Wisconsin Governor Denies Pardon for ‘Making a Murderer’ Subject

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Friday denied pardon or a sentence commutation for Brendan Dassey of “Making a Murderer” fame, all but eliminating any possibility that he will be released from prison.

Brendan Dassey appears at the Manitowoc County Courthouse in April 2007. (Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent, Pool, File)

In a one-page letter addressed to Dassey, the Democratic governor said Dassey is ineligible for a pardon because he has not completed his entire sentence and has not registered as a sex offender as required by Wisconsin law. Evers also stated in his letter released Friday that he will not consider Dassey’s request for commutation of his life sentence.

Dassey was convicted of assisting his uncle, Steven Avery, in the brutal rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005, which inspired the popular 10-part Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer” released in December 2015. Halbach’s charred bones were found in a burn pit near Avery’s home.

In 2007, Dassey was sentenced to life in prison for rape and murder with no possibility of parole until 2048. Avery is also serving a life sentence for murder.

The Netflix documentary strongly suggests that Dassey and Avery were wrongfully convicted so that rural Manitowoc County, Wisconsin could avoid paying a large settlement following Avery’s exoneration for a different crime. Avery served 18 years in prison for a rape he never committed, and had filed a $36 million suit against the county.

The intellectually disabled Dassey was 16 years old at the time of his interrogation and arrest. With no DNA or physical evidence connecting Dassey to the crime, his conviction rested solely on his controversial confession, which his lawyers maintain was involuntarily coerced without the presence of a parent or attorney.

In 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin reversed Dassey’s conviction, finding that the interrogator’s “false promises” and suggestive techniques, combined with Dassey’s age, inexperience and intellectual disabilities, rendered his confession involuntary.

The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed the reversal, but the en banc court ruled 4-3 in December 2017 that Dassey’s conviction should stand.

The U.S. Supreme Court then rejected Dassey’s petition for certiorari in June 2018.

Dassey’s counsel, including Laura Nirider with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, filed his petition for executive clemency with the Wisconsin Pardon Advisory Board in October.

The clemency petition alleged that Dassey was “subjected to a uniquely and profoundly flawed legal process” and that the board should have no confidence in the investigation, interrogation or trial leading to a life sentence for “a 16-year-old Mishicot High School special education student with no criminal history, an IQ of 74, and speech-language functioning in the bottom percentile.”

Dassey’s lawyers with the Center on Wrongful Convictions released a statement Friday condemning Evers’ denial.

“Today, only five days before Christmas, the Wisconsin Pardon Advisory Board chose to reject Brendan Dassey’s petition in an unsigned form letter, without reviewing the petition on the merits,” Nirider and Steven Drizin said.

“Had the board review Brendan’s petition on the merits,” the attorneys continued, “it would have seen what more than 250 national experts—and millions of ordinary people around the globe—see: a terrible miscarriage of justice.”

Evers notably reinstated the pardons process in Wisconsin in June after former Republican Governor Scott Walker suspended the pardons board and did not issue a single pardon in his eight-year tenure. Evers issued a dozen pardons between October and November to prisoners whose crimes ranged from battery to theft to drug possession.

With his last-ditch request for clemency denied, Dassey’s prospects of freedom now seem impossible. He will be 59 years old when he is eligible for parole.

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