Brendan Dassey, a Wisconsin man featured in the Netflix true crime documentary series “Making a Murderer,” will remain behind bars for now as the state fights a decision that overturned his conviction.
In a one-sentence order, a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied a motion from 27-year-old Dassey’s lawyers requesting his immediate release from prison after the court last week affirmed a federal magistrate judge’s 2016 ruling. Dassey’s purported confession that he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005 was coerced by law enforcement, the judge who overturned his conviction found.
Following last week’s ruling, Dassey’s attorneys filed that he be immediately released, but Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel argued in a motion Monday that Dassey should remain behind bars at least until a full court panel reviewed the three-judge opinion.
“We intend to seek review by the entire 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and by the United States Supreme Court, if necessary,” Johnny Koremenos, spokesman for the state’s Department of Justice, told HuffPost.
If those requests are denied, the state then has 90 days to decide if they want to retry Dassey.
Following his confession, Dassey was sentenced in 2007 to life without parole for the killing of Halbach. But the police interview with Dassey, which is featured in the Netflix series, appeared less like a detailed confession and much more like coercion.
Dassey was just 16 years old at the time of the interview and wasn’t accompanied by a lawyer or parent. According to court records, he has an IQ of 69 to 73. An IQ of 70 is often considered the threshold for intellectual disability. The tape shows police posing detailed questions to Dassey, who replies with short, often one-word answers.
“In sum, the investigators promised Dassey freedom and alliance if he told the truth and all signs suggest that Dassey took that promise literally,” the appeals panel wrote in its opinion last week. “The pattern of questioning demonstrates that the message the investigators conveyed is that the ‘truth’ was what they wanted to hear. Dassey, however, had trouble maintaining a consistent story except when he was being led step‐by‐step through the facts, thus confirming that this confession emerged not from his own free will, but from the will of the investigators.”
In an analysis of hundreds of cases going back to 1989, false confessions were found to be a leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic dedicated to exonerating people who have been wrongfully convicted. Overall, about 31 percent of wrongful conviction cases included a false confession. But for homicide cases alone, that number balloons to 63 percent.
Both Dassey and Avery have maintained that state law enforcement framed them for the murder of Halbach because of a lawsuit Avery filed against Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment in a separate sexual assault case. The state denies such claims. Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for that conviction, originally sued for $36 million, but his suit collapsed following his arrest for the Halbach murder.
Avery, who is serving out a life sentence for the murder of Halbach, is also pursuing an appeal.