A federal judge in Wisconsin on Friday overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, a figure in the Steven Avery case, which was featured in the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer.”
In his 91-page filing, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin wrote that the 26-year-old Dassey, who is Avery’s nephew, should be released from custody unless the state decides to retry him within 90 days. The state could also appeal Friday’s ruling, said Laura Nirider, Dassey’s attorney.
“He’s in shock,” Nirider told The Washington Post in a phone interview Friday night, when asked about her client’s reaction. “He’s grateful and I think just trying to process and understand what’s happening, as I think we all are.”
Duffin wrote that state courts had “unreasonably found that the investigators never made Dassey any promises” during an interrogation in March 2006.
“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about,” the order states. “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.”
A spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice declined to comment, saying in an email that the agency was reviewing the order.
“I’m thrilled. Brendan’s entire team is over the moon,” Nirider said. “This is the right result. It’s justice. It’s justice for Brendan. It’s justice for his mother. And it’s justice for anyone who cares about the truth in this case.”
In its report on the ruling, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that Duffin “was highly critical of investigators, Dassey’s pretrial attorney and the state courts on how they handled the case, concluding that Dassey’s constitutional rights were violated.”
“This is a 91-page opinion,” Nirider said. “And the court got it exactly right.”
Steven Avery and Dassey were convicted in the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer. Avery’s story was the focus of “Making a Murderer,” a 10-episode documentary series from Netflix that was released in December.
Here’s The Post’s Bethonie Butler, breaking down Dassey’s role in the Avery case:
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The case against Avery took a shocking turn when his 16-year-old nephew implicated himself in the murder and told police that Avery had instructed him to rape Halbach and to help him dispose of her body. The documentary describes Dassey as learning disabled – during his trial, one of his attorneys reported that he reads at a fourth-grade level. Throughout the series, Dassey’s story changes dramatically as he undergoes a series of questionable interrogations, some of which were encouraged by his court-appointed pretrial attorney, Len Kachinsky. Kachinsky was eventually removed from Dassey’s case after allowing his client to be interrogated by police without a lawyer present.
At his trial, Dassey’s attorneys argued that their client’s confession was false, and the teen repeatedly said he fabricated his statements under pressure from law enforcement. In April 2007, Dassey was convicted of homicide, sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse.
Avery was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide and being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2007. Later that year, he was sentenced to life in prison. Dassey had also been sentenced to a life term.