Brendan Dassey was just a teenager when he was convicted of murdering freelance photographer Teresa Halbach. The reaction to Dassey’s conviction was overwhelming. The majority of viewers who watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer were furious, to say the least, that Dassey was coerced into a false confession. Earlier this year, United States Magistrate Judge William Duffin overturned Dassey’s conviction, but the initial celebration quickly turned sour when the state appealed the decision.
Motions and Appeals
In late November, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel filed a motion for a stay on Duffin’s decision to overturn Dassey’s murder conviction. According to Schimel, Dassey is where he belongs, and the state is fighting to keep him behind bars for a reason.
“We believe the magistrate judge’s decision that Brendan Dassey’s confession was coerced by investigators, and that no reasonable court could have concluded otherwise, is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law,” Schimel said in November.
Dassey’s family was working diligently with probation officials to get him released in time for Thanksgiving, and the news of the motion to stay the overturned conviction crushed their spirits. Yet, Bob Dvorak, Dassey’s lawyer, said it isn’t over yet. The attorney filed an appeal, although it may take a while before a decision is made. “We have confidence in our position in the Court of Appeals,” said Dvorak.
As unfortunate as it is for Dassey and his loved ones, the wheels of justice are known to be notoriously slow. What this means for Dassey is that although his attorney is appealing the motion to keep him behind bars, it could likely take a year or more before any results are seen. Joe Friedberg, a Minnesota-based attorney (not involved in the case) thinks that Dassey could remain behind bars for an additional three years before the court gets to his appeal.
Is Brendan Dassey Guilty?
In November 2005, when Dassey was only 16 years old, some of Halbach’s remains were found in a burn barrel on his uncle Steven Avery’s property. Detectives called Dassey in to a local police station, giving him the impression that they wanted to ask him a few more questions about Halbach (he’d already been interviewed previously). What started out as a quick interview turned into an interogation lasting numerous hours.
The teen, seen in parts of the Calumet County surveillance footage on the popular Making a Murderer documentary series, appeared clearly confused as investigators drilled him about Halbach. Dassey seemed more concerned about missing a test in one of his classes than he did about being implicated in Halbach’s murder.
Dassey, a special-education student, later said that he was confused by the detectives’ constant questions, and in turn began telling them what they wanted to hear. Initially, many of his answers didn’t match up to what authorities knew about Halbach’s death, but Dassey allegedly changed his story to match theirs, which ultimately cost him his freedom. During the four-hour investigation, Dassey admitted to helping his uncle Steven Avery move Halbach’s lifeless body after raping and murdering her.
Is Dassey really guilty? His conviction was largely based on an unconstitutional confession and scant circumstantial evidence. Millions of people, including Judge Duffin, believe the false confession isn’t evidence that Dassey actually participated in Halbach’s murder. Duffin wrote:
“Investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on [the day of the murder] and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about. These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”
On the other hand, others feel that since Dassey’s entire confession wasn’t included in Making a Murderer, viewers are getting one-sided information from a “biased documentary,” especially those who haven’t dug further into the case.
Furthermore, although she later recanted, Dassey’s cousin, Kayla, told authorities that Dassey admitted that he helped “move a body,” and that he had bleach stains on his pants on the night Avery is said to have murdered Halbach. Detectives later found that Avery’s garage, where they say Halbach was shot, had been thoroughly cleaned and bleached by the suspects before they investigated the scene.
What’s Next for Dassey?
It appears a waiting game is in play for Dassey. Although his family hopes he’ll see freedom soon, there’s never a time guarantee when it comes to court hearings. There’s a chance Dassey could walk free within months, but by court standards, that’s simply wishful thinking.
In the meantime, the second series of Making a Murderer is currently underway. It’ll focus on the coverage of Dassey’s appeal process, and the ordeal his family has been going through while trying to fight for his freedom.
Main photo: Brendan Dassey in surveillance footage of interrogation [Calumet County]