One of the biggest flips in the midterm elections — at least for the stars of Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey — may have come in the state of Wisconsin.
Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel, both republican incumbents, lost their bids for re-election on Tuesday. Described as “the top two elected officials most determined to keep Avery and Dassey convicted,” the officials were topped by democrats Tony Evers and Josh Kaul respectively, who represent fresh hope for Wisconsin’s celebrity prisoners.
Season two of Netflix’s hit docuseries, which premiered Oct. 19, chronicled the Avery and Dassey’s attorney’s attempts to facilitate their release from prison for what they claim are wrongful convictions for the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005.
The show captured the Dassey family’s emotional reaction to the Federal District Court Judge William Duffin’s decision to overturn Dassey’s conviction when it was determined that the then-16-year-old’s confession was coerced. Though Duffin ordered his immediate release, Schimel, the recently unseated former Attorney General, immediately appealed Duffin’s decision and convinced the Court of Appeals to block Dassey’s release in the mean time.
To strike back, Dassey’s attorneys Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin managed to convince the Court of Appeals 7th Circuit to deny the appeal — but Schimel wouldn’t let up. The ex-Attorney General’s state appeal was granted an en banc hearing, which meant all judges of the Court of Appeals had to be present — a move that ultimately resulted in the 7th circuit ruling against Dassey to reinstate his conviction. In a last ditch effort to get off, Dassey’s case was presented to the Supreme Court, but they declined to take it on.
Now Dassey’s only hope is that fellow prisoner Steven Avery’s appeal will go better than his. Avery’s attorney Zellner claims to have uncovered new, previously withheld evidence.
“The Attorney General can tell the Department of Justice whether to fight a particular case or not, or whether to concede in certain areas or not,” Avery’s trial attorney, Jerry Buting, told Rolling Stone. “Kaul can order that a transparent review be done of their files and the special prosecutor’s files, as well as a reinvestigation of the case.”
It’s important to note Kaul’s ties to the case. His late mother Peg Lautenschlager was the acting Attorney General of Wisconsin when Avery was first exonerated for a wrongful conviction in 2003, and a few years later, Lautenschlager’s office helped with the investigation and prosecution of Avery and Dassey for Halbach’s murder.
There’s no guarantee that her newly appointed son will follow in her footsteps, but Buting believes “the Attorney General-elect will listen to anybody who wants to present their side to him. Whether it will result in exoneration or release from prison, that’s that’s a whole different question. … it’s too early to handicap what could happen.”
Evers, on the other hand, at least seems more likely to hear out requests for pardons than his predecessor, Walker, who told the Associated Press in 2013, “To me, the only people who are seeking pardons are people who have been guilty of a crime and I have a hard time undermining the actions of a jury and of a court,” before refusing to issue any pardons at all during his eight years in office.
While the fate of the “Making a Murderer” stars still hangs in the balance, Avery’s attorney Zellner told Rolling Stone she is “guardedly optimistic.”