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Brendan Dassey's Lawyers Seek Clemency: 'The Authority That Makes The Rules Can Amend The Rules'

Tracy Symonds-Keogh
Brendan Dassey during his trial, which was April 16-25, 2007.

In 2015, the documentary series Making A Murderer reached millions of viewers around the world. The series tells the story of Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey. Both were convicted of murdering Teresa Halbach in Manitowoc County. Now, Dassey is asking Gov. Tony Evers for executive clemency. 

Dassey was just a teenager when he was sentenced to life in prison. And the series raised a lot of questions about his conviction, which largely hinged on a confession that his legal team says was coerced.

READ: Brendan Dassey Seeks Pardon, Commutation

Seth Waxman is a member of Dassey's legal team, and the former Solicitor General for the United States. When Waxman was first asked to join, he was unfamiliar with the show Making A Murderer. It was the transcript of the final interrogation session that convinced Waxman to help Dassey. 

"I sort of felt like my blood ran cold reading this thing and realizing what had happened to this kid," he says. 

Dassey is borderline intellectually disabled and was in special education classes at the time of his arrest in 2006. He was interrogated four times over a 48-hour period, without a parent or his lawyer present. Videotape of the confession suggests that Dassey was unaware of the consequences of his statements. 

After the release of Making A Murderer there was public pressure to revisit both Dassey's and Avery's cases. But after a long, drawn-out legal battle, Dassey has exacerbated all of the current options available through the legal system. His team, including Waxman, is petitioning Evers for clemency. 

But the governor's application for clemency lays out specific guidelines for eligibility, and Dassey's case does not meet the criteria. Still, Waxman believes in Dassey's innocence and hopes his innocence will set him free. 

"The authority that makes the rules can amend the rules. Enlightened authorities learn through experience and often do amend rules. This is a really, really unique and uniquely compelling circumstance," says Waxman.

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.