White House responds to Making a Murderer petition
James R | On 09, Jan 2016
The White House has officially responded to the Making a Murderer petition started at the end of last year – but the news is inevitably disappointing for viewers.
The petition was one of two launched in the wake of the Netflix documentary’s release, as viewers became outraged at the conviction of Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach – something that the series convincingly presents as a shocking miscarriage of justice.
“Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey should be given a full pardon by President Obama for their wrongful conviction in the connection to the murder of Teresa Halbach,” reads the petition on the White House “We the People” site.
“There is clear evidence that the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department used improper methods to convict both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey,” alleges the petition. “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 petition quickly racked up 129,947 signatures, not as many as the 370,684 on a similar Change.org campaign, but enough to require an official response from the White House, which must respond to any petitions with over 100,000 names.
In the case of Avery, though, President Obama is powerless to do anything.
“Under the Constitution, only federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President,” explains the Obama administration. “In addition, the President’s pardon power extends to convictions adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and military court-martial proceedings. However, the President cannot pardon a state criminal offense.
“Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities.”
The response, though, thanked the viewers for signing the petition, adding “we appreciate your interest in this case”.
“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,” continued the response. “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.”
How can Avery be pardoned? That would have to be done by Governor Scott Walker, but Walker has already made it clear that he will not grant any pardons at all – he is the only Wisconsin governor in the last six to refuse to do so.
“Those who feel they have been wrongly convicted can seek to have their convictions overturned by a higher court,” Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for Governor Walker, told the New York Times.
Avery continues to serve a life sentence in prison without parole. Brendan Dassey, who was convicted of sexually assaulting Halbach – despite the defense’s argument that he was coerced into a false confession – is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 33 years’ time.
Michael Seyedian, who first started the Change.org petition, wrote on the campaign’s page that it was “disappointing”, but added: “The fact that we got a response from the highest office in the U.S. is incredible.”
“Brendan Dassey currently has a writ of habeas corpus pending with Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin. This means that Judge Duffin can exonerate Brenden, or grant him a new trial (or neither). This decision may come within days, or later in the year. I’ve started a petition for Brendan, addressed to Judge Duffin,” he continued. (That petition is here.)
For more on Making on a Murderer, see our examination of the evidence that prosecutors say the documentary left out.