After Series of Legal Wins, Brendan Dassey Dealt Blow

A federal appeals court in Chicago narrowly overturned a ruling that could have freed him
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 9, 2017 5:30 AM CST
After Series of Legal Wins, Brendan Dassey Dealt Blow
In this April 16, 2007, file photo, Brendan Dassey appears in court at the Manitowoc County Courthouse in Manitowoc, Wis.   (Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent, Pool, File)

A federal appeals court in Chicago narrowly overturned a ruling Friday that could have freed a Wisconsin inmate featured in the Making a Murderer series from prison, though one dissenting judge called the case "a profound miscarriage of justice." A federal magistrate judge overturned Brendan Dassey's conviction last year, ruling that detectives took advantage of his youth—he was 16 at the time—and learning disabilities to coerce him into confessing he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005; Dassey was sentenced to life in 2007. A three-judge panel from the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the magistrate's ruling in June. But the state asked for a review by the full 7th Circuit, arguing the ruling called long-accepted police interrogation tactics into question—leading to Friday's decision.

The 4-to-3 opinion conceded a ruling wasn't obvious or easy, but said it came down to whether findings by Wisconsin state courts that Dassey wasn't coerced into confessing were reasonable. The Journal Sentinel quotes from the majority opinion, which found Dassey spoke "freely"; had received Miranda warnings; was interrogated in a setting free of discomfort, intimidation, or "even raised voices"; and that "many of the most damning details [he provided] himself in response to open-ended questions." In her dissent, the AP reports Chief Judge Diane P. Wood wrote, "Without this involuntary and highly unreliable confession, the case against Dassey was almost nonexistent." Dassey's attorneys say they will seek relief from Dassey's last shot: the US Supreme Court. (Avery's lawyer has suggested a new suspect in the case.)

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