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Close to 250 political and legal experts have signed an open letter urging Wisconsin’s governor to grant clemency to Brendan Dassey, the subject of Netflix’s hit true-crime documentary series Making a Murderer.
The names include former prosecutors and senior U.S. government officials, juvenile justice experts, law enforcement authorities, psychologists who specialize in the study of false confessions and more than two dozen exonerees.
Among them are Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun and anti-death penalty advocate portrayed by Susan Sarandon in 1995’s Dead Man Walking, and Barry Scheck, director of the Innocence Project (and a member of O.J. Simpson’s legal “dream team”).
They join a growing list of high-profile figures calling for Dassey’s release — a list that includes Kim Kardashian, who has tweeted in defense of Dassey to her 62 million Twitter followers and personally asked Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers to read Dassey’s handwritten letter asking to be released from prison.
“Many of us believe Brendan Dassey to be wrongly convicted and his statements, which constitute the primary evidence against him, to be unreliable,” reads the open letter. “Many of us believe that the process that led to the conviction of this 16-year-old special education student was indefensibly flawed, characterized by egregious defense attorney misconduct.”
It continues: “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 13 years in prison and accumulating an exemplary prison record, it is time to bring Brendan Dassey home.”
Dassey, 30, is serving life in prison for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, a freelance photographer who disappeared on a trip to photograph a car at the Avery Salvage Yard in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.
Halbach’s remains were discovered in a burn pit on the property. Steven Avery and Dassey, his nephew who was 16 at the time, were arrested and charged with Halbach’s murder.
On the strength of his confession, Dassey was found guilty in 2007 of first-degree intentional homicide and was sentenced to life in prison, with his first parole opportunity in 2048.
Lawyers for Dassey have argued all along that the confession was coerced and therefore false. They say Dassey, who has a low IQ, was wrongly told by investigators that he would be able to go home if he admitted to the killing, among other improper interrogation techniques.
In 2016, a federal magistrate overturned Dassey’s conviction, nearly resulting in his release from jail. But the state appealed the judge’s ruling, sending the case to United States Supreme Court. However, the justices declined to hear the appeal.
In Dassey’s letter to the governor, he asks for clemency “because I am innocent and want to go home. If I would get to go home, I would like to get a job involving video games. I would like to help take care of my mom and one day have a son and a daughter of my own.”
Avery, Dassey’s 57-year-old uncle, has appealed his own conviction. On Oct. 14, Avery’s lawyer filed a 135-page brief asking for a new trial or evidentiary hearing in the Halbach murder case.
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