any other juror’s from the trail, the duo praised viewers’ widespread response to the docu-series and the public discourse it has created.
“We never could have anticipated or even dreamed of the response to this series,” said Ricciardi on “Today.” Added Demos, “Our goal going in was always to start a dialogue. And I’m sure a piece of that dialogue is people’s desire to have more information about what happened to Teresa Halbach, and if somebody finds more information, I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s what she deserves.”