Why ‘Making a Murderer’ Subject Brendan Dassey’s Homicide Conviction Was Overturned

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Reid Nakamura
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“Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey had his conviction overturned by a federal judge on Friday, a surprise ruling that could result in one of the subjects of Netflix’s popular 2015 docuseries going free. Here’s how it happened.

In 2014, Dassey’s attorneys filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, leaving it up to a federal judge to decide whether or not Dassey’s arrest and imprisonment were legal under the terms of the Constitution.

The legal maneuver followed the state Court of Appeals’ decision to reject Dassey’s request for a new trial in January 2013, in which it also deemed his confession voluntary. The Wisconsin Supreme Court similarly denied Dassey’s request to review the case later that same year.

Also Read: 'Making a Murderer' Subject Brendan Dassey's Conviction Overturned

Dassey’s case was one of two followed in the hit “Making a Murderer” series, which depicts the story of his uncle, Steven Avery. Both Dassey and Avery were sentenced to life for the 2005 murder of 25-year-old photographer, Teresa Halbach.

According to Cornell University Law School, “habeas corpus is mainly used as a post-conviction remedy for state or federal prisoners who challenge the legality of the application of federal laws that were used in the judicial proceedings that resulted in their detention.”

In this case, Dassey claimed he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to “effective assistance of counsel,” and that his confession was obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Also Read: 'Making a Murderer': Netflix Boss Promises 'A Lot of New Info' in Upcoming Episodes

On Friday, Federal Magistrate William E. Duffin issued his ruling vacating Dassey’s 2007 conviction, in which he also accused Dassey’s appointed attorney Len Kachinsky of “indefensible” misconduct, including allowing his teenage client to be interrogated without an adult in the room.

“Although it probably does not need to be stated, it will be: Kachinsky’s conduct was inexcusable both tactically and ethically,” Duffin wrote in the opinion. “It is one thing for an attorney to point out to a client how deep of a hole the client is in. 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.”

Also Read: 'Making a Murderer' to Return to Netflix With New Episodes

Ultimately the judge concluded that Dassey’s confession to the crime was “involuntary” due to the investigators’ repeated use of leading questions and coercive interrogation techniques on a minor.

“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about,” Duffin wrote. “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.

'Making a Murderer': Where Are They Now? (Photos)

  • Making a Murderer
    Making a Murderer
  • Ken Kratz: The Avery case prosecutor says he has overcome an addiction to prescription pain pills since the trial and gone through the public humiliation of a sexting scandal. He maintains his license and now serves as a defense attorney.

    Netflix

  • Mike Halbach: The brother of murder victim Teresa Halbach has served as a Halbach family spokesperson is now the director of Football Technology for the Green Bay Packers.

    Green Bay Packers

  • Andrew Colburn
    Andrew Colburn

    Sgt. Andrew Colburn is now Lt. Andrew Colburn. He holds the title in the Detective Division of the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Office.

    Netflix

  • Gregory Allen
    Gregory Allen

    Gregory Allen: Allen, who was found to have committed the rape for which Steven Avery spent 18 years behind bars, is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a 1995 sexual assault. He's up for parole in October 2016.

    Netflix

  • Sheriff Tom Kocourek
    Sheriff Tom Kocourek

    Sheriff Tom Kocourek: Kocourek retired from his post in 2001. He was named as a defendant in a $36 million federal lawsuit brought forward by Avery.

    Netflix

  • Angenette Levy
    Angenette Levy

    Angenette Levy: Levy, a journalist who garnered a lot of "Making A Murderer" playback attention for asking the tough questions, is now an on-air reporter for WKRC in Cincinnati.

    Netflix

  • Aaron Keller
    Aaron Keller

    Aaron Keller: Levy, another reporter, is now an English/Communications professor at NHTI, Concord’s Community College in New Hampshire.

    Netflix

  • Dean Strang Making a Murderer
    Dean Strang Making a Murderer

    Dean Strang: Strang recently said that he occasionally speaks with Avery, his former client. The defense attorney is not shying away from the spotlight, and recently took part in a Facebook Q&A. The trial lawyer is a partner at Strang Bradley LLC in Madison.

    Strang Bradley LLC

  • Denis Vogel
    Denis Vogel

    Denis Vogel: The ex-DA is now an attorney at Wheeler, Van Sickle and Anderson, S.C., where he concentrates on commercial litigation, with a focus on matters involving utilities, electricity use and distribution, and cellular telecommunications.

    Wheeler Law

  • Steven Avery
    Steven Avery

    Steven Avery: Well, he's in jail -- the Waupun Correctional Institute, to be exact.

    The Innocence Project

  • Brendan dassey making a murderer
    Brendan dassey making a murderer

    Brendan Dassey: On August 12, 2016, a federal judge overturned his 2007 conviction for first-degree intentional homicide, second-degree sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse. Avery's nephew had been sentenced to Avery's nephew sentenced to life with no parole for 41 years for Halbach's murder.

    Netflix

  • Sheriff Kenneth Peterson
    Sheriff Kenneth Peterson

    Sheriff Ken Peterson: Peterson retired as Manitowoc County sheriff in 2007, just two years after he now-famously told a TV station it would have been "a whole lot easier to eliminate [Avery] than it would to frame him."

    Netflix

  • Barb Tadych
    Barb Tadych

    Barb Tadych: Brendan's mom has publicly kept a low profile since all the "Making a Murderer" hype began. Tadych appears to remain in the area, as her most recent social media check-in was at a Center for Diagnostic Imaging in Appleton, Wis.

    Netflix

  • Sandra Greenman
    Sandra Greenman

    Sandy Greenman: It appears that Avery and Greenman are still an item. Per what appears to be her Facebook page, Greenman visited Avery in prison as recently as Monday.

    Bustle

  • James Lenk
    James Lenk

    James Lenk: Lenk has managed to keep one of the lowest profiles of the entire "Making A Murderer" gang. It is unclear whether has a Netflix subscription.

    Netflix

  • Jodi Stachowski
    Jodi Stachowski

    Jodi Stachowski: Steven's ex-fiancee has had some legal troubles. In April 2007, she was found guilty of using worthless checks. She was arrested three times in 2009. Since then, Stachowski has stayed out of major criminal trouble.

    Bustle

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Brendan Dassey’s murder conviction was overturned, but what happened to everyone else featured in the Netflix docu-series?

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