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Making a Murderer update: Brendan Dassey’s conviction was just overturned

Brendan Dassey in Making a Murderer.
Brendan Dassey in Making a Murderer.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

On Friday, August 12, it was announced that Brendan Dassey — a convicted killer in the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach and one of the subjects of the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer — could be a free man, or get a new trial.

Federal US Magistrate Judge William Duffin overturned Dassey’s murder conviction.

The reason for the ruling was that Duffin decided that Len Kachinsky, Dassey’s lawyer, committed "indefensible" "misconduct" while representing Dassey, WISN-TV (an ABC affiliate) reported.

In his ruling, Duffin also explained that Dassey’s confession should be considered involuntary because of the way the police conducted themselves. Duffin wrote:

These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

As detailed in Making a Murder, which launched on Netflix in December and quickly became wildly popular, both Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, were accused of, put on trial for, and convicted of Halbach’s murder. Once the documentary launched, both men became the subject of frequent news headlines and calls for retrials after the show highlighted how the investigation and trial were handled (or rather, mishandled, in the show’s point of view).

Kachinsky was appointed to represent Dassey after Dassey confessed to police on March 1, 2005, that he’d helped Avery kill Halbach. But the footage of the confession later suggested that investigators had essentially pushed Dassey, who by his own admission is not very smart, into confessing by using leading questions.

Making a Murderer highlighted how Kachinsky did not attempt to fight for Dassey’s innocence or even try to call attention to the way the confession was obtained and whether it should be considered valid or not.

The state has 90 days to appeal and retry Dassey.

A second season of Netflix’s Making a Murderer was announced in July, but it's unclear how many episodes it will comprise.

In response to Dassey's conviction being overturned, Making a Murderer directors and executive producers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos issued the following statement:

"Today there was a major development for the subjects in our story and this recent news shows the criminal justice system at work. As we have done for the past 10 years, we will continue to document the story as it unfolds, and follow it wherever it may lead."

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