The White House has responded to a WhiteHouse.gov petition asking President Obama to pardon Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, the subjects of Netflix’s docuseries “Making a Murderer,” for their alleged involvement in the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
The answer may not be what fans of the series were hoping for, however.
The official response reads, in part, “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 goes on to explain the limits of the President’s pardoning power and cites Obama’s track record in attempting to reform the criminal justice system and reduce the federal prison population.
“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,” the response notes.
The petition has reached 129,800 signatures to date, surpassing the required 100,000 that were needed to elicit a response from the White House before the January 16 deadline for review.
“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,” the petition says. “Based on the evidence in the Netflix documentary series ‘Making a Murderer,’ the justice system embarrassingly failed both men, completely ruining their entire lives.”
A similar Change.org petition, addressed to President Obama and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, also calls for Avery’s release, and has amassed 346,227 supporters so far. The White House offered the same response on the Change.org petition.
Filmed over 10 years, “Making a Murderer” documents Avery’s troubled relationship with the law, after he was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1985 and released from prison 18 years later after DNA evidence exonerated him. Avery was then imprisoned for allegedly killing photographer Halbach in 2005 and is currently serving life in prison without possibility of parole. Dassey was also convicted for Halbach’s murder and is currently serving a life sentence; he will be eligible for parole in 2048. At the time of his arrest, Avery had a $36 million federal lawsuit pending against Manitowoc County, its former sheriff, Thomas Kocourek, and its former district attorney, Denis Vogel, leading some to speculate that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department was attempting to frame Avery by tampering with evidence — a theory that Avery’s attorneys explored during his trial.