In a stunning turn of events in one of the highest-profile murder cases in recent American history, “Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey had his conviction overturned on Friday.
Federal magistrate judge William E. Duffin granted Dassey’s writ for a petition of habeas corpus, finding that Dassey’s imprisonment was unlawful because his confession to the murder of Teresa Halbach was involuntary.
In reaching that decision, Duffin wrote that the “misconduct” of Len Kachinsky, Dassey’s court-appointed attorney, was “indefensible.”
The saga surrounding Halbach’s killing in Wisconsin around Halloween 2005 and whether Dassey’s uncle Steven Avery committed the brutal act was the focus of Netflix’s hit docuseries “Making a Murderer,” which gained wide acclaim and interest after it was released in December 2015.
In his order on Friday, Duffin wrote that “investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about.” This, the judge wrote, led Dassey — whom the judge described in detail as a special education student who “suffered from certain intellectual deficits” — to confess that he helped Avery kill Halbach. Dassey was a teenager at the time.
“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 order concluded.
The State of Wisconsin has 90 days to initiate retrial proceedings, or Dassey will be released from prison, where he has been serving a life sentence, with eligibility for parole in 2048.
Dassey, who is now 26, was convicted in 2007 of first-degree intentional homicide, second-degree sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse in Halbach’s murder. His lawyers filed this writ of habeas corpus in 2014.
“Making a Murderer,” from filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, has been nominated for six Emmys, including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.