“Making a Murderer” argued that Brendan Dassey was a mentally unfit, easily manipulated 16-year-old when police questioned and misled him, with no attorney present, in an interrogation about whether he took part in the murder of Teresa Halbach.
On Friday, a judge agreed with the filmmakers — nine years after Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, were convicted in the 25-year-old photographer’s murder.
Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” became a phenomenon when it premiered late in 2015 by providing a parallel forum, outside the courtroom, where viewers could debate the case. They tore into details on Reddit, on Twitter, in videos and podcasts.
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The motion that eventually led the judge to side with Dassey on Friday was filed in 2014, before the film debuted — but the motion’s arguments tracked closely with many of those made by filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.
“Making a Murderer” made the case that police coerced Dassey into confessing during a March 1, 2006 interrogation, which took place after they picked him up at his high school. The docu-series suggested the investigators made him think a confession would keep him out of trouble.
That sounds about right, Judge William E. Duffin said in his 91-page order Friday. He said state courts had unreasonably found that investigators never made Dassey any promises during the interrogation.
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“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about,” wrote Duffin, of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. “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.”
The judge’s decision noted that at one point during the interrogation, Special Agent Tom Fassbender told Dassey, on behalf of himself and Detective Mark Wiegert, “I want to assure you that Mark and I both are in your corner… We’re on your side.”
“Making a Murderer” also suggested that Dassey’s then-lawyer, Len Kachinsky, made a deal that put his client behind bars when he should have tried to prove Dassey’s innocence.
“Today there was a major development for the subjects in our story and this recent news shows the criminal justice system at work,” Ricciardi and Demos said in a statement. “As we have done for the past 10 years, we will continue to document the story as it unfolds, and follow it wherever it may lead.”
Kachinsky and the lead prosecutor in the case, Ken Kratz, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Avery’s conviction was not affected by Duffin’s ruling.