Fans of Netflix' Making A Murderer have been waiting to find out the fate of Brendan Dassey, a Wisconsin inmate who was sentenced to life in prison for a murder in 2007. At the time, Dassey confessed to helping his uncle rape and murder Teresa Halbech. Now, it seems, a judge ruled that Dassey's confession was coerced.
Dassey was 16 years old when he confessed to raping and murdering Halbech alongside his uncle, Steve Avery, at the family's salvage yard in Manitowec County on Halloween in 2005. In August, a federal magistrate found that Dassey's confession at the time had been coerced by investigators. The Justice Department appealed that decision, which left Dassey behind bars awaiting the result of the appeal. On Thursday, Dassey finally got it; a three-judge panel upheld the initial ruling by the magistrate. Judge Illana Rovner wrote in the majority opinion that there was no doubt that could be cast by "any reasonable court" that Dassey's confession was given freely. Not only was Dassey young, but he suffers from cognitive issues, and the court felt the investigators in the case had manipulated his "desire to please." The court also believed the investigators attempted to feed Dassey facts and cajoled him with false promises in an attempt to extract a confession.
Dassey's uncle, Steve Avery, was tried and convicted to life in prison in a separate trial.
The two-to-one ruling had one dissenting voice, Judge David Hamilton, who wrote about the ruling:
The majority’s decision breaks new ground and poses troubling questions for police and prosecutors. It calls into question standard interrogation techniques that courts have routinely found permissible, even in cases involving juveniles.
Dassey’s story was the subject of Netflix’ Making A Murderer, which sparked a renewed investigation into the circumstances surrounding Halbech’s murder. When Dassey was initially brought in for questioning in the wake of Halbech’s murder, detectives spoke to him without a parent or an attorney present. He was questioned relentlessly on four occasions over a two-day period. He went on to sign a co-conspirator letter of confession, which he later recanted, but the damage was done. He was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide and second-degree sexual assault, as well as mutilation of a corpse.
The 2015 10-part documentary series Making A Murderer, which was created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, helped bring evidence that Dassey was coerced into confessing to Halbech’s murder and that he was mentally unfit to be questioned.
Dassey’s attorney, Laura Nirider, released a statement about Dassey’s coerced confession to E! News:
Brendan has sought justice for more than a decade; and today, we find ourselves a significant step closer to achieving that justice. We are overjoyed for Brendan and his family, and we look forward to working to secure his release from prison as soon as possible. As of today's date, Brendan Dassey has lost 4,132 days of his life to prison.
Johnny Koremenos, the communications director for the Justice Department, told The New York Times Thursday that the prosecution is not yet willing to concede defeat:
We are evaluating the 2-1 decision from the court. We anticipate seeking review by the entire 7th Circuit or the United States Supreme Court and hope that today’s erroneous decision will be reversed.
If Dassey’s coerced confession ruling is upheld, he could either be released or retried.