There are still many people who are unaware of who James Lenk is and the effect he has had on the integrity of local law enforcement in the United States. Netflix aired a special, “Making A Murderer” which is about the prosecution and conviction of Steven Avery. Avery is serving a life sentence for the crime of murdering of Teresa Halbach of Calumet County, Wisconsin. Lenk has been accused by Avery of tampering with the crime scene and planting key evidence that led to Avery’s conviction. The Netflix special has gotten significant attention around the world.
Lenk has warranted special attention because on the surface it appears he had a vendetta to see Avery put in prison. In 2003, Avery had a rape conviction overturned based on DNA evidence after serving 18 years. Lenk was one of the arresting officers in that case. But Lenk was not a member of the team assigned to investigate the Halbach murder, because he was from a neighboring county and there was a clear conflict of interest with him being involved in the investigation. However, Lenk decided to involve himself in the investigation independently. He suspiciously found a set of car keys present in Avery’s home that linked Avery to the crime, even though the investigating team and police had searched the premises no less than 6 times prior to Lenk’s discovery.
All this took place as Avery’s had filed a $36 million lawsuit against Lenk and the other arresting officer in his rape conviction case. The lawsuit claimed Lenk had known about evidence that would have exonerated Avery from the rape accusation, but instead covered it up. Avery’s arrest took place while the lawsuit was going through the court system.
The Netflix documentary makes Lenk look like the villain, and there are many people who have many questions that have not been satisfactorily answered by law enforcement officials connected with the case. Lenk granted an interview with KPHO reporter Donna Rossi in 2016, but he gave no substantive answers to her questions about the investigation or anything related to it. That, of course, brought on even more suspicion.
Social media jumped on Lenk, and there was a Twitter account that claimed it had evidence that Lenk committed professional misconduct during the investigation. The account turned out to be fake, but is representative of the various attitudes people have about him.
Once the Netflix documentary aired, the name of James Lenk vanished from the sheriff’s department records, stating that he no longer was working for the department. The latest reports have Lenk, now in his mid-60’s, suffering from failing health in Green Valley, Arizona, living a life that is spent trying to avoid the media.
All this controversy raises two major questions. The first is whether Lenk indeed had a vendetta against Avery because nobody likes to be publicly embarrassed and Lenk’s participation in the investigation is clearly questionable. The second is why Lenk has refused to answer any reasonable questions about the case instead of referring inquirers to the court records.
The district attorney has publicly stated that whether Lenk crossed the professional and legal line when getting involved with the Avery case was not in question. Instead, he deflects the question by replying that Avery is guilty and belongs in prison because he is guilty of the crime. Saving the county $36 million can be another reason why Lenk’s professional missteps have been explained away as “poor judgment.”
As for Lenk refusing to answer any questions, this smacks of 1950’s police accountability, where the Blue Shield approach is taken, and the department handles such matters internally. But given all of the facts of the case, Lenk should be publicly accountable for his actions. It is not coincidence that Lenk “suddenly” retired from the department once the Netflix documentary aired.
So we know where James Lenk lives, it just doesn’t do anyone any good. He is exercising his legal right to privacy, and the only people who can hold him accountable for his very questionable actions have chosen to either defend him or excuse him. The reality seems to be that Lenk will die peaceably in his retirement not long from now without ever having to answer any questions about whether he deprived an innocent man of his freedom and life – twice.