Sunday 4 December 2016

Irish 'Making a Murderer' fans urged to sign petition

Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30

US Lawyer Colleen Rohan in Dublin to launch The Bar of Ireland's 2016 Innocence Project Scholarships. Photo: Mark Condren
US Lawyer Colleen Rohan in Dublin to launch The Bar of Ireland's 2016 Innocence Project Scholarships. Photo: Mark Condren
Steven Avery is shown in a booking photo from the Netflix documentary series 'Making a Murderer'. Photo: Reuters

A top US lawyer has urged Irish fans of 'Making a Murderer' to back an online petition calling for justice for Steven Avery.

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Defence attorney Colleen Rohan jetted into Dublin yesterday to launch The Bar of Ireland's 2016 Innocence Project Scholarships.

Speaking at the event, the Wisconsin-born legal expert told how the Netflix sensation showed the importance of people in power fighting cases of wrongful imprisonment.

Ms Rohan, who is a founding member of the International Criminal Law Bureau, said: "I guess everyone in Ireland has watched it, except for people who are still asleep or something.

"I think that people signing petitions has a massive impact. First of all on Steven Avery himself, so that he can endure what he's got to go through, and we're assuming now that he was wrongfully convicted.

"Frankly, there's something wrong with that case," she continued. "Every defence lawyer I know who's watched this shakes their head and says, 'There's something seriously wrong'.

"So for him knowing that he has that kind of support is huge because usually a person in his situation is completely forgotten."

Almost half a million people have now signed an online petition calling for the 53-year-old Wisconsin man - who is currently serving life in prison for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach - to be pardoned.

Mr Avery previously spent 18 years behind bars for a rape that DNA evidence later showed he did not commit. Now the 10-part docu-series, binge-watched by many at Christmas, has cast doubts over his second conviction as well.

Describing some of the arguments put forward by the defence in the documentary - including that police had planted the victim's car key in Mr Avery's home - as among "the most compelling" she'd ever heard, Ms Rohan added: "Although it's not common to see a miscarriage of justice of that magnitude, it's not entirely rare either, so the film-makers who made that documentary are heroines.

"People for good reason, I suppose, are loathe to believe, for example, that police officers will lie or plant evidence.

"Obviously most prosecutors, police officers, judges and defence lawyers are honest and they do their work properly and ethically. But in the cases where that does not occur, people need to know about them [and] they need to talk about it.

"So for me, this is a really healthy public debate that needs to happen."

Five junior members of The Bar of Ireland are this year set to receive sponsorships to work on Innocence Projects just like the one featured in 'Making a Murderer' in the US.

Founded in 1992, the non-profit organisation works to exonerate wrongly convicted people using new DNA testing.

Praising the 80pc of Irish lawyers engaged in pro bono work, Ms Rohan said: "I know that the Innocence Projects have had an impact in the US on attitudes towards the death penalty. If we have a system that can engage in an error that horrible, we shouldn't have a death penalty because you can never undo an execution."

Irish Independent

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