Brendan Dassey’s Conviction Overturned, Making A Murderer Filmmakers Comment
Brendan Dassey‘s conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach has been overturned by Milwaukee U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin. Dassey along with Steven Avery were convicted of Halbach’s murder in 2005. Both of their murder trials and convictions were chronicled by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos‘ documentary Netflix TV series Making A Murderer.
While watching the first season of Making A Murderer, many viewers were astonished by how Dassey’s first lawyer Len Kachinsky and police detectives egregiously manipulated him, on camera no less, and yet he was still convicted of murder. It would seem that Judge Duffin thought that a line had been crossed as well.
From the beginning, Kachinsky’s motives regarding Dassey were dubious:
Kachinsky was excited to be involved in Dassey’s case because by then it had garnered significant local and national attention. (ECF No. 19-26 at 122-23.) Essentially immediately after his appointment Kachinsky began giving media interviews in which he discussed the case.
The 91-page ruling by Judge Duffin goes on and on about Kachinsky maleficence on Dassey’s behalf. The ruling also showed that Kachinsky outright lied.
On March 17 Kachinsky appeared on Nancy Grace’s national television show. (ECF No. 19 -26 at 141-42.) During that appearance Kachinsky said that, if the recording of Dassey’s statement was accurate and admissible, “there is, quite frankly, no defense.” (ECF No. 19-26 at 142-43.) Kachinsky later said that he was merely “stating the obvious.” (ECF No. 19-26 at 144.) However, Kachinsky had not yet watched the March 1 recorded interview. (ECF No. 19-26 at 145.) All he had seen was the criminal complaint. (ECF No. 19-26 at 145.)
Kachinsky seemed more interested in the media attention the case brought to him than in defending Dassey:
Over the roughly three weeks following his appointment Kachinsky spent about one hour with Dassey and at least 10 hours communicating with the press. (ECF No. 19-26 at 183.)
Judge Duffin came down very hard on Kachinsky:
Although it probably does not need to be stated, it will be: Kachinsky’s conduct was inexcusable both tactically and ethically. It is one thing for an attorney to point out to a client how deep of a hole the client is in. But to assist the prosecution in digging that hole deeper is an affront to the principles of justice that underlie a defense attorney’s vital role in the adversarial system.
Judge Duffin went on to say that Kachinsky “unquestionably” breached his “duty of loyalty” to Dassey.
Judge Duffin called into doubt the validity of Dassey’s first confession, ruling that it was involuntary:
Based on its review of the record, the court acknowledges significant doubts as to the reliability of Dassey’s confession. Crucial details evolved through repeated leading and suggestive questioning and generally stopped changing only after the investigators, in some manner, indicated to Dassey that he finally gave the answer they were looking for. (See ECF No. 19-27 at 210-32.)
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. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law
Following that finding, Dassey was order released from prison:
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.
Following that ruling, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos issued this statement regarding Making a Murderer: Season 2:
Today there was a major development for the subjects in our story and this recent news shows the criminal justice system at work. As we have done for the past 10 years, we will continue to document the story as it unfolds, and follow it wherever it may lead.
Though I agree with Judge Duffin’s thorough assessment of the situation, I am sad and surprised. I am sad because Dassey lost a significant and valuable part of his life behind bars. I was surprised because so much of the material used to convict Dassey, the coercion and so forth, was readily available yet the conviction stood for years. Attorneys for Dassey’s defense had the coercion on tape and still it stood. It was unbelievable to witness.
One wonders how this ruling will effect Steven Avery’s case.
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