Fans of Netflix series Making of a Murderer just got a civics lesson from the White House. Representatives for the White House responded today to a petition created December 20 on petitions.WhiteHouse.gov, which called for presidential pardons for Steven Avery and Brendan Dassy, subjects of the recent docuseries examining the death of Teresa Halbach. Variety reported that the petition alleges improper methods used by the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department to secure convictions for Avery and Dassy.
A petition filed using the White House website requires 100,000 signatures before the administration must respond to it. The largest Murderer petition garnered 129,864 signatures, though there were several filed, including one calling for an open discussion with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker about getting a retrial for Avery.
Once the main petition reached the signature threshold the White House issued a response, noting that since Avery and Dassy are state prisoners only the governor of the state they were convicted by can grant a pardon.
“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 response went on to highlight President Obama’s efforts toward reducing crime and federal prison population rates, particularly by addressing non-violent crimes. Last month the President commuted the sentences of 95 prisoners, mostly held on drug charges, though he only granted full pardons to two.
Making of a Murderer may be on the leading edge of a new kind of viral programming. HBO’s The Jinx, which explored the case of Robert Durst, NPR podcast Serial, and now Murderer have all sparked public attention and conversation about crimes thought to be solved long ago. Strong social media stories from organizations like The Innocence Project, who work to gain releases for wrongly convicted prisoners, and recent evidence of corruption among some law enforcement agencies have snowballed into a public appetite for analyzing due process.
These shows hearken back to the investigative journalism techniques of 20/20 and Nightline that riveted audiences for decades before cable. We’ve always had an appetite for the sordid details, and love to see flaws in the system put on trial. Murderer did take 10 years to create however, with the filmmakers moving back and forth between their home cities and Wisconsin to follow the case, so the intensity and demands of such detailed journalism may limit the growth of this format.
In the meantime, another petition on Change.org about the Avery case has 351,561 signatures and is still active. Since it addresses both the president and Governor Scott Walker it is remains open for signatures.