Brendan Dassey was just sixteen when prosecutors alleged he helped his uncle, Steven Avery of Making a Murderer, rape, stab, and then shoot Teresa Halbach. Much of Dassey’s 2007 conviction was based on his confession, which has long drawn fire for being coerced. (You can read my April blog about coerced confessions here, where I go into detail about what made Dassey’s confession so controversial).
Brendan Dassey: An Involuntary Confession
The confession itself, many claim, is an example of an extreme miscarriage of justice. Transcripts and videos show how Dassey was coerced into confessing to a murder that most believe he had no involvement in. Many times, Dassey is ‘fed’ the answer police wanted him to say, and his details often contradict. Dassey who has an IQ of 76 and was not allowed a parent present, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. And that is where he has been for the last 10 years.
On August 12, that conviction was overturned. Dassey’s constitutional rights, according to Judge William Duffin, were violated when officers obtained his confession. In his 91-page ruling, Duffin wrote “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.”
What now for Dassey?
With the conviction overturned, prosecutors have 90 days to decide whether they want to have a new trial for Dassey or release him from prison, where he has been serving a life sentence. One thing is certain, though. If prosecutors do decide to retry Dassey, they will have to do it without the confession. And, according to attorney Steven Drizen, who helped Dassey’s attorney appeal his conviction, “There is no case without the confession.”
Of course, there is the possibility that prosecutors could appeal the overturned conviction, making Dassey’s wait for justice even longer.
What does this mean for Avery?
Steven Avery, who is the main focus of the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, was tried first for the murder of Teresa Halbach. There have long been claims that the police planted evidence in his case. While many people are sure Avery is innocent of the crime, others remain convinced of his guilt. But nearly everyone believed Dassey had nothing to do with the murder. Now, with a new Netflix season of the show looming and the overturned conviction of his nephew, Avery has to be hopeful his turn is next. Unfortunately, it is not that easy.
Avery had already been convicted by the time Dassey was tried. Since Dassey never testified at Avery’s trial, his overturned conviction will have little to no immediate impact on Avery’s prison sentence. And while Avery’s case is being appealed by Kathleen Zellner, a defense attorney well-known for her record of exoneration, there is no immediate news.
Zellner’s statement on Dassey’s overturned conviction shows hope that Avery, too, will see justice work in his favor: “We are thrilled for Brendan Dassey that his conviction has been overturned. We fully expected this outcome from an unbiased court that carefully examined his confession. I was just visiting Steven Avery and he is so happy for Brendan. We know when an unbiased court reviews all of the new evidence we have, Steven will have his conviction overturned as well."
And, on twitter, Zellner elaborated “Brendan's opinion shows cops made up crime story. Steven's will show cops made up crime evidence.”
For now, both men remain in prison, but are hopeful that could soon change.