Kathleen Zellner has become a household name due to her involvement in Netflix's Making a Murderer and the Steven Avery case, but she had been fighting crime like a real-life superhero for years and years before that.
The wrongful conviction attorney has made no secret of her desire to only represent those that she believes are innocent, and this has been reiterated once more in another documentary where she featured.
First released in 2017, an episode of Investigation Discovery's I, Witness has resurfaced. It tells the tragic story of Riley Fox who, in 2004, was kidnapped from her home and found murdered at the age of just three.
The episode unfolds from the perspective of defence attorney Zellner. Her involvement in the case started when Riley's father, Kevin Fox, became the lead suspect and was ultimately charged with the murder.
After 14 hours of police interrogation, he had provided a taped confession. A key part of this version of events was that Kevin admitted to hitting his daughter's head with the bathroom door, which he then attempted to cover up by staging a murder.
Zellner attempted to retrace and recreate Kevin's account – much in the same way as we saw her do in Making a Murderer's second series – to either prove or disprove it. It was at this point that she came to the realisation that, due to the hinges, Riley could not have been hit by the opening door. This supported the theory that Kevin had been fed the details of his confession – by somebody that did not know the layout of the family home.
"Having watched the taped confession and learning the truth about the door, I knew that Kevin was innocent," Zellner deduced.
The documentary then explored some of the intricacies that can come into play when it comes to coerced confessions. It became apparent that Kevin had been told there was evidence against him, which in actual fact did not check out. Fox's request for a lawyer was also ignored, and by the end of his police interview he had been awake for around 24 hours. Kevin had also been put under distress when shown crime-scene photographs of his daughter. According to Kevin, the officers also told him that he'd get treated more favourably if he confessed.
"While I believed Kevin, that meant nothing without hard evidence to back it up," Zellner explained. "I needed DNA."
Having got her hands on the autopsy report, Kathleen was troubled by the "inconclusive" DNA result shown. She sought advice from an independent forensic scientist and went to a private lab to have the sample re-tested. The results of this excluded Kevin Fox from the investigation, and the charges were dropped. He was released, but had already served eight months behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
The FBI then set about re-interviewing those living in the neighbourhood and another suspect emerged. It was the DNA testing, proposed by Zellner, that ended up linking the real murderer, Scott Eby, to the crime. It also later emerged that police had overlooked other evidence that could have pointed in his direction sooner.
Eby, who had a previous charge of criminal sexual assault against him, was convicted of Riley's murder in 2010 after pleading guilty.
Speaking about the case on Twitter this week, Zellner said that the circumstances surrounding the Fox family "makes Avery seem like a piece of cake".
"The Riley Fox case, of all my cases, was for me personally the most traumatic," Zellner said.
('You Might Also Like',)