U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

7th Cir. Overturns Conviction of Brendan Dassey From 'Making a Murderer'

Is it bigger news that another murder conviction was overturned, or that the alleged killer was featured in a television series?

In either case, there will be a second season to "Making a Murderer," the Netflix documentary that told the story of Steven Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for being wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder.

That's because now there is a new story to tell. Brendan Dassey, who was convicted with Avery in a later murder, has been exonerated by a federal appeals court.

Involuntary Confession

Dassey, who was 16 at the time of the murder, confessed in the raping, killing, and mutilating of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach in 2005. The young woman had disappeared after going to a salvage yard owned by Avery's family.

Avery, who was Dassey's uncle, was convicted of the murder after police found Halbach's blood and other DNA evidence at the salvage yard. Investigators found bone fragments, teeth, hair, and blood in Avery's house, Halbach's car and a fire pit at the yard.

After Avery was arrested and charged, police extracted details of the crimes from Dassey over several interviews that lasted hours. His parents were not present, an attorney was not present and he once had an IQ of 74.

On a petition for writ of habeas corpus, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a magistrate judge's decision overturning Dassey's conviction. The court said police, through deceptive questioning, had procured an involuntary confession from him.

Ineffective Counsel

Dassey's attorney, who allowed him to be questioned alone after the confession, was later removed from the case. The magistrate faulted the lawyer for being more interested in the publicity than the client.

According to reports, Leonard Kachinsky said he talked to the media to get Dassey and his family used to the idea of a plea deal. On the Nancy Grace television show, he said that if Dassey's recorded confession was accurate and admissible, "there is, quite frankly, no defense."

"It is one thing for an attorney to point out to a client how deep of a hole the client is in," Judge William E. Duffin said. "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."

Ultimately, however, the court threw out the conviction based on the involuntary confession.

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