On Friday, August 12, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, one of the accused murderers of 25 year old photographer Theresa Halbach who was showcased in the wildly popular true crime Netflix documentary ‘Making a Murderer,’ ordering he be released from prison within 90 days of his ruling. Prosecutors have the right to file an appeal, though whether they plan to do so has not been confirmed. Considering the gross miscarriage of justice in the Dassey case, it would be surprising if they tried for a second conviction, though stranger things have happened. Brendan Dassey, who has been diagnosed as having borderline to below average intellectual ability, is the nephew of Steven Avery, who was also convicted of raping, murdering and mutilating the corpse of the young woman in October of 2005.
Before Ms. Halbach was even confirmed dead and her body found on the property of the family-owned Avery Salvage Yard, the police arrested and charged Steven Avery with the crime, along with Dassey, who they claimed was Avery’s accomplice. At the time of the arrests, Avery was involved in a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County for wrongful conviction, having served 18 years behind bars for a rape and assault he did not commit. Dassey had never been in trouble with the law before, and was known as a quiet young man who enjoyed playing video games and watching Wrestlemania.
Through an unjustly coerced confession, which Dassey later recanted after telling his mom the police “got in my head,” the jury in his case took just four hours to find him guilty. None of his DNA was found on Ms. Halbach (or at the various scenes of the crime) and his taped “confession,” which took place during four interrogations over a 48 hour period (with no parent or legal counsel present,) noticeably shows the investigating officers feeding him confidential information about the case while encouraging him to change his initial claim of innocence to a detailed account of his supposed involvement. Prior to his confession, the investigators told him he would be able to go home and watch TV if he told them the “truth” (otherwise known as “what they wanted to hear.”) Desperate to leave, he obliged. He was arrested immediately and taken to jail. During his sentencing, he received life with the possibility of parole in 2048. His intellectual limitations and age were not taken into consideration during the nine day trial, where he was charged as an adult. At the time of his arrest, he was 16 years old; he was 17 and a half when he was found guilty in April, 2007.
Upon the release of ‘Making A Murderer,’ skeptics began to question the motives of Dassey’s original public defender, Len Kachinsky, insinuating he was working with the prosecutors on the case to secure a guilty confession in order for Dassey to testify against his uncle (which he never did.) In a video featuring an interview between Dassey and Kachinsky’s investigator Michael O’Kelly from user Reddit NotNineGag on YouTube, there appears to be a substantial amount of evidence supporting the suspicions:
Based on the implied misconduct, the young man petitioned the Supreme Court for a new trial in 2013; his request was denied. In October 2014, a habeas corpus petition was filed with Duffin by Dassey’s latest attorneys. The new legal team argued his confession was coerced and Judge Duffin agreed.
Upon siding with Dassey’s counsel, Duffin’s ruling read, in part: “Especially when the investigators’ promises, assurances, and threats of negative consequences are assessed in conjunction with Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, lack of experience in dealing with the police, the absence of a parent, and other relevant personal characteristics, the free will of a reasonable person in Dassey’s position would have been overborne. Once considered in the proper light, the conclusion that Dassey’s statement was involuntary under the totality of the circumstances is not one about which fair-minded jurists could disagree.”
While his lawyers are thrilled with the judge’s ruling, they’ve also expressed empathy for their traumatized client, stating he is in “shock” and just “wants to go home.”
After nine long years behind bars for a crime few believe he committed, I’d say it’s about time he got his wish.