Investigators had a trouble keeping their own story straight while they were interrogating Making a Murderer subject Brendan Dassey in 2006, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling released Thursday, June 22.
The ruling that Dassey’s civil rights were violated was centered on lines of questioning used by Wisconsin investigator Tom Fassbender and Calumet County Sgt. Mark Wiegert. But there was not just one narrative at play during that questioning.
Fassbender and Wiegert began the interview with Dassey telling them that the events of October 31, 2005, unfolded when he was helping Steven Avery clean up spilled automotive fluid from the garage floor.
As they led Dassey away from a leaky car in the garage, an altered version of the story came next. This time, the teen sees Teresa Halbach’s dead body tied up in the back of her Toyota RAV4. Halbach is clothed, and Dassey and Avery place her in the bonfire. But the story does not evolve from there. Instead, another iteration emerges.
In the next version, Halbach is alive when Dassey arrives on the scene. He is outside the trailer retrieving mail when he hears Teresa screaming for her life. He brings Avery his mail and sees her nude and handcuffed to his uncle’s bed. Dassey admits to slitting her throat, cutting her hair and raping Halbach before she’s taken to the garage, where she’s shot in the head. She’s then placed into the fire.
Teresa Halbach's RAV4 was found after 20 minutes of searching through 4,000 cars on the Avery Auto Salvage yard. pic.twitter.com/UCopDjWfXj
— Making A Murderer (@MakingAMurderer) August 3, 2016
As questioning continues, Fassbender and Wiegert assure Dassey that “they already know” what happened to Halbach and it would be in his best interest to confirm those facts. That’s not what happens. There’s another account, the court said.
“Dassey’s story changes; he backtracks; officers try to pin him down on time frames and details, but they are like waves on the sand,” the decision reads.
“Even the State has trouble telling its version of the timeline of the story in any cogent manner due to the fact that it changed with each re‐telling. Although the State presents a cogent story line in its brief on appeal, it does so by picking and choosing pieces from various versions of Dassey’s recitations.”
Then there’s a segment of the interrogation the jury never got to see — an emotional exchange between Barb Janda and her son.
After Dassey confesses to a brutal homicide, Janda enters the room while Fassbender and Wiegert leave them alone. This is the moment Laura Nirider claims Brendan begins to recant, asking his mother about his fate if Avery tells a different story that doesn’t implicate him. He then reveals to a confused Barb that he confessed because “they got to my head.”
“Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, agreeing that Brendan is entitled to a new trial because his confession to the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach was involuntary,” Nirider said in a statement. “Like the district court, the Seventh Circuit found that ‘the leading, the fact-feeding, the false promises, the manipulation of Dassey’s desire to please, the physical, fatherly assurances as Wiegert touched Dassey’s knee’ all combined to overwhelm the will of sixteen-year-old, intellectually disabled, socially avoidant Brendan Dassey—rendering his interrogation ‘death by a thousand cuts.'”
“In rejecting the State’s assertion that Brendan confessed voluntarily, the court acknowledged what many parents already recognize: Brendan’s youthfulness and intellectual disability make him particularly vulnerable in the interrogation room. In particular, it pointed to the fact that Brendan’s interrogators effectively gave him a “free pass to say whatever he wanted (or, more accurately, whatever he thought the investigators wanted to hear)” while indicating that he ‘would not go to jail.'”
No Physical Evidence
Brendan Dassey’s confession, the court ruled, became the basis of Ken Kratz’s case. In fact, Kratz had little else. The state presented nothing by way of physical or even circumstantial evidence that implicated the 16-year-old, yet he was convicted and sent to prison for life.
“There was no physical evidence linking Dassey to the murder of Halbach—investigators did not find any of Dassey’s DNA or blood on any of the many objects that were mentioned in his confession—the knives in Avery’s house, gun, handcuffs, bed, RAV4, key, or automotive dolly.”
— Making A Murderer (@MakingAMurderer) April 27, 2016
Under terms of Thursday’s ruling, the state of Wisconsin must retry Dassey without the 2006 confession within 90 days or release him.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel disagreed with the decision and said his office will file an appeal.
“We believe the magistrate judge’s decision that Brendan Dassey’s confession was coerced by investigators, and that no reasonable court could have concluded otherwise, is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law,” Schimel said in a statement.
Brendan Dassey is currently housed at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin.
[Featured Image by Eric Young/AP Images]