Nearly 250 people — including legal experts, politicians, psychologists and falsely convicted former inmates — signed an open letter to Wisconsin’s governor requesting clemency for Brendan Dassey, whose murder conviction was featured in the 2015 Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer.
Dassey, 30, is serving a life sentence for first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse and sexual assault in connection with 25-year-old Teresa Halbach’s death in 2005.
Making a Murderer cast a critical light on the convictions of both Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery. Dassey’s confession to law enforcement — during which the then-16-year-old confessed to helping Avery rape and kill Halbach — is the most debated aspect of the investigation.
Dassey, who according to his lawyers has intellectual disabilities, later recanted the confession, claiming it had been coerced. His attorneys have argued his interrogators made false promises of leniency and fed him facts about the killing that he didn’t actually know.
The advocates’ letter to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers states, “We call upon you, Governor Evers, to use your sovereign power of executive clemency, whether in the form of a pardon or a commutation, to end the incarceration of Brendan Dassey.”
It adds, “Each of us feels called upon by our conscience to sign this letter. Many of us believe Brendan Dassey to be wrongly convicted and his statements, which constitute the primary evidence against him, to be unreliable. Many of us believe that the process that led to the conviction of this sixteen-year-old special education student was indefensibly flawed, characterized by egregious defense attorney misconduct. And many of us believe that Brendan’s sentence — life in prison, with no chance of parole until 2048 — is wildly inappropriate. All of us agree that, after serving more than thirteen years in prison and accumulating an exemplary prison record, it is time to bring Brendan Dassey home.”
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Among those to sign the letter were Sister Helen Prejean, whose anti-death penalty work was featured in the Sean Penn film, Dead Man Walking, and Rosie Phillips Davis, President of the American Psychological Association.
Advocates have created an online petition at www.bringbrendanhome.org to support Dassey’s clemency request.
Dassey remains in prison despite years of appeals. Wisconsin’s court of appeals upheld Dassey’s conviction, but a federal magistrate and a panel of the U.S. court of appeals ruled in his favor. However, the full appeals court overturned that panel’s decision, and the Supreme Court declined to hear Dassey’s argument.
The Washington Post reports that after the Supreme Court’s decision, then-Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said: “We hope the family and friends of Ms. Halbach can find comfort in knowing this ordeal has finally come to a close.”