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Defense & prosecution strike deal in Halbach murder trial

MANITOWOC -- The defense and prosecution teams have reached an unusual agreement on the timing and location of Steven Avery's high-profile trial in the rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.

But questions still remain about whether certain key evidence and testimony will be allowed at the trial.

Judge Patrick Willis has approved a plan to delay Avery's trial until February 5, 2007 and to hold it in Calumet County, with a jury chosen from Manitowoc County where the alleged crime occurred.

Teresa Halbach's family played a significant role in the decision, something Marquette law professor Daniel Blinka says doesn't often happen in a trial such as this one.

Blinka says it's very unusual in a hotly-contested, high-visibility case like this that both defense and the prosecution considered the interests of the victims family in deciding where the trial would be. He says it's not just unusual but laudable by both sides.

Blinka says one key issue still to be decided is whether the prosecution will be allowed to use testimony from two prison inmates who say Avery told them he fantasized about torturing and killing young women.

The conversations supposedly took place while Avery was serving time for a rape he was later found innocent of. Blinka says there are strict rules of evidence that could bar that testimony.

He says the very real concern is that the jury may not properly evaluate the weight of that evidence but rather says 'well we don't know whether or not he did this, but he is such a bad or a dangerous person that we better not take the chance of acquitting him.'

Also still to be decided is the legality of multiple searches of Avery's trailer and garage that produced some of the most incriminating evidence of Avery's role in Halbach's murder.

Rulings on those motions are expected in late September. Avery has consistently maintained his innocence and accused law enforcement officials of framing him.