Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin this week denied a request to grant clemency to Brendan Dassey whose murder conviction was documented in the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer.”
Mr. Dassey was 17 in 2007 when he was convicted of helping his uncle murder and sexually assault Teresa Halbach, a photographer, in a salvage yard. He was 26 when the Netflix series made his case a global sensation. He is now 30.
Mr. Dassey’s legal team began a campaign in October to persuade the governor, a Democrat, to show mercy. In addition to a petition signed by tens of thousands of people, the team submitted an open letter signed by hundreds of national legal and psychological experts, former police officials and prosecutors and clemency experts, Laura Nirider, one of Mr. Dassey’s lawyers, said on Saturday.
“I am writing to ask for a pardon because I am innocent and want to go home,” Mr. Dassey wrote in a letter to the governor in April.
In response, the governor’s pardon advisory board said in an unsigned letter dated Dec. 17 that Mr. Dassey’s application would not be considered because he was ineligible for a pardon and that the governor would not consider any commutations.
A pardon and a commutation are two different types of clemency, Ms. Nirider said. A pardon restores some of the legal rights that are taken away when someone is convicted of a serious crime; a commutation is a shortening of a sentence, she said.
According to the board’s letter, Mr. Dassey was ineligible to be considered for a pardon because it had not been at least five years since he completed his sentence; and he had not registered as a sex offender, as he was required to do. Mr. Dassey is serving a life sentence without the possibility of early release until 2048.
“Had the Board reviewed Brendan’s petition on the merits, it would have seen what more than 250 national experts and millions of ordinary people around the globe see: a terrible miscarriage of justice,” Ms. Nirider and Steven Drizin, Mr. Dassey’s lawyers and directors of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s law school, said in a statement on Friday.
Despite the board’s statement that the governor was not considering requests for commutations, Ms. Nirider insisted it was within the governor’s rights to grant them. The board did not provide any further explanation, and Ms. Nirider said she was not aware of any eligibility requirements for commutations.
“Wisconsin has a history of issuing commutations — a bipartisan tradition,” Ms. Nirider said. “We will continue to work with experts to educate this governor and his staff about how to design an appropriate commutation process to right serious injustices.”
Mr. Evers, a former educator who supports criminal justice reform, created a new pardon advisory board in June. His predecessor, Scott Walker, a Republican, did not issue any pardons while in office.
Millions of people watched the first season of the documentary series when it was released in 2015. And while viewers continue to argue over the guilt or innocence of Steven Avery, Mr. Dassey’s uncle, many were moved by the plight of Mr. Dassey, who has intellectual disabilities. Mr. Dassey’s legal team has long argued that his confession was coerced in a deeply flawed interrogation.
“Brendan Dassey has been imprisoned for 13 years based only on a false confession that is inconsistent with the known facts of the case, has been disproven by DNA and forensic evidence, and was immediately recanted,” Ms. Nirider and Mr. Drizin said in the statement.
The two men were found guilty in the murder of 25-year-old Ms. Halbach. Her relatives and the prosecutor in the case have defended the verdict.
Mr. Dassey’s case does not directly affect Mr. Avery, who was convicted in a separate trial and continues to appeal his own conviction.
This week’s development is the latest twist in Mr. Dassey’s legal battle that has seen victories and setbacks over the years. In 2016, his legal team nearly secured a temporary release from prison just before Thanksgiving only to have it blocked at the last minute. Last year, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal.
“Brendan is ever hopeful,” said Ms. Nirider, who has been working with Mr. Dassey for more than a decade. “He has a truly childlike faith that one day someone is going to have the courage to do the right thing in his case. It’s a blow that stings, but it’s not the end of the story.”