Federal judge tosses out Dassey conviction

August 13, 2016

The Brillion News

MILWAUKEE – A federal court judge has overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey for the murder of Teresa Halbach.

Dassey was a teenaged boy when Halbach disappeared and was murdered in a rural area near Mishicot on Halloween of 2005.

Judge William Duffin issued his ruling Friday, saying that Dassey’s confession was not voluntary and violated the fifth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Northwestern University law school attorneys Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin, who were a part of the team that appealed the conviction to federal court, issued a statement on Judge Duffin’s decision. Their statement, in part, said: “The Court’s decision rests on a fundamental principle that is too often forgotten by courts and law enforcement officers: interrogation tactics which may not be coercive when used on adults are coercive when used on juveniles, particular young people like Brendan with disabilities. And when these tactics are used on juveniles, the risk that a young suspect will give a false confession increases exponentially.”

Nirider co-authored the petition for a writ of habeas corpus that led to the conviction being vacated. That writ challenged the validity of the conviction of Dassey in state courts and brought the case into the federal courts to have it judged on the basis of the U.S. Constitution, which supersedes the state constitution and state statutes.

His ruling also cited ineffective legal counsel from a Neenah attorney. Duffin ordered Dassey released from prison within 90 days unless the State of Wisconsin decides to put Dassey, now 26 years old, on trial all over again.

Dassey had been sentenced to life in prison, with first parole eligibility in 2048.

A decision to appeal Duffin’s ruling, or to seek a new trial, will be made by the state Department of Justice.

Dassey’s uncle, Steve Avery, was also convicted of the murder of Halbach, a freelance commercial photographer whose family hails from the St. John area in Calumet County. Halbach had gone to the Avery family’s auto salvage yard to photograph a used vehicle for a used car sales magazine on the day she is believed to have been murdered.

A complete story detailing Duffin’s ruling will be featured in the August 18, 2016 print edition of The Brillion News.

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