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MADISON, WI — A man whose conviction on rape and murder charges was documented in the 2015 Netflix series “Making a Murderer” is asking Wisconsin’s governor for a pardon or commutation of his life prison sentence, attorneys said Wednesday.
Brendan Dassey was 16 years old when he confessed to Wisconsin authorities 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 it would not consider Dassey’s appeal of his conviction. He could request another trial if a judge agrees he has new evidence that warrants one.
His chance at a pardon seems remote. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers restarted Wisconsin’s pardons board this year after predecessor Scott Walker stopped it, but Evers said applicants must have completed their entire sentences and he won’t consider commuting sentences.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Dassey’s attorneys say he’s borderline intellectually disabled and he was manipulated by experienced police officers into accepting their story of how Halbach’s murder happened. They want 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 his confession was “made up,” but a jury convicted him anyway. He will be eligible for parole in 2048.
Wisconsin prosecutors long have held Dassey’s confession was voluntary. Prosecutors noted Dassey’s mother gave investigators permission to speak with him, Dassey agreed as well and 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 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.
Evers is considering granting pardons after Walker refused to issue any during eight years in office. Evers has yet to act on any pardon requests.
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