Lawyer to panel: No prom­ises to ‘Mak­ing a Mur­derer’ in­mate


State at­tor­neys tried to per­suade a panel of fed­eral ap­pel­late judges that a Wis­con­sin in­mate fea­tured in the Net­flix se­ries “Mak­ing a Mur­derer’’ made a vol­un­tary con­fes­sion and was prop­erly con­victed.

Brendan Dassey was sen­tenced to life in prison in 2007 in con­nec­tion with Teresa Hal­bach’s death two years ear­lier. Dassey told de­tec­tives he helped his un­cle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Hal­bach in the Avery fam­ily’s Man­i­towoc County sal­vage yard. Avery was sen­tenced to life in prison in a sep­a­rate trial.

A fed­eral mag­is­trate judge over­turned Dassey’s con­vic­tion in Au­gust, rul­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors took ad­van­tage of the then-16year-old Dassey’s cog­ni­tive dis­abil­i­ties and tricked him into con­fess­ing with false prom­ises that he would be all right. The state Department of Jus­tice has ap­pealed; Dassey re­mains in prison pend­ing the out­come.

At­tor­neys for both DOJ and Dassey pre­sented oral ar­gu­ments to a three-judge panel at the 7th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in Chicago on Tues­day.

The Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel re­ported DOJ Deputy Solic­i­tor Gen­eral Luke Berg told the panel de­tec­tives never made Dassey any spe­cific prom­ises. Judge Ilana Rovner asked whether Dassey, whom the judge de­scribed as “ex­tremely sug­gestible,’’ wouldn’t have con­cluded based on the ques­tion­ing that he would be able to go home rather than get­ting ar­rested.

Berg in­sisted the in­ves­ti­ga­tors acted prop­erly and didn’t so much as im­ply prom­ises. Judge David Hamil­ton seemed to dis­pute that, telling Berg that ob­vi­ously the in­ves­ti­ga­tors made vague prom­ises of le­niency.

Dassey’s at­tor­ney, Laura Niri­der, ar­gued the de­tec­tives made a “drum­beat of prom­ises’’ be­fore ev­ery ma­jor ad­mis­sion in the con­fes­sion. Hamil­ton, though, told her he had watched the en­tire in­ter­ro­ga­tion and didn’t think Dassey’s will was sub­verted.

The ar­gu­ments lasted less than an hour. The panel has no timetable for a de­ci­sion and it could be months be­fore they rule.

Dassey, now 27, and Avery have con­tended po­lice framed them. They be­lieve po­lice went af­ter them to stop a law­suit Avery had filed de­mand­ing mil­lions from Man­i­towoc County be­cause he spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t com­mit. Avery is pur­su­ing his own ap­peal.

Their cases gained na­tional at­ten­tion in 2015 af­ter Net­flix aired “Mak­ing a Mur­derer,’’ a multi-part doc­u­men­tary ex­am­in­ing Hal­bach’s death.


In this March 3, 2006, file photo, Brendan Dassey is es­corted out of a Man­i­towoc County Cir­cuit court­room in Man­i­towoc, Wis.

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