Two Big Petitions to Free Making a Murderer’s Steven Avery Were Started; the White House Explained It Doesn’t Work Like That

Steven Avery from the Netflix original documentary series
Steven Avery. Photo: Netflix

Since the mid-December release of Netflix’s Making a Murderer docuseries, viewers have set up two major petitions with goals of freeing its subject, Steven Avery. The Wisconsin native is serving a life sentence because of a 2005 murder conviction, the peculiarities of which are detailed in the show. The appeals have so far amassed more than 160,000 signatures during the few weeks the series has been available, with one roughly 75 percent of the way to its support goal. Both petitions — one on, and another on the White House’s site — say the justice system failed Avery, and he and his also-convicted nephew, Brendan Dassey, deserve presidential pardons.

The White House one, available here, reads:

Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey should be given a full pardon by President Obama for their wrongful conviction in the connection to the murder of Teresa Halbach.

Based on the evidence in the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer”, the justice system embarrassingly failed both men, completely ruining their entire lives.

There is clear evidence that the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department used improper methods to convict both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.

This is a black mark on the justice system as a whole, and should be recognized as such, while also giving these men the ability to live as normal a life as possible.

At time of publication, this petition had nearly 19,000 signatures. It needs 81,000 more by January 19 to elicit an official, public response from the White House. And here’s the Change petition:

There is a documentary series on Netflix called “Making a Murderer.” After viewing it, I am outraged with the injustices which have been allowed to compound and left unchecked in the case of Steven Avery of Manitowoc County in Wisconsin, U.S.A. Avery’s unconstitutional mistreatment at the hands of corrupt local law enforcement is completely unacceptable and is an abomination of due process.

Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by presidential pardon, and the Manitowoc County officials complicit in his two false imprisonments should be held accountable to the highest extent of the U.S. criminal and civil justice systems.

This one had more than 150,000 signatures — making it close to 49,000 short of its goal. Clearly, the true-crime show has become immensely popular on Netflix — so much so that the prosecutor who convicted Avery of murder has had a rough time on Yelp. He also claims the series’ directors omitted crucial evidence pointing to Avery’s guilt, misleading legions of Netflix viewers.

Update: The We the People petition exceeded 100,000 signatures, meaning the White House had to issue a public response. It did so on Thursday, explaining the president cannot pardon a state criminal offense. Here’s the most relevant excerpt:

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.

Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities.

The full statement is available here.

The White House Responds to the Avery Petition