Open Letter to Skipp Topp On Zellner Naming Ryan Hillegas
Skipp Topp is the anonymous person who has done invaluable service to the public by shouldering, almost single handedly, the burden of collecting, and making publicly available a voluminous number of court documents pertaining to the both Steven Avery’s and Brendan Dassey’s trial. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Lately, alas, he has taken to moralizing about the fact that Kathleen Zellner, in her most recent motion filed on June 7th, 2017, prominently mentions the name of Ryan Hillegas. He also expressed the opinion that he doesn’t think a person’s phone number should be made public. This is an open letter to Skipp Topp challenging him on this view.
I read with a certain amount of dismay your opinion that no one should utter the name of Ryan Hillegas in connection with the murder of Teresa Halbach. To me, it seems ill considered, especially if you hold the view that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are or might be innocent.
First, surely anticipating the criticisms she would potentially come under, I don’t think Zellner made her decision lightly. But did she really have a choice? She is representing Steven Avery who, from all indications, she sincerely believes is innocent. If so, logically, someone else killed Teresa Halbach. If all signs point to another person as the killer, is she really being irresponsible by naming that person?
Recognize that it was the execrable work of the original law enforcement personnel who conducted the investigation that forced her into this position. It was their job to clear Ryan Hillegas, and they failed to do that even in the most cursory way. Any investigator, any person in law enforcement knows that the person you go to first is the boyfriend or the ex boyfriend. It was a massive dereliction of their duty to have failed to do this.
Hillegas was never asked for an alibi despite having visible scratch marks on both hands? Wow. That alone is breathtaking incompetence. He didn’t have an alibi so far as anyone knows? He was the ex-boyfriend, and apparently he both physically and verbally abused Teresa when they were a couple? He was a frequent visitor at her house? His best friend had or was having a sexual relationship with her? Shall I go on?
Are you suggesting that Kathleen Zellner shouldn’t have mentioned any of this in her motion even though it is central to her case? I would argue that an omission of this magnitude would rival and possibly exceed the original omission on the part of investigators and law enforcement in not asking for Ryan’s alibi on the day in question! Keep in mind that this is a legal filing, not a press release. I would expect motions such as these to frequently if not invariably point fingers at different suspects and to do so by naming them.
Your argument might have more merit, then, if it attacked Zellner for not following accepted and standard legal convention, but you admit at the outset that you do not have legal knowledge so could not speak to that. I have not heard from any other quarters, by the way, that Zellner’s motion stepped outside the bounds of legal convention, have you?
Lastly, it is an accident of fate that this case has engendered so much publicity. If this results in a particular person’s name being publicized, Kathleen Zellner can hardly be blamed for that.
But maybe you are making the argument that it might have only been acceptable for her motion to contain all of the information it did about Ryan Hillegas without actually naming him? If the incompetence of area law enforcement is central to her case, it is inconceivable that Zellner would have omitted any reference to an alternative suspect, especially in light of the existence of compelling, multifactorial reasons to view him as a suspect. If you can at least accept this, then you have to realize that Zellner had no way of laying out her case against this “suspect”, in all of its minutiae, without making it patently and plainly obvious that the suspect she was obliquely referring to was Ryan Hillegas.
For example, if she had repeatedly referred to “Teresa’s ex boyfriend who moved into her house as soon as she was murdered,”I don’t think it would take a Laplace or a Newton to figure out who she was referring to. If she had chosen to not name Ryan, while at the same time making it pretty obvious that it was Ryan, the motion would have read in a manner which seemed stilted and odd. If she had gone this route, my guess is that it would have brought even more exposure to Ryan, if anything.
I should also like to know why there is only an outcry when the name of Ryan Hillegas is brought up? I have not seen a similar outcry when the name of Scott Tadych or Ed Edwards, or indeed any of the by now numerous names of other potential suspects have been publicized. And if you are to impugn Zellner’s judgement for publicizing Ryan’s name, wouldn’t you also have to impugn Rolling Stone, US, USA Today, and dozens of other publications as well since they have all mentioned him by name both before and after the motion filed by Zellner filed on June 7th, 2017?
The other item of concern is that you have criticized people for publishing Ryan’s phone number. Yes, I threw up a tweet when someone didn’t believe an earlier tweet that stated that I called Ryan to let him know that Zellner had named him as a suspect. Apparently you view this as unconscionable.
Yet his phone number has been available all along in the documents you yourself made available for the entire world. YOU are the person who published his phone number, and also the phone number of just about everyone else in the case (last I checked). The phone numbers for dozens, maybe even hundreds of people are available in CASO and plenty of other documents readily available on the internet, so it really is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it?
But even if you hadn’t made Ryan’s phone number available along with the numbers of Karen Halbach, most of the Avery’s, etc., etc., consider the fact that with or without you or I, the numbers of most people are available on the internet for a fee of a few dollars. When I grew up, EVERYONE had their phone number published in the phone book. If you were willing to pay the phone book company a few dollars you could have an unlisted number, but this was more the exception than the rule. No one thought anything about it in those days, nor is there any significant opposition to phone numbers being available for a small fee in the modern era.