The State of Wisconsin Department of Justice has once again filed court documents seeking to keep Brendan Dassey behind bars.
Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery are the Wisconsin men at the center of the hit Netflix film Making A Murderer.
Dassey’s attorneys last Friday filed paperwork seeking his release from prison based on a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Dassey’s favor. The state faced a 5:00 p.m. Central time deadline today to respond to that request for Dassey’s release.
The state’s request, filed late today, argues that because its appeals in Dassey’s habeas corpus process have not been exhausted, release is inappropriate.
The state’s argument also promises to seek an appeal of last Thursday’s decision in Dassey’s favor to the entire circuit court bench in what’s known as an en banc hearing.
Dassey has been incarcerated since his conviction in state court over the murder of freelance photographer Teresa Halbach in northeastern Wisconsin in October 2005. In separate trials, local juries found both men guilty in Halbach’s death. The case against Dassey was based in large part on a purported confession.
The federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals last Thursday affirmed the Eastern District of Wisconsin’s grant of habeas corpus relief for Dassey. The federal courts agreed that Dassey’s purported confession was not made voluntarily and could not be trusted.
“Every time the investigators protested the veracity of Dassey’s account or fed Dasey information, his story changed. If one sits in front of the taped confession with a legal pad and tries to sketch out the details and timeline of the crime, the resulting map is a jumble of scratch outs and arrows that grows more convoluted the more Dassey speaks,” wrote Judge Ilana Rovner of the Seventh Circuit. She authored the court’s 2-1 opinion. Three judges decided the case.
“In rejecting the State’s assertion that Brendan confessed voluntarily, the court acknowledged what many parents already recognize: Brendan’s youthfulness and intellectual disability make him particularly vulnerable in the interrogation room,” said attorneys Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider, who both represented Dassey. They are the founder and director, respectively, of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago.
“False confessions . . . are not beneficial to the prosecutor whose goal is to find, punish, and incapacitate the actual criminal, they are not beneficial to grieving relatives and friends who want to bring justice to the perpetrator of a crime, and, of course, they are of no benefit to a wrongfully accused defendant . . . coercive tactics that lead to a false confession would be an affront to our judicial system,” Judge Rovner wrote in the court’s opinion.
“There was no physical evidence linking Dassey to the murder of Halbach — investigators did not find any of Dassey’s DNA or blood on any of the many objects that were mentioned in his confession — the knives in Avery’s house, gun, handcuffs, bed, RAV4, key, or automotive dolley,” the judge pointed out.
The linchpin of the state’s case, Dassey’s purported confession, was the result of Dassey responding to promises of leniency from officers who peppered Dassey with details they wanted to hear him repeat, Judge Rovner wrote in the court’s opinion.
“Dassey, seeking the promised result — freedom, or avoidance of conflict — searched for the narrative that the investigators would accept as ‘the truth,'” she said.
While Rovner and Judge Ann Claire Williams agreed that the state courts did a poor job analyzing Dassey’s purported confession and erred in ruling against him, another judge, David F. Hamilton, disagreed.
“I read (and see) the evidence quite differently: Dassey’s confession appears to have been the product of a guilty conscience, coaxed rather gently from him with standard, non-coercive investigative techniques,” he wrote. “This was a relatively brief and low-key interview of a Mirandized subject who was not mistreated or threatened, whose creature comforts were satisfied, and whose parent consented.”
Hamilton went on to say that “[f]ew wrongdoers are eager to own up to crimes as serious as Dassey’s. The Constitution is not offended by such police tactics as encouraging the subject to tell the truth, bluffing about what the police already know, or confronting the subject with what the police know from physical evidence . . . [t]oday’s decision will make some police investigations considerably more difficult, with little gained in terms of justice,” he argued in his dissent.
Dassey’s appeals attorneys remain committed to seeking his release. As of last Friday, he had “lost 4,132 days of his life to prison,” they pointed out.
The state’s full filing can be read here: