Brendan Dassey is an American murderer who was convicted for his involvement in a first degree murder and second degree sexual assault. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Brendan was a shy and introvert teenager. His IQ level was much below the normal range and hence, he studied at special schools. In October 2005, photographer Teresa Halbach was sexually assaulted and murdered. Blood of Brendan’s uncle, Steven Avery, was also found on the spot of the crime. When Brendan was interrogated by the authorities, he confessed to his involvement in the crime. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. In August 2016, a federal magistrate overturned his conviction ruling that Brendan was coerced into giving his confession. In June 2017, a panel of the 'United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit' affirmed the magistrate's order, but the full panel of 'Seventh Circuit’ upheld Brendan's conviction by a vote of 4–3, in December 2017. The 2015 Netflix true crime documentary television series, ‘Making a Murderer,’ chronicles the story of Brendan Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery.
Childhood & Early Life
Brendan Dassey was born on October 19, 1989, in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, to Peter and Barbara Dassey. He grew up with three brothers and one half-brother.
His parents separated soon after his birth. Brendan and his brothers were raised by their mother on a large family property (from their mother’s side), Avery Salvage Yard, in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. His mother’s entire family lived on the huge property along with Brendan’s grandparents and many uncles. Brendan's uncle, Steven Avery, also stayed at the same property.
Brendan was not a very sharp kid. He was shy, low on self-confident, and an introvert. He was interested in animals, video games, and television. He was also a big fan of professional wrestling. He had an obsessive personality and fretted whenever he missed his favourite WWE show.
He attended Mishicot High School in his later teenage years, but did not mix up with other kids probably due to his low IQ. After several instances of bullying, his mother enrolled him at special education classes.
He had not shown any criminal inclination before his involvement in the murder. The Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer, also portrays him as a simple minded kid.
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On November 10, 2005, photographer Teresa Halbach’s disfigured body was found on the Avery family property. Teresa was 25 year old at the time of her murder and lived next to her parents’ house in Calumet County. Her parents lodged a complaint on November 3, 2005, as she had not been seen since October 31.
Following the report, the police began to investigate and located her car on the Avery property. Teresa was supposed to visit the Avery property on October 31, which led the police to the scene of the crime. The police found the charred remains of Halbach, along with her mobile phone, license plates, and car key on the Avery property.
In further investigations, blood of Steven Avery was found in Teresa’s car. Steven was arrested by the police right away on the charges of kidnapping, murder and illegal possession of a firearm.
Steven used Brendan as his alibi to prove his innocence and hence, the police started interrogating Brendan. Although Brendan and his mother gave their consent to the interrogation, it was still considered unfair to interrogate a minor without an adult’s presence in the interrogation room.
Brendan was interrogated four times in a span of 2 days without the presence of any adult. In their interrogation, the officers used the well-known Reid Technique, which is used to pressurize the accused to confess to a crime. The police used several other well-known interrogation methods and lured Brendan with false promises to get his confession. Brendan confessed to rape, murder and corpse mutilation.
The Jury from Dane County, Wisconsin, began the trial on April 16, 2007. The video footage of Brendan’s confession was presented to the jury and hence it was an open and shut case. The trial lasted days, and the verdict was delivered on April 25, 2007.
Brendan was found guilty of first degree intentional murder, sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse. Despite being a minor at the time of his conviction, Brendan was treated in the court as an adult. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was sent to Columbia Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.
After Brendan Dassey was sentenced to prison, the defence attorneys asked for a retrial in 2010, which was not entertained by the judge. Supreme Court also refused to review the appeal in 2013.
The 2015 Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer, started a whole new debate on the whole case. The series brought the case to a wider global audience. The 'National Juvenile Defender Center and Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth' became active and began looking into the matter more closely.
Several inconsistencies were pointed out in the trial. It was said that due to a simple mind, Brendan was highly suggestible and could fall prey to the false promises made by the police. This was mentioned as the cause of ‘false confessions’ made by Brendan.
The law of the state of Wisconsin also clearly states that a minor shall never be interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or an adult family member. On the top of that, Brendan did not get competitive defence attorneys during his trial and at one point, his attorney was even accused of working toward Brendan’s conviction.
Following the release of the Netflix documentary, newly appointed defence attorneys filed a ‘habeas corpus’ in the federal district court, in December 2015. A year later, United States magistrate judge William Duffin ruled that the confession was indeed coerced and ordered the release of Brandon. But the Wisconsin Justice Department successfully avoided his release by appealing in a higher court.
In December 2017, the Seventh Circuit ruled by a vote of 4-3 in favour of the justice department saying that the interrogations were accurate and handled within the boundaries of the law. A few more attempts were made to free Brendan but none was successful. Brendan remains eligible for a parole hearing in 2048.
Brendan Dassey has attained international fame owing to the release of the Netflix documentary. His brother said that Brendan receives fan-letters from all over the world every week and he replies to all of the fan letters.
An online petition was also filed to get Brendan released and it was signed by more than 1,00,000 people which made it eligible to get a response from the then President, Barack Obama.
There are many social media campaigns aimed at bringing justice to Brendan and his family. His fandom has grown to such a level that t-shirts with slogans in support of Brendan are selling fast.