MADISON, Wis. — A man convicted of rape and murder when he was a teenager whose story was documented in the 2015 Netflix series “Making a Murderer” asked Wisconsin’s governor for a pardon or commutation of his life prison sentence on Wednesday.
Brendan Dassey was 16 years old when he confessed to Wisconsin authorities that he had joined his uncle, Steve Avery, in the 2015 rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, before burning her body in a bonfire.
Avery and Dassey are serving life sentences. The U.S. Supreme Court last year, without comment, said they would not consider Dassey’s appeal of his conviction. He could request another trial if a judge agrees he has new evidence that warrants a new trial.
His chance at a pardon seems remote. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers re-started Wisconsin’s pardons board this year after predecessor Scott Walker stopped it, but Evers said applicants must have completed their entire sentences and that he won’t consider commuting sentences. Dassey asked Evers to waive the rules that would preclude consideration of his request.
Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Evers has yet to act on any pardon requests.
The pardon request argues that Dassey was the victim of a “uniquely and profoundly flawed legal process.” It says seeking clemency from the governor is “one of the last remaining legal options” available to Dassey.
“By his prison conduct and his gentle, patient insistence of his own innocence, Brendan has shown himself to be the rare person who is worthy of clemency,” the application said.
Dassey’s attorneys say he’s borderline intellectually disabled and that he was manipulated by experienced police officers into accepting their story of how Halbach’s murder happened. They wanted his confession thrown out and a new trial.
At Dassey’s trial, video of his confession to investigators played a central role. Authorities had no physical evidence tying Dassey to the crimes, and he testified that his confession was “made up,” but a jury convicted him anyway. He will be eligible for parole in 2048.
Wisconsin prosecutors have long held that Dassey’s confession was voluntary. Prosecutors noted that Dassey’s mother gave investigators permission to speak with him, that Dassey agreed as well and that during the interview investigators used only standard techniques such as adopting a sympathetic tone and encouraging honesty.
Avery spent 18 years in prison for a different rape before DNA testing exonerated him. After his release, he filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit over his conviction, but he was arrested in 2005 and later convicted of Halbach’s murder as that lawsuit was still pending. Avery maintains he was framed.
Avery’s request for a new trial was rejected by a Wisconsin circuit court judge in August.
A three-judge appeals court panel said in 2017 that Dassey should be retried or released from prison. But later that year the full appeals court on a 4-3 decision upheld the earlier ruling that Dassey’s confession was voluntary. That decision remains in place after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take the case.