The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the release of Brendan Dassey, a subject of the hit Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer,” after his conviction for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach was vacated in August.
The court agreed with a lower court ruling which found that Dassey’s “confession” was the product of coercion by local authorities. Video of the interrogation showed that the officers used aggressive and coercive tactics, resulting in Dassey’s gradual acquiescence to their demands for a confession. The officers repeatedly made false promises to Dassey and insisted that they already had established what occurred during the crime.
The 7th Circuit writes:
As will become clear through the entirety of this opinion, we can point to no solitary statement, factor, or interrogation question that rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary (although there were certainly some individual leading questions that came close), but rather it was death by a thousand cuts. Because of the cumulative effect of these coercive techniques—the leading, the fact-feeding, the false promises, the manipulation of Dassey’s desire to please, the physical, fatherly assurances as Wiegert touched Dassey’s knee etc.—no reasonable court could have any confidence that this was a voluntary confession.
The lower court considered these facts in light of other factors, including the absence of effective counsel and Dassey’s intellectual deficits.
Dassey’s uncle, Steven Avery, was “Making a Murderer’s” primary subject. Avery was originally convicted of the sexual assault of Penny Ann Beernsten, a Wisconsin woman assaulted while running along the Lake Michigan shoreline in 1985. DNA evidence later exonerated him of the offense. Approximately two years after his release, Avery and his nephew, Dassey, were arrested and convicted of Halbach’s murder — her charred remains were found by police in the Avery family salvage yard. The pair was sentenced to a life term in prison. The crime was examined at length in the Netflix series.
The three judge panel of the 7th Circuit included Judges Ilana Rovner, Ann Williams, and David Hamilton.