Update: All 14 FBI-submitted evidence exhibits related to EDTA in blood from Steven Avery's trial are now online. Review them here. (1/31/2016, 5:40 p.m. EDT)
A Reddit user is gradually uploading the 5,000-page court case file of Steven Avery, and his digital haul now includes four of 14 crucial documents submitted by the FBI during Avery's murder trial in 2007.
The FBI's reports are critical because they might have turned jurors against Avery "and maybe not fairly," Dean Strang, one of Avery's defense lawyers during his trial, told The Daily Beast in January.
Avery, a resident of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, was arrested in November 2005 as a suspect in the disappearance of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. Police later found Halbach's bloodied car and burned bones on Avery's property and, after a lengthy trial, jurors in 2007 delivered a guilty verdict, leading to Avery's sentence of life in prison without parole.
Attention to Avery's case has exploded due to Netflix's 10-part series "Making a Murderer," a true-crime documentary that follows Avery and his family before, during, and after that trial.
The show has since amassed countless fans and a community of Reddit users, including Skipp Topp, who's digitizing Avery's enormous case file with crowdfunding help and uploading the PDFs to StevenAveryCase.org. (Reddit user Emmerline is also uploading court documents.)
Many fans of the show are particularly obsessed with a controversial idea that filmmakers played up in episode seven: that blood stains found in Halbach's car may have been planted by police to help incriminate Avery.
Avery's lawyers argued that the blood stains, which matched Avery's DNA profile, could have been extracted from a vial of Avery's blood collected in 2002 and stored in a police evidence room.
Framing by police is never a popular defense strategy, but in this case the idea wasn't too far-fetched for a few reasons.
Shortly before his arrest as a suspect in Halbach's murder, Avery filed a $36 million civil lawsuit against the county that put him in jail for 18 years on a rape charge. He sued because DNA evidence exonerated him from the 1985 crime in 2003. (That's where the 2002 vial of blood in the evidence room came from; it was used to verify Avery's DNA.)
When the defense team examined that blood vial years later, it showed possible signs of tampering, including a broken evidence seal and a hole in the tube's cap.
Several members of the local police force were also being deposed in Avery's lawsuit as late as October 2005. Those deposed included two officers who collected evidence linking Avery to the scene of Halbach's murder.
But a conspiracy theory and a potentially tampered vial of blood wasn't enough for Avery's defense team to go on; the lawyers had to show the blood stains in the car came from the vial in police custody.
A search for EDTA
This is where the FBI's blood stain analysis reports, filed in February 2007, come in to play.
Almost every vial of blood contains a preservative called EDTA (short for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid). It's a chemical that isn't found in human blood and prevents it from clotting. Mixed in a sealed vial, EDTA can keep a blood sample liquid for years.
The court asked the FBI to test the samples for the presence of EDTA, and the results came back in the middle of Avery's trial.
Patrick Willis, the presiding judge during the trial, was shown the FBI's reports during a closed hearing without any jurors. Willis ultimately deemed the information admissible as evidence — something that still frustrates Strang today.
"We had no chance at that point to do independent testing, or even to react terribly well to it because we're being handed the report during trial and then, boom—[expert witness] Marc LeBeau is on the stand the next morning," Strang told The Daily Beast.
In a testimony that was damning to Avery's defense, LeBeau, an FBI forensic scientist, said that the blood swabs from Halbach's car showed no signs of the preservative — or planted evidence.
The FBI's reports
Four of the FBI's EDTA-related reports — exhibits 434, 435, 441, and 442 — are embedded below.
These documents were never publicly posted online and in plain view of outside forensic experts until this week.
However, Topp and others have not yet uploaded at least 10 more EDTA-related reports from the FBI listed in the court record of events: exhibits 433, 436, 437, 438, 439, 440, 443, 444, 445, and 446, which include a "white binder with lab sheets and reports," an "EDTA stability study," and "graph of Poss. Cont. B Q49 sample," which might suggest something abnormal with the testing of Avery's old vial of liquid blood.
We'll post them here once they're available.
While we wait to get those documents, Tech Insider has reached out to several scientists to review the existing ones and offer their feedback.
We've also reached out to Dean Strang, who did not return our queries in time for this story. Jerry Buting replied to an initial query but hasn't responded to our followup queries. Marc LeBeau directed our interview request to FBI public affairs, which denied it (as well as another interview request).
When we asked the FBI for more details about its EDTA testing process, a bureau representative told Tech Insider that "the Avery protocol was based off [a] 1997 study" in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, "but was updated based on technology advancements." When we asked for clarification on what "technology advancements" meant, we were told to file a Freedom of Information Act request (which we've done).
If you're a forensic scientist or analytical chemist, and wish to comment on the following documents, please reach out to: firstname.lastname@example.org