By Matthew DeFour
Gov. Scott Walker, in keeping with past practice, won't pardon Steven Avery or his nephew for a 2005 homicide that has received widespread attention after a new documentary raised questions about the case.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Tuesday that Walker has not seen the 10-part documentary, "Making a Murderer," which was released last month on Netflix, and emphasized that the events in the film took place before Walker took office.
"Early in his administration, Governor Walker made the decision not to issue pardons," Patrick said. "Those who feel they have been wrongly convicted can seek to have their convictions overturned by a higher court."
The Avery documentary has generated renewed interest in the case. A change.org petition asking President Barack Obama and Walker to pardon Steven Avery has received more than 270,000 supporters as of Tuesday afternoon. The case was tried in state, not federal, court so Obama doesn't have the power to grant a pardon.
Walker's policy against pardons has been well-documented. It included refusing to pardon Eric Pizer, an Iraq War veteran who couldn't become a police officer because of a felony conviction for punching someone in a bar fight a decade earlier.
The documentary chronicles the investigation and trial in the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach, whose charred remains and vehicle were found on Avery's property in November 2005. Avery's nephew Brendan Dassey was also convicted of homicide, sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse in the case, which drew nationwide interest because Avery was previously exonerated with DNA evidence after spending 18 years in prison for a 1985 sexual assault.
The film includes exclusive access to Avery's family and focuses on his defense attorneys' contention that the members of the Manitowoc Sheriff's Office ignored other possible suspects and planted evidence to ensure a conviction. At the time, Avery was suing Manitowoc County for $36 million for his wrongful conviction.
Those who dispute the framing defense, including former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz, who prosecuted the case to avoid a possible conflict of interest, emphasize Avery's DNA was found in Halbach's vehicle, her DNA was found on a bullet that investigators matched to Avery's gun and that Avery had asked specifically for Halbach to be sent over to photograph a vehicle for Auto Trader Magazine.
Avery's appeals have been rejected all the way up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Dassey, who did not testify against Avery, was convicted based on statements he made to police during hours of interrogation that he later recanted when he took the stand in his own trial. His case is being appealed in federal court.
State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, who represents the Mishicot area where Avery's salvage yard is located, said he hasn't watched the documentary and doesn't know if he will. He said he's received a handful of emails about the film, but all of them have been from people outside of his district.
"I wouldn't say I've received any sort of outcry from my constituents that anything was wrongly decided," Jacque said. He added that many Wisconsinites already know about the Steven Avery case and the documentary brought it to a wider audience.
Having followed the Avery and Dassey cases in 2007, "it seemed as if the burden of proof was met" in both convictions, Jacque said.
In response to the film's central allegations of police planting evidence in the Avery case, Jacque said "it's unfair to cast aspersions simply by saying somebody might have" done that.
State Journal reporter Mark Sommerhauser contributed to this report.
(c)2016 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)