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15th Feb 2017

Brendan Dassey given hope as three-judge panel rule on his murder conviction

Paul Moore

In 2007, Brendan Dassey and his uncle Stephen Avery were convicted of raping and killing photographer Teresa Halbach and sentenced to life in prison.

A few months ago, Dassey’s release from prison was blocked by a US federal court despite the fact that a Milwaukee judge had ordered his release after ruling that investigators took advantage of the then 16-year-old Dassey’s cognitive disabilities.

The events surrounding Halbach’s deaths and the subsequent sentencing of Avery and Dassey were documented in the Netflix series Making a Murderer, which will return to Netflix for a second season this year.

After the US federal court blocked his release, Dassey’s future has been in limbo, however, a three-judge panel of Chicago’s 7th Circuit US Appeals Court may have given his lawyers some hope.

Lawyers for both the State of Wisconsin (Luke Berg) and Dassey (Laura Nirider) convened on Tuesday to discuss the questionable interview of Dassey and the belief that investigators took advantage of the teenager’s diminished mental capacity.

Regarding Dassey’s interview and admission of guilt, US Appellate Court Judge Ilana Rovner said: “I want you to imagine it is not an average person, but a 16-year-old with a very, very low IQ, who is extremely suggestible. And I would like you very much to concentrate on the ‘suggestible’.

She added: “What if there were 20 such statements, 30 such statements? (referring to the controversial questioning as seen in Making A Murderer) Do you think someone with Brendan’s intellect understands that ‘The Truth will set you free’ is an idiom?”

As stated by the Milwaukee Journal, this point is the most pertinent and decisive issue in Dassey’s appeal. “Even if Dassey wasn’t given an explicit promise of leniency, did the way he was questioned — including lines such as, “The truth will set you free” — produce an involuntary confession?” they argue.

While Judge Rovner was more sympathetic to Dassey’s plea, Judge Hamilton said that he saw no evidence in the video interview that Dassey provided his confession involuntarily.

“I watched the whole thing. I don’t see any will being overbore,” he said. Judge Hamilton also remarked that the technique used by the investigators was simply a means of “calling him (Dassey) out” on certain inconsistencies in the story.

There’s no exact timetable for the panel to issue their ruling, but observers said it could easily take months.

Steven Avery is pursuing his own appeal.

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