Lawyers for Making a Murderer’s Brendan Dassey are arguing that their client should be released from prison while the court decides whether or not to grant the state’s appeal in his murder case, according to a new motion filed in Wisconsin federal court.
The motion for Dassey’s release comes after the state filed an appeal to the judge’s decision overturning his conviction that would have led to Dassey being released in, at the most, 90 days after the ruling. The appeal by the state effectively blocks that release from happening pending further action by the court.
In their motion, Dassey’s lawyers argue that he should be released based on the judge’s finding that the court has “significant doubts” about the reliability of the confession that Dassey gave to investigators in 2006 implicating himself in the murder of Teresa Halbach. Dassey’s attorneys point out that Judge William Duffin wrote in his order that Dassey’s confession “was, as a practical matter, the entirety of the case against him.”
Duffin wrote that Dassey’s confession in the murder of Halbach was involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Dassey was 16 when he was accused of helping his uncle, Steven Avery, murder and rape Halbach and dispose of her body in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.
Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer, vanished in November 2005.
Investigators learned that she was scheduled to go to the Avery family’s salvage yard to take photos of cars for Auto Trader magazine on the day she disappeared.
Searchers then found Halbach’s car on the Avery property, and investigators discovered Halbach’s burned remains in a fire pit on the property.
Avery was subsequently arrested and charged with Halbach’s murder.
After Avery’s arrest, Dassey eventually confessed to helping his uncle with the crime, but, in his petition for release, argued that his confession had been coerced. In addition, he argued that his lawyer had a conflict of interest in the case and that he was given false promises by investigators — a claim that ultimately led Duffin to overturn the conviction.
Many viewers believed after watching the documentary that Avery had been framed for the crime by a corrupt police department.
Although Avery was the focus of the story, Dassey’s conviction was also seen by many viewers as an outrage.
Court records note that Dassey had a “low average to borderline range” IQ and had never interacted with law enforcement before.
“The investigators’ collective statements throughout the interrogation clearly led Dassey to believe that he would not be punished for telling them the incriminating details they professed to already know,” Duffin wrote.
The judge wrote that investigators interrogating Dassey “repeatedly fed him facts that were publicly not known.”
For those details that were not publicly known but were known by the investigators at the time of his interrogation — like that Halbach had been shot in the head — the judge wrote that investigators prompted Dassey, telling him “something else was done…Something with the head.”
This prompting caused Dassey to guess answers, Judge Duffin wrote, until he told investigators that Halbach had been shot.
Duffin added that he had “significant doubts” about the reliability of Dassey’s confession because critical details emerged only after “repeated leading and suggestive questioning” that only stopped after investigators got the answer they were looking for.
Furthermore, the judge wrote that investigators “exploited” Dassey by questioning him without an adult present.
In summarizing his position, Duffin said Dassey was led to believe that if he told investigators the version of the story that they wanted to hear, he would not face any negative consequences.
Duffin added that he didn’t take the decision to overturn the conviction lightly, but said it was obtained using “deceptive interrogation tactics that overbore Dassey’s free will.”
“The court finds that the confession Dassey gave to the police on March 1, 2006 was so clearly involuntary in a constitutional sense that the court of appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,” he wrote.
Last week, the Wisconsin Attorney General filed a notice that it would appeal Duffin’s decision. In their response to state, Dassey’s attorneys note that this notice is “trigger[s] a stay of the judgment till the conclusion of the appeal” and keeps their client locked up.
Following the filing of their motion for his release, Dassey’s attorneys put out the following statement on the website for Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth:
“On September 14, 2016, we filed a motion asking the Court to release Brendan on bond during the State of Wisconsin's appeal. We will not be publicly commenting on this motion at this time. As in the past, we ask Brendan's supporters to refrain from contacting the judge or prosecutors about this motion. As always, Brendan, his family, and his attorneys remain grateful for your support.”
Dassey's attorneys included a copy of his high school equivalency diploma that he obtained in prison along with his motion for release.
Dassey’s attorneys argue in their motion that given what is now known about his confession, the state has not demonstrated “a strong likelihood of success” if they should choose to retry him and “faces an uphill battle during its appeal.”
In addition, Dassey’s attorneys say that during his nearly ten years in jail he has been proven to be an exemplary prisoner. “[H]e has acquired disciplinary infractions on only two occasions: the first for obtaining five packets of ramen noodle soup from his 'next door neighbor' because, in Dassey’s word, 'I was hungry,'" they wrote. “And the second for possessing 'contraband' items including a checkerboard that had been repaired with Scotch tape and for using a prison form to keep score.”
They add that Dassey has never attempted to escape, assaulted anyone, or possessed any weapons in the prison. Moreover, they say his prison file “reflects a gentle man.”
“[Dassey] spends his days reading, engaging in correspondence with family and friends, listening to the radio, watching television, and — recently — attempting to learn how to crochet a blanket,” his attorneys wrote.
Dassey’s attorneys contend that he is not a flight risk given that he possesses neither a driver’s license nor a passport, he comes from very little means, and his entire family on both sides resides in the Two Rivers-Manitowoc area.
“Indeed, as a subject of the high profile Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer, [Dassey] is highly recognizable and would be unable to successfully go into hiding,” his attorneys wrote.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.