Brendan Dassey's conviction in the murder of Theresa Halbach has been overturned, according to a tweet from Journal Sentinel reporter John Diedrick. Fans of the Netflix true crime series Making A Murderer will remember Dassey as Steven Avery's nephew. He is to be released from custody in the next 90 days, according to WISN. But why was Brendan Dassey's conviction overturned?
Dassey was sentenced to life without parole for 41 years by a Manitowoc County Court after he was convicted of first degree intentional homicide, second degree sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse in 2007, according to WISN. A federal judge in Milwaukee overturned this conviction on Friday. Dassey will be released from state custody in 90 days if the state chooses not to refile, according to NBC Chicago. Dassey was 17 at the time of his trial, but he was tried and sentenced as an adult.
Dassey's case was taken to federal court in Wisconsin in 2014 by the Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth legal team based in Chicago. The legal team backing Dassey filed a lawsuit claiming he was illegally imprisoned in 2005. The hope was that their client be granted habeas corpus, forcing the government to re-examine his case.
Dassey's videotaped confession, which many believe to have been allegedly coerced out of him, was a major deciding factor in his conviction. The confession was used in court despite the fact that the defendant recanted his statement. Nine years later, Federal Judge William Duffin found that the confession was produced involuntarily under the Fifth and 14th Amendments. Duffin explained his decision thoroughly:
…the state courts unreasonably found that the investigators never made Dassey any promises during the March 1, 2006 interrogation. The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 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. It is therefore ordered that Brendan Dassey’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus is GRANTED. The respondent shall release Dassey from custody unless, within 90 days of the date of this decision, the State initiates proceedings to retry him. See Jensen v. Schwochert, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177420, 55 (E.D. Wis. Dec. 18, 2013). The Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly.
Dassey's conviction was overturned because it violated his Fifth and 14th Amendment rights. The Fifth Amendment protects citizens from being held for committing a crime unless they have been properly indicted by the police. The 14th Amendment states that no person was "allowed to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process and no person could be denied equal protection of the laws."
The state has 90 days to refile against Dassey. In the event that it does not, Dassey will walk free. He is currently being held at the maximum-security prison Columbia Correctional Institution.