The White House has responded to a petition, which has earned over 100,000 supporters, calling on President Barack Obama to pardon Wisconsin man Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey in the 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
Avery and Dassey are the protagonists of the popular Netflix documentary series "Making a Murderer." The show suggests that the two men were framed as a part of a police conspiracy and were unable to get a fair trial because of community bias and in the case of Dassey, insufficient legal counsel. Both men are currently serving life sentences and have exhausted the appeals process.
According to the guidelines set by the White House, the Obama administration must respond to any public petition that garners over 100,000 signatures within a 30-day period. This has led to the White House weighing in on everything from deporting pop star Justin Bieber to calls to ban so-called gay conversion therapy. In this case, defenders of Avery and Dassey argued there is "clear evidence" that authorities used improper methods to convict the two men. "This is a black mark on the justice system as a whole, and should be recognized as such, while also giving these men the ability to live as normal a life as possible," the Dec. 20, 2015 petition read.
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On Thursday, the White House announced that the president would not be able to intervene on behalf of Avery and Dassey because it is not within his authority to pardon someone convicted of a state criminal offense. However, they did add in a statement: "While this case is out of the Administration's purview, President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system. That's why he has granted 184 commutations total -- more than the last five presidents combined -- and has issued 66 pardons over his time in office."
Since the 10-episode "Making a Murderer" has debuted, legions of viewers (a second pro-pardon petition has over 300,000 backers) have rallied to the cause of exonerating Dassey, who was just 17 at the time of his conviction and who his attorneys contend was the victim of a coerced confession, and Avery, who previously served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault that DNA evidence later proved he did not commit. Avery was in the midst of a civil suit against the local county police when he was charged with the murder and dismemberment of Halbach.
Prosecutors have contended that the series omitted a majority of the physical evidence pointing to Avery and Dassey's guilt, while the filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, have countered that they made a point to highlight strongest aspects of both sides' cases.
On Tuesday, Ricciardi and Demos revealed on NBC's "TODAY" that a juror who had voted to convict Avery of murder in 2007 now regrets her decision, and believes Avery deserves a new trial. According to the source, who allegedly wishes to remain anonymous because they fear for their safety, jurors traded votes on different counts against Avery during deliberation in order to reach a consensus. The juror allegedly told Ricciardi and Demos they'd hope a split verdict (Avery was found not guilty of mutilating a corpse) would send a message to appellate courts that his case should be re-examined, but instead Wisconsin courts have repeatedly rejected his representation's request for a new trial. At this point only the discovery of new physical evidence of testimony could secure Avery and Dassey another opportunity to regain their freedom.
“Our goal going in was always to start a dialogue,” Demos said on “TODAY.” “And I’m sure a piece of that dialogue is people’s desire to have more information about what happened to Teresa Halbach, and if somebody finds more information, I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s what she deserves.”