Scott Walker should commute Brendan Dassey's sentence

High time we had a “Making a Murderer” thread. If you haven’t watched the series yet on Netflix, you should skip this post. There’d be too much to explain to catch you up.

To those who have watched it, make the case to me that justice was served in sending Dassey away for life. If I’m remembering correctly, there’s not a scrap of physical evidence against him. His blood isn’t in Steve Avery’s trailer or garage or in Teresa Halbach’s car. Halbach’s blood isn’t anywhere on Dassey’s clothes or shoes or any other possession he owns. The sum total of the case against him, a 16-year-old with an IQ of 70 or so, is two cops leaning on him for hours to “be honest” with them as he seemingly tried to guess his way through the details of Halbach’s murder. (It was one of the cops, remember, not Dassey himself who introduced the critical detail that Halbach was shot in the head.) At the end of the interrogation, having just confessed to rape and murder, Dassey asked them if he’d make it back to school for class at 1:30 because he had a project that was due. The kid obviously didn’t understand the consequences of what he was saying, which makes it more probable that he was just telling them what they wanted to hear in order to end the interrogation ASAP. (So, of course, does Dassey telling his mother minutes after the interrogation ended, “They got to my head.”) His lawyer, who later let him be re-interviewed by the cops without counsel present, did a sufficiently horrible job that the court saw fit to remove him. Before he was removed, the lawyer’s own investigator also leaned on Dassey to confess to the crime thinking that was his best chance at a lighter sentence once Dassey’s confession to the police had been ruled admissible. The most memorable sequence of the whole series, I think, was Dassey being urged by the investigator to tell the truth and then writing out an account of what he did that day — and it’s nothing but mundane details about watching TV, playing video games, and then helping Uncle Steve burn some trash around the property. It’s very hard to believe that wasn’t Dassey’s honest recollection of what happened. But the confession to the cops came in and somehow that was enough to convince the jury that a timid, mentally disabled kid helped his svengali uncle rape, kill, and then burn the body of a helpless woman.

I’m ambivalent about Avery’s guilt. I realize there’s evidence against him that didn’t make it into the documentary. His blood in Halbach’s car is difficult to explain, despite the fact that someone clearly did tamper with the blood evidence collected from him in the previous rape prosecution. If he is guilty, though, I don’t understand how he could have had a leisurely, casual 15-minute phone call with his girlfriend right in the middle of the time when the crime was supposedly committed. If he killed Halbach right there on the premises and disposed of the body behind his trailer, I don’t understand why Halbach’s blood is in the back of her own car. Why would Avery have needed to put her in there? And if he was in the car and bleeding from a cut on his hand, where are his fingerprints? I don’t understand how Avery supposedly murdered Halbach in his garage and yet didn’t leave a speck of blood spatter on the floor, the ceiling, the walls, or any of the objects cluttering up the area. If he was that supernaturally diligent in cleaning up the blood at the murder scene, why wasn’t he equally diligent in cleaning up (or crushing) Halbach’s car? And why couldn’t the cops find any of Halbach’s blood anywhere in the trailer or the garage? That must have been one messy crime scene if you believe the state’s account of how she was killed, but not a drop remains outside of the car itself. I think there’s enough reasonable doubt to support a not-guilty verdict under those circumstances, especially given how shady some of the police activity seems to have been (don’t get me started on Colburn running Halbach’s plates days before she was found), but Avery really might be guilty. And it’s a lot to ask a sitting governor to put a guy back on the street who might have tortured, raped, and killed someone.

Is it a lot to ask Walker to commute Dassey’s sentence, though? Dassey’s the most sympathetic figure in the series; even Dean Strang, Avery’s lawyer, has said he’s more troubled by what happened to Dassey than by what happened to Avery. I’ve read various things online arguing for or against Avery’s guilt but no one seems to think Dassey got what he deserved. The political risk, given the public outcry on Dassey’s behalf, is small, especially now that Walker’s ambitions for higher office are behind him. If he finds the idea of a full pardon squeamish because it absolves Dassey too thoroughly of a horrible crime for which he was convicted, he could, I assume, commute his sentence instead. Let him out with time served on the theory that Dassey might have helped Avery dispose of Halbach’s body as an accessory after the fact but it beggars belief to think he was a full participant in whatever happened (or didn’t happen) that day. In light of his exploitation by the police and the ineffective assistance of his counsel, he’s been punished enough. To cover his bases, Walker could send psychiatrists to interview Dassey and assess what sort of threat he is to re-offend. If they give him the all-clear, Walker’s got cover to let Dassey out. People who’ve watched the series will applaud, and those who haven’t and demand to know why the governor’s freeing a murderer will be warned by friends to watch the series and you’ll see. It’s a low-risk way for Walker to correct an injustice and earn some goodwill in the process. Tell me why I’m wrong. And if I’m not wrong, tell the well-meaning dopes who are petitioning Obama to pardon Avery and Dassey that they’re barking up the wrong tree. They were convicted by the state of Wisconsin. Only Walker, as governor, can pardon them. And given how reluctant he is to do so, it’s going to take a lot of petitioning.

If you missed it last night, here’s Megyn Kelly interviewing the prosecutor and lead defense attorney in the Avery case.