Netflix’s latest hit documentary series, Making a Murderer, has captivated audiences around the country. The story laid out in the ten-episode series, centering on Steven Avery’s wrongful incarceration and the events that landed him back in prison for life has been a gut-wrenching display of human error, as well as a harsh reminder that the U.S. justice system is heavily flawed. For some—certainly for Avery and his family—the story stands as a real-life example of evil winning out over good.
In response to the series, there has been an incredible outpouring of public support for Avery, as well as his nephew Brendan Dassey (who was convicted of being a party to the same murder that landed Avery back in prison). It has taken form, in part, as two petitions; one on WhiteHouse.org (with about 130,000 signatures) and one on Change.org (with about 342,000 supporters). Both aim to exonerate the alleged criminals. Today, the White House has responded to the former petition, stating that President Obama cannot pardon either Avery or Dassey.
The response to the petition issued by the White House says, in part, the following:
Under the Constitution, only federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President. In addition, the President’s pardon power extends to convictions adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and military court-martial proceedings. However, the President cannot pardon a state criminal offense. [Bolded text included in original response.]
In other words, because Avery and Dassey are both state prisoners, they are not eligible for pardon by President.
The White House response goes on to buttress the idea that “President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system” with a graph displaying his relatively large amount of commuted sentences, as well as specific actions he’s taken to fight unjust laws. But, while this effort may be working in other areas of law and order, it sadly has no relevance to either Avery or Dassey’s cases.
For those unfamiliar, the series was made by filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos over the course of a decade, and takes place in the small town of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It focuses, for the most part, on what happened to Steven Avery after he was freed from prison after 18 years for a rape he was accused of committing. As the series unfolds, Avery and Dassey are arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach (the crime they are both currently serving life sentences for). It becomes more and more evident the police and state prosecutors may be aiming to frame Avery and Dassey for a murder they did not commit.
The fight to free Avery and Dassey is not over however, and their story will hopefully stay in the public’s mind for some time. Cable television network Investigation Discovery is planning a follow-up documentary to Making a Murderer, entitled Front Page: The Steven Avery Story, and will focus “specifically at comments [made] by Wisconsin prosecutor Ken Kratz” in response to the documentary series. Kratz, as anybody who’s seen the series will recall with wicked distaste, was the state prosecutor in both Avery and Dassey’s cases. The ID documentary will air later this month.
Regardless of how one feels about the documentary, or Avery or Dassey’s innocence, perhaps the silver lining here is that the American public can still be activated by injustice. After viewing such a disheartening documentary, it’s inspiring to see the public use its voice to defend those who need to be defended. Hopefully that voice will be followed by government action…
What do you think about Making a Murderer and the White House’s response to the petition to exonerate Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey of their crimes? Let us know in the comments section below.
HT: TV Insider