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Petition To Pardon 'Making A Murderer' Subject Gets Over 200,000 Signatures

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A petition to pardon Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man charged with murdering a 25-year-old woman in 2005, has collected nearly 200,000 signatures since his case was explored in the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. It's a case so convoluted you might lose yourself down a Reddit rabbit hole for days if you aren't careful. (Confession: I did.) Netflix's true-crime docuseries Making a Murderer from filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi explores the bizarre case of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, then was convicted of murdering a photographer only a few years after his release. The way the ten-part documentary is presented, the viewer is led to believe that Avery was framed by the same law enforcement officers who wrongly put him behind bars the first time. Other evidence against Avery not presented in the documentary has surfaced since its release, but even so, there's some clearly shady police work going on in Manitowoc County.

A petition on Change.org asking for President Barack Obama to pardon Avery has gathered over 200,000 signatures. However, since it wasn't a federal conviction, Obama has no power to pardon Avery, according to VICE. A petition on Whitehouse.gov asking for pardons for both Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was also convicted of the murder, has gathered over 20,000 signatures. By comparison, a Change.org petition asking for a fair trial for Adnan Syed, the subject of podcast Serial who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend when he was 18, has over 30,000 signatures.

Viewers are torn over whether Avery and Dassey committed the murder, if Avery acted alone, if someone else committed the murder or if it was all an elaborate scheme on behalf of crooked law enforcement. Pretty much any theory you want to support, you can find someone else on the Internet who's right there with you.

The story begins in 1985, when a woman named Penny Beernsten is brutally assaulted and raped while jogging on the shore of Lake Michigan. The documentary indicates that from the get-go, the police in Manitowoc County had their sights set on Avery being the perpetrator. Despite a then 23-year-old Avery having an alibi for the entire day on which the attack occurred, he was still convicted based solely on Beernsten's certainty that he was the one who attacked her—which the documentary indicates may have been caused by the police's own certainty. (Beensten talks about this in a fascinating episode of Radiolab available here.) In actuality, the man who attacked her was serial rapist Gregory Allen. However, Avery would continue to sit behind bars for 18 years until finally, DNA evidence exonerated him and pointed to Allen. At this time, Allen was already in jail for another sexual assault. Weirder yet, police had every reason to suspect Allen in the Beernsten case: they were already monitoring him regularly, convinced he was going to commit a sexual assault based on previous behavior. Not only that, but Allen even told authorities that he had committed an assault that someone else was doing time for, eight years before DNA evidence freed Avery.

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Avery was ultimately released in 2003 and sued the County. He was set to win a certain amount of money that he would have used to continue his legal battle. However, he was soon charged with the murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach, a photographer who went missing after visiting the Avery family's auto salvage yard to photograph a vehicle for Auto Trader Magazine, where Haibach worked as a freelance photographer. While the evidence against Avery is compelling—it includes Halbach's car found on Avery's salvage lot with his blood inside—the documentary and Avery's lawyers point to conspiracy on behalf of the police. And authorities certainly had the motive: Avery's first case was laden with shoddy police work, and they were potentially going to have to pay him a lot of money. The documentary also shows footage of Dassey's interrogation. Watching investigators lead 16-year-old Dassey—whose IQ hovers around 70—to incriminating statements is cringe-inducing.

The documentary leaves out other key pieces of evidence, including that Avery's DNA was found on the hood latch of Halbach's car, as well as conversations between Dassey and his mother that indicated Avery may have molested him in the past. Moira Demos responded to allegations from the prosecutor in the case, Ken Kratz, that the filmmakers left out key pieces, saying: "I guess I would ask Kratz what he would trade it for. We tried to choose what we thought was Kratz's strongest evidence pointing toward Steven's guilt, the things he talked about at his press conferences, the things that were really damning toward Steven. That's what we put in."

Regardless, things aren't lining up for people, and that's why this documentary has everyone scratching their heads and signing petitions.

If you're done watching Making a Murderer and need another bewildering case to mull over, we suggest checking out Lost Compassion. This documentary explores the mysterious death of Mitrice Richardson, a young woman who was found dead in Malibu Hills in 2010 after disappearing in 2009. The film just won "Best Documentary" at the Malibu Film Festival, and we should be getting some additional screenings soon.