Petition Seeks to Exonerate “Making a Murderer” Subject. The White House Responds.
Netflix’s continued dominance in the streaming media market is no longer news to anybody, but nevertheless the company’s growing list of accomplishments is hard to ignore, even to the most jaded media aficionado. Earlier this week, it was announced that Netflix is expanding its market to 190 countries, setting the 18-year-old company up for becoming the world’s premier on-demand internet television and film provider. Netflix has also permeated our language, with “netflix & chill” becoming one of the most talked-about phrases of 2015. Not only has it changed the television-watching habits of millions (see: binge), but now it has begun to influence political action, all thanks to its most recent success, the true-crime docu-series Making a Murderer. Please note there is a potential spoiler forthcoming.
Making a Murderer is a harrowing, complex, intimate look at the inner workings of one Wisconsin county, where a man named Steven Avery was acquitted of sexual assault charges after spending 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The rest of the series, a 10-episode saga filmed in real time, follows Avery and his family as they deal with yet another trial – this time around, Avery is charged and convicted of murder. Most who have watched the series in its entirety feel strongly that, once again, Avery was framed for a crime and the show’s meticulously detailed coverage of the months leading up to the trial, the various elements of evidence used in the arguments, the history of the prosecutorial misconduct in the department, and a barrage of other bizarre, contradictory events seems to support such an argument. Nevertheless, Avery currently sits in prison serving a life sentence, and the ravenous supporters of the show have now taken things into their own hands, bringing a petition all the way to the White House. And, earlier today, the White House responded.
According to Rolling Stone, the petition called “‘Pardon Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey for their alleged involvement in the murder of Teresa Halbach’ beckons President Obama to give a full pardon” in Avery’s ‘wrongful conviction in the connection to the murder of Teresa Halbach.’ The petition bases its reasoning on the documentary series’ findings and the evidence presented.” RS writer Althea Legaspi quotes the White House’s official response as saying: “Under the constitution, only federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President,” and that “the President’s pardon power extends to convictions adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and military court-martial proceedings. However, the President cannot pardon a state criminal offense.” Legaspi goes on to suggest that the administration would do something to address what could potentially be the second wrongful conviction of the same innocent man, but in fact the only statements from the White House on this manner include vague platitudes about the President’s commitment to “restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system.”
This is a highly unusual series of events. Rarely is the response to a show such as this so vehement, so passionate, and so proactive as to elicit a response from the president, another tremendous achievement that Netflix can now add to its vast CV. It’s unclear whether motions will be made to ask Wisconsin’s Governor (and failed presidential candidate) Scott Walker to exonerate Avery, but the speed and voracity with which hundreds of thousands signed the original petition suggests a state-wide one would be easily executed.