Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Sorry, ‘Making a Murderer’ fans: Scott Walker isn’t going to pardon Steven Avery

According to the Wisconsin constitution, the governor has the legal ability to pardon a prisoner. But there is zero chance of that happening. Here’s why.

Gov. Scott Walker, left, opined that a convict, like Steve Avery, shouldn't get special consideration just because of a strong showing of loud advocates.
Wikimedia Commons/Netflix

It’s been less than three weeks since Netflix premiered “Making A Murderer” — the instant-hit, true-crime documentary series intimately detailing a murder case in rural Wisconsin — and there’s already a concerted effort to free the man some believe got a bum rap from the justice system.

Steven Avery is currently facing a life sentence for a 2007 murder conviction. During his trial, shown in detail in the 10-episode documentary series, Avery’s lawyers argued that members of the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department framed their client. Viewers seem to believe what the jury didn’t: as of this writing, more than 257,000 people have signed a petition asking President Barack Obama and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to grant a full pardon for Steven Avery.

“I am outraged with the injustices which have been allowed to compound and left unchecked in the case of Steven Avery of Manitowoc County in Wisconsin, U.S.A.,” writes petition author Michael Seyedian. “Avery’s unconstitutional mistreatment at the hands of corrupt local law enforcement is completely unacceptable and is an abomination of due process.”

Unfortunately for fans of the show, the chances of this happening are just about zero.

Article continues after advertisement

As Slate and Vox point out, President Barack Obama doesn’t even have the power to pardon Avery because he’s a prisoner of the state of Wisconsin – not the federal corrections system, over which Obama would have this power.

Which leaves us with Walker.

Hypothetically, the former presidential candidate could indeed grant a pardon. According to the state’s constitution, the executive has the legal ability to pardon a prisoner. But he won’t.

“These events took place before Gov. Walker took office,” says his spokewoman, Laurel Patrick, in a statement to MinnPost. “As you may know, early in his administration, Gov. Walker made the decision not to issue pardons. Those who feel they have been wrongly convicted can seek to have their convictions overturned by a higher court.”

The call doesn’t reflect on Avery’s case. After taking oath in January 2011, Walker declined to appoint anyone to the state’s pardon advisory board and then suspended the process indefinitely. Despite thousands of applications, Walker has never considered a single pardon.

“He doesn’t pardon anyone,” says P.S. Ruckman, Jr., a political scientist at Northern Illinois University who studies pardons nationally. “He refuses to.”

Ruckman says Avery’s newfound celebrity likely only hurts his case. In regard to a past high-profile case, Walker opined that a convict shouldn’t get special consideration just because of a strong showing of loud advocates. 

In other words: “If you can imagine the odds getting worse, this would be the case,” says Ruckman.

Walker’s hardline policy against pardons came under scrutiny recently when he refused to hear a case brought by war veteran Eric Pizer. As the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported, in 2004, after returning to Wisconsin from serving tours in Iraq and Kuwait, Pizer intervened in a fight and ended up breaking a guy’s nose with a single punch. Pizer was charged with felony battery, disqualifying him from pursuing a career in law enforcement. Despite a letter-writing campaign from members of the public who believed Pizer’s case deserved a second look, Walker refused to consider it.

Article continues after advertisement

It’s hard to say if Avery’s pardon plea would have a better chance of being considered had he been convicted in Minnesota. As MinnPost reported last year, Minnesota does have a functioning pardon board, but it hasn’t approved a full pardon or commuted a prison term — meaning reducing a sentence or lessening its severity — in a quarter-century.