"Making a Murderer" subject Brendan Dassey filing for clemency after 13 years in prison

"Making a Murderer" subject seeks clemency

The legal team for Brendan Dassey, one of the convicted killers at the center of the popular Netflix docuseries "Making a Murderer," is petitioning the governor of Wisconsin to grant him clemency. When Dassey was 16 years old, he confessed to helping his uncle kill photographer Teresa Halbach. Now 29, he has served more than 13 years in prison. But critics and his lawyers claim he was coerced into a false confession.

Dassey's legal options have been exhausted. But now, his attorney Laura Nirider is turning to Wisconsin's new Democratic governor, Tony Evers. "We're filing a petition for executive clemency with Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin," Nirider told "CBS This Morning" co-host Anthony Mason. 

In 2007, Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery were sentenced to life in prison for Halbach's murder. The burned remains of the 25-year-old photographer were found on the Avery family property, along with her key and car. Avery, whose blood was found in that car, has claimed he was framed.
 
At the time of Halbach's murder, Avery was suing Manitowoc County and its former sheriff. He'd been released from prison in 2003, after DNA evidence exonerated him of a rape charge for which he'd served 18 years.
 
Dassey's case became a sensation when Netflix released "Making a Murderer." Amid the murder investigation, Dassey, who is intellectually limited, was interviewed by police four times in 48 hours without a lawyer or parent present. The 16-year-old eventually confessed to helping his uncle rape and kill Halbach, but Nirider said Dassey was fed information by investigators.
 
Dassey quickly recanted his confession -- first, to his mother, while still in the interrogation room. "They got to my head," he told her.

In a podcast episode released Wednesday, Dassey spoke from prison with Jason Flom, host of the podcast "Wrongful Conviction." It's his first interview since going to prison.

Flom is a music executive who's behind the careers of starts like Katy Perry and Lorde. But as a member of the board of the Innocence Project, he also fights for criminal justice reform – and he told Mason that he's "absolutely certain" that Dassey is innocent.
 
"I just wanted it all over with, so I said whatever they wanted to hear, you know?" Dassey told Flom on the podcast.

"Most people grow up, as I did, with believing that the law enforcement are out to help us, right? They're the people you call when you need help. Did you have that same idea when you went in there?" Flom asked.

"Yes," Dassey said. "I thought, anything I can do to help them, you know, I would."

According to the Innocence Project, defendants made false confessions, admissions or statements to law enforcement in about a quarter of wrongful convictions later overturned with DNA evidence. Among the reasons people falsely confess: "real or perceived intimidation" by "law enforcement," exhaustion, stress, and in some cases, "mental limitations, or limited education."

"When Brendan Dassey was in special education, he was in 10th grade, he required an aide to sit next to him in the classroom to help him understand the teachers' spoken sentences…" Nirider said. "Then shift him into the interrogation room where he was barraged with 1,500 questions over 3.5 hours […] You don't have to be a lawyer to understand how an interrogation like that would overwhelm someone like Brendan Dassey."

Nirider added that she hopes Governor Evers, who previously served on the Wisconsin Board of Education, will be better equipped to understand Dassey's circumstances.  

Dassey does not fit the criteria for a pardon. And the Wisconsin governor has said he won't consider commutations, which reduce the length of a sentence.

"Why file for clemency now? Well, you have a new governor, and you have a new governor who has expressed himself unequivocally about being interested in social justice and criminal justice reform," said CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman. "So they believe as his lawyers that they may get a receptive audience here."  

"This is his best shot, and the moment is now," Nirider said. "The moment is now for Brendan to come home."

Dassey is not eligible for parole for another nearly 30 years. His attorneys have set up a website for people to show their support. Teresa Halbach's family has previously said they believe the right men are behind bars for her murder, and the former prosecutor on the case has said the same.