Making A Murderer: Brendan Dassey ineligible for pardon, governor says

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will not grant a pardon or commutation to Brendan Dassey for his conviction in the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach.

The governor's office and pardon advisory board sent a letter to Dassey, 30, and his attorneys stating:

"Unfortunately, we are unable to consider your application for pardon because you do not meet one or more of the required eligibility conditions."

The governor's office says those requirements are:

"It has not been at least five years since you completed your entire sentence for the conviction you want to be pardoned."

"You are currently required to register as a sex offender under Wis. Stat. 301.45."

CLICK HERE to read the letter.

Dassey's attorneys responded with a statement Friday afternoon saying the parole advisory board's decision "has caused pain to many around the globe," citing his international support from "more than 250 national experts and millions of ordinary people."

Attorneys Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin said Gov. Evers has the power to commute Dassey's sentence and they're ready to work with him to that end. The governor's office says Evers is not considering commutations at this time.

They added that Dassey is not giving up hope (read the complete statement below).

As Action 2 News first reported in October, Dassey's attorneys formally asked Wisconsin's governor to grant clemency to their client. The Dassey defense team asked Evers for two forms of relief--either a pardon or a commutation. A commutation would shorten Dassey's life sentence.

"Brendan Dassey was a sixteen-year-old, intellectually disabled child when he was taken from his school and subjected to a uniquely and profoundly flawed legal process. That process rightly sought justice for Teresa Halbach, but it wrongly took a confused child’s freedom in payment for her loss. Such a debt can never be justly repaid with the currency of innocence," reads the clemency petition.

The Dassey case gained international attention with two seasons of the Netflix docu-series Making A Murderer.

On Oct. 31, 2005, freelance photographer Teresa Halbach disappeared after a trip to photograph a vehicle at the Avery Salvage Yard in Manitowoc County. Investigators say they found Halbach's remains in a burn pit on the Avery property. Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were arrested and charged with Halbach's murder.

In 2007, a jury found Dassey guilty of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide, Mutilating a Corpse, and 2nd Degree Sexual Assault/Use of Force. He was sentenced to life in prison with a chance at parole in 2048. One of the key elements of the prosecution's case was a confession Dassey gave to detectives. Dassey's current legal team and critics claim Dassey's confession was coerced.

Dassey was 16 at the time of the killing of Teresa Halbach. His attorneys argue investigators used improper techniques while interrogating a juvenile with a low IQ. They say investigators made false promises to Dassey that he'd be released if he told them about the killing.

Dassey attorney Steven Drizin says the Dassey confession tapes show evidence of police coercion that included "tactics that can be toxic and can produce false confessions."

"They pounded him with a steady drum beat of promises of leniency, saying he had nothing to worry about, everything was going to be OK, it was going to be alright. They'd stand by him, they'd be in his corner, they'd go to bat for him, they weren't going to leave him high and dry," says Drizin. "They lied over and over again about evidence, telling Brendan they already knew what happened when in fact they didn't."

No physical evidence tied Dassey to the murder. Dassey's attorneys believe he falsely confessed to being part of the crime.

"Not a single piece of evidence tied Brendan to this crime. No DNA, no blood, no hair, no fingerprints, nothing. Not in the [Teresa Halbach's] RAV 4, not in the [Steven Avery's] trailer, not in the garage, not in the burn pit, nowhere," says Drizin. "True confessors don't need help with their narratives."

Dassey was nearly released from prison after a federal magistrate overturned his conviction in August 2016. Judge William E. Duffin said repeated false promises by detectives, when considered with other factors like Dassey's age, intellectual deficits and the absence of a supportive adult, led him to determine that Dassey's confession was involuntary under the U.S. Constitution.

The state appealed the federal judge's ruling. Eventually, the case landed at the highest court in the land--the United States Supreme Court. The justices declined to hear Dassey's argument.

Dassey is currently serving his life sentence at Oshkosh Correctional Institution.

In April, Dassey sent a letter to Gov. Evers asking to go home. CLICK HERE to read the Dassey letter.

"I am writing to ask for a pardon 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," Dassey writes. "I would name my daughter Grace and my son Mizar which is the name of a star in the big dipper."

More than 200 advocates signed a letter to Gov. Evers asking him to grant clemency to Dassey. The list of names included retired U.S. Government officials, state and federal prosecutors, legal advocates, psychological experts and exonerees. Notable supporter are Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck and Sister Helen Prejean. The anti-death penalty advocate's story is the focus of the movie "Dead Man Walking."

National advocates for people with disabilities also wrote to Gov. Evers in support of clemency for Dassey.

Dassey has also received high-profile support from prison reform advocate Kim Kardashian West. CLICK HERE to learn about Kardashian's interest in the case.

Dassey's uncle, Steven Avery, was also convicted of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide in the Halbach murder. He continues to appeal his conviction.

In October, Avery attorney Kathleen Zellner filed a 32,241-word brief asking the Wisconsin Appeals court to grant Avery a new trial or evidentiary hearing.

The state has until February 11, 2020, to submit its response.

Zellner tweeted, "Sad news!" in response to the letter to Dassey regarding his pardon.

Complete statement from Brendan Dassey's attorneys

"Today, only five days before Christmas, the Wisconsin Pardon Advisory Board chose to reject Brendan Dassey’s clemency petition in an unsigned form letter, without reviewing the petition on the merits.

Had the Board reviewed Brendan’s petition on the merits, it would have seen what more than 250 national experts -- and millions of ordinary people around the globe – see: a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Now 30 years old, Brendan Dassey has been imprisoned for thirteen years based only on a false confession that is inconsistent with the known facts of the case, has been disproven by DNA and forensic evidence, and was immediately recanted. That false confession was the result of a deeply flawed interrogation of a 16-year-old special education student with profound learning disabilities.

Although the Pardon Advisory Board has stated that it will not consider commutations, Governor Evers is not bound by those rules. He does have the power to issue commutations under the Wisconsin Constitution and should do so when, as here, courts fail to deliver justice. Our partners around the country stand ready to work with the Governor to develop an appropriate process for the review of commutation petitions.

In the meantime, we will continue to work, respectfully but relentlessly, towards the day when this Governor recognizes in Brendan Dassey the gentle, cheerful, and kind human being whom we have known for twelve years. A good teacher never forgets his most vulnerable students; a good Governor never forgets his most vulnerable citizens.

We spoke to Brendan this morning. While the Board’s choice today has caused pain to many around the globe, Brendan wishes to express his profound gratitude – and his Christmas wishes -- to his many supporters. He is not giving up hope, and neither are we." -- Laura Nirider & Steven Drizin