As Making a Murderer subject Brendan Dassey’s en banc hearing in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals draws near, his former lawyer, Len Kachinsky, says he hopes the court’s eight judges make a ruling to help juveniles accused of crimes.
“I hope the Seventh Circuit decides whether juveniles are entitled or not to the rights that Dassey’s current attorneys are arguing for,” Kachinsky said.
Dassey’s team, led by Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, is arguing that his confession was coerced and that the cognitively deficient teen did not understand the ramifications of the questioning. Kachinsky said he would like to see the court establish case law–persuasive precedent that requires juvenile suspects to have a adult present during interrogation.
Before being removed from the case, Kachinsky argued against Dassey’s confession, claiming it was illegally obtained by Calumet County Lt. Mark Wiegert and Wisconsin Investigator Tom Fassbender. Judge Jerome Fox denied Kachinsky’s motion and the confession was admitted, becoming the linchpin of the state’s case.
“I found no law–nor has anyone else–that says juveniles have a right to have a trusted adult present during police interrogations,” said Kachinsky, who is now a municipal judge.
Kachinsky was Dassey’s public defender, appointed after Dassey confessed to helping his uncle Steven Avery kill Teresa Halbach. He was replaced by Mark Fremgen after five months for not attending a meeting with defense investigator Michael O’Kelly, who pressured Dassey into giving a written confession. The interview was videotaped, but not admitted into evidence.
Kachinsky also was criticized for comments he made to a TV reporter, alluding to Dassey’s guilt.
Next to former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz, Kachinsky was arguably the biggest Making a Murderer villain. For a month, he received a barrage of harassing phone calls and still sees an onslaught of social media jabs. Although he said he was never directly threatened, the messages are anything but friendly.
“Dassey’s supporters have called me at all hours of the day and night and sent me dozens of profanity-laced emails wishing for my death,” he said. “I am a convenient target as a known conservative.”
Like Kratz, Kachinsky isn’t ready to praise the Emmy Award-winning docu-series.
“Making a Murderer is typical of attempts to adjudicate by mob rule, rather than the orderly processes of the court,” Kachinsky said, adding that the documentary has brought out “a lot of people with a little knowledge and no judgement.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin ruled in 2016 that Dassey was coerced when he confessed to his role in the Halbach killing. A three-judge panel in the Seventh Circuit upheld Duffin earlier this year. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office appealed, and the court agreed to hear the case en banc on September 26.
Kachinsky, who is expected to appear in Making a Murderer Season 2, says he has no opinion about Dassey and Avery’s guilt, but expects the Seventh Circuit to reverse the district court’s ruling, which, barring a victory in the United States Supreme Court, could keep Dassey in prison until he’s first eligible for parole in 2048.
“There is no real precedent for what Dassey is agruing,” he said.
Avery is serving life without parole, but he hopes to be freed by efforts of post-conviction attorney Kathleen Zellner.
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