Seventh Circuit Will Rehear ‘Making a Murderer’ Case En Banc

In this March 3, 2006, file photo, Brendan Dassey is escorted out of a Manitowoc County Circuit courtroom, in Manitowoc, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

CHICAGO (CN) – The en banc Seventh Circuit agreed Friday to rehear the overturned homicide conviction of “Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey to determine if the intellectually disabled teen’s confession to rape and murder was voluntary.

In June, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled 2-1 that the cumulative effect of the coercive techniques resulting in Dassey’s confession – “death by a thousand cuts” – rendered it unreliable and involuntary, especially given that no physical evidence connects Dassey to the crime.

Dassey, a 16-year-old at the time of his interrogation and arrest, and who has intellectual deficits, was convicted of assisting his uncle, Steven Avery, in the rape and murder of Theresa Halbach in 2005. Halbach’s bones were found charred in a burn pit near Avery’s home in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.

In March 2006, Dassey confessed to police on videotape that he raped Halbach and helped Avery murder her and burn her body, and a jury found him guilty of murder.

Detectives repeatedly told Dassey that he would “be OK,” that they were “on his side,” “you don’t have to worry,” “we already know what happened,” and “honesty will set you free.”

The trial court held that Dassey’s confession was voluntary and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed.

However, a documentary series called “Making a Murderer” 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 different crime. Avery served 18 years in prison for a rape he never committed, and had filed a $36 million civil suit against the county.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin reversed Dassey’s conviction last August, troubled by the interrogator’s “false promises” and suggestive interrogation techniques, combined with Dassey’s age, inexperience and intellectual disabilities.

In its petition for rehearing en banc, Wisconsin argued that the panel’s “reimagined framework for juvenile interviews puts law enforcement in a straitjacket, making investigations ‘considerably more difficult.’”

The Seventh Circuit’s Friday order vacates the June panel decision authored by Judge Ilana Rovner and joined by Judge Ann Claire Williams, with Judge David Hamilton dissenting.

Oral argument before the full court will be heard on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

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