Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

7th Circuit Denies Release of ‘Making a Murderer’ Inmate

The Seventh Circuit on Thursday stayed an order to release Brendan Dassey of “Making a Murderer” fame, siding with Wisconsin prosecutors who argued he is a danger to the public.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]MILWAUKEE (CN) – Brendan Dassey of “Making a Murderer” fame will remain in prison pending a federal appeal, thanks to a Seventh Circuit decision dashing his hopes of being released late Friday.

On Thursday, The Seventh Circuit sided with Wisconsin prosecutors, who argued that a court finding Dassey’s confession was coerced does not mean he is innocent or harmless.

Dassey was convicted of helping his uncle, Steven Avery, in the rape and murder of Theresa Halbach in 2005.

At that time, Dassey was a 16-year-old with intellectual disabilities, and he was questioned multiple times without an attorney or parent present.

Dassey, now 27 years old, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole until 2048.

A recent documentary series released on Netflix’s streaming service strongly suggests the pair were wrongfully convicted so that rural Manitowoc County could avoid paying a large settlement following Avery’s exoneration for a prior crime.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin reversed Dassey’s conviction on Aug. 12, finding the interrogator’s “false promises” and suggestive interrogation techniques, combined with Dassey’s age, inexperience and intellectual disabilities, rendered his confession involuntary.

Duffin also said he had “significant doubts as to the reliability of Dassey’s confession” based on the way in which he responded to investigators’ questions.

The judge granted Dassey’s petition for release on Monday, and scheduled his release for Friday at 8 p.m.

State prosecutors challenged his release, and the Seventh Circuit on Thursday granted the state’s motion to stay Duffin’s release order, pending resolution of the state’s appeal.

Though its recycled arguments twice failed to persuade Duffin to keep Dassey in custody while his grant of habeas relief is appealed, the Wisconsin Department of Justice tried them again with the Seventh Circuit.

The state’s motion, filed Wednesday and signed by Deputy Solicitor General Luke Berg, raised the argument that the lower court was procedurally barred from releasing Dassey after the state appealed his grant of habeas relief.

The state also claims that releasing Dassey would be a danger to the public and the Halbach family.

“The jury found Dassey guilty of the gravest of crimes: rape, murder, and mutilation of a corpse,” Deputy Solicitor General Luke Berg wrote in Wednesday’s motion. “These crimes themselves show that Dassey is a danger to the public, regardless of his current behavioral record while incarcerated.”

The state did not editorialize in its press release on Thursday’s decision, stating only the fact that Dassey will remain in prison until the appeals court rules on his release.

Johnny Koremenos, the director of communications and public affairs for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, did not immediately respond to a voicemail Thursday afternoon.

The Seventh Circuit order does not explain the appeals court’s decision to grant the stay.

If it ultimately upholds Duffin’s decision, Dassey will be released.

However, according to the state’s motions, the Seventh Circuit has upheld convictions of youth based on confessions elicited using similar means, despite district courts regularly overturning them.

“This Court has even denied habeas petitions when facing ‘the gravest misgivings’ about the voluntariness of the confession,” Berg wrote in Wednesday’s motion.

For their part, Dassey’s attorneys from the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in Illinois are not giving up.

“We are disappointed more than words can say,” the Center wrote in a brief statement on its website. “The fight goes on.”

Yesterday, the Center posted a short update indicating that they are not able to respond to media requests for comment. Dassey’s attorney, Laura Nirider, did not immediately return a voicemail on Thursday afternoon.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories / Appeals, Criminal

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.