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Why Making a Murderer’s Kathleen Zellner is going to be your next TV obsession

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Emma Ledger
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Meet Kathleen Zellner, the new fierce post-conviction lawyer in part 2 of Netflix’s global hit show…

Were you up all night binge-watching part 2 of Making A Murderer? Yep, us too. Don’t worry if you haven’t finished all 10 episodes yet – this contains no spoilers. What it does contain is a whole lot of love and respect for Steven Avery’s new post-conviction powerhouse lawyer Kathleen Zellner.

To call Zellner fierce doesn’t begin to cover it. Whip-smart, immaculately polished and often actually snarling, she’s a character straight out of the cult 1980s show Dynasty

Any concerns that we might miss Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, the likeable defence lawyers from Making A Murderer part 1, disappeared the second we clapped eyes on Zellner. She’s a turbo-charged Hilary Devey with an extraordinary legal record. So far she has overturned 19 wrongful prosecutions; that’s more than any other private attorney in America.

Here’s everything you need to know about the woman determined to unearth the truth about what really happened to 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach:

1. Zellner has made it clear that she intends to prove Avery’s innocence and prove that someone else killed Teresa Halbach. She requested new DNA testing of the evidence, including tests that were not available when Avery was first tried in 2005. She says “there is evidence that already exists in the case that points to a different location and a different suspect.”

2. She’s 61 years old (how?!) and is originally from Texas. In the late 1970s, she moved to Chicago with her husband Robert, a commodities and bond trader, and they have a daughter called Anne who is also a lawyer.

3. After graduating from Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1981, Zellner’s first worked as a defence attorney for a small firm before setting up her own law firm to focus on post-conviction work.

4. One of Zellner’s first post-conviction clients was Larry Eyler, a serial killer who targeted gay people in the 1980s. Zellner got him to confess so that the families of the victims could have closure. It was a turning point, leading Zellner to announce that she never wanted to represent a guilty client again.

5. Zellner warns any potential clients that she will find out if they are guilty. She says “If you hire me and you’re guilty, trust me I’ll do a way better job than the prosecutors. So really you would have to be an idiot to be hiring me to prove that you’re guilty.”

6. In 1994, Zellner secured the release of Illinois death row inmate Joseph Burrows by persuading the real killer, a woman on the stand, to confess to the murder. Chicago Magazine dubbed her “The Rescuer.”

7. Last year, she set a new American national record by winning $11,004,000.00 for Ryan Ferguson, who wrongfully served 10 years in jail for killing a man in Columbia.

8. Her Twitter @ZellnerLaw is definitely worth a follow. She uses it to tease new findings, taunt her opposition and drop bombshells. She even started her own hashtag reworking of the Netflix series’ title: #MakingExonorees

9. She shamelessly antagonises the police in Avery’s hometown of Manitowoc, calling them “lab rats” and accusing them of framing her client by tampering with evidence. Of Avery’s prosecution by Mr Kratz, Zellner said “this case more than anything, more than a case of ineffective assistance of council, is a case of gross, extreme, egregious prosecutorial misconduct, and so that will be a real pleasure, unmasking Mr Kratz.”

10. Zellner wears the sharpest suits and killer heels, drives a 4x4, and she is said to enjoy pistol shooting (which we can totally imagine).

11. She believes the key to winning is thorough preparation. ”I really like the trial process – the preparation. I have a system for getting ready for trial and it was great. I had so much fun,” She says trial work, on the other hand, is comparable to race car driving.

12. Jessica Biel was supposed to play Zellner in a film called Privileged Information, based on the case in which serial killer Larry Eyler confessed to her, but it never got made.

13. Taking on many cases pro bono – including Avery’s – it’s justice, not money, that drives Zellner. She says ”The wonderful thing about the legal profession is there are many people who need help, there are many creative ways to help them, and there are many causes that are extremely worthy of effort. You can find something like that and devote yourself to it.”

14. She declined to say how much she makes, but admits “’I make more than 99.9% of all lawyers. I feel like I’ve earned that and I feel like it’s a byproduct of what I’m doing, it’s not what I set out to do…you can do so much better by caring about what you’re doing.”’

15. Zellner was outraged to hear of a mentally ill woman’s suicide after she was turned away from a hospital emergency room. The woman was briefly examined and discharged, presumably because she didn’t have medical insurance. Keen to ensure no such thing ever happened again, Zellner actually fought to have the law in America… and won.

16. Zellner believes women make the best post-conviction lawyers. ”I think women are better listeners and I think they’re more perceptive about sizing up potential jurors. Men tend to get sort of caught up in their egos and talking about themselves,” she said.

Making A Murderer part 2 is available on Netflix now

Images, Netflix, Getty

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