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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal court in Wisconsin on Friday overturned the conviction of a man found guilty of helping his uncle kill Teresa Halbach in a case profiled in the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer.
The U.S. District Court in Milwaukee overturned Brendan Dassey’s conviction and ordered him freed within 90 days unless prosecutors decide to retry him. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which was handling the case, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Magistrate Judge William Duffin said in Friday’s ruling that investigators made false promises to Dassey by assuring him “he had nothing to worry about.”
“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,” Duffin wrote. The ruling comes after Dassey’s appeal was rejected by state courts.
Dassey confessed to helping his uncle Steven Avery carry out the rape and murder of Halbach, but attorneys argued that his constitutional rights were violated throughout the investigation.
Dassey was 16 when Halbach was killed in 2005 after she went to the Avery family auto salvage yard to photograph some vehicles.
Avery was tried and convicted separately in the homicide. Both Avery and Dassey are serving separate life sentences.
Dassey’s case burst into the public’s consciousness with the popularity of the Making a Murderer documentary that debuted in December.
Steven Avery’s defense attorney Dean Strang sent a statement to THR in response to the Dassey conviction being overturned: “Jerry [Buting] and I are relieved and gratified that a federal judge, in a thoughtful, 91-page opinion, has found Brendan Dassey’s statements to law enforcement on March 1, 2006, involuntary.”
“Brendan’s statements were involuntary – by the standards of common sense and decency that most Americans apply in their own lives, as well as under binding law that the Wisconsin courts repeatedly failed to apply,” Strang continued. “His statements were also wholly unreliable and flatly wrong on essential details, which is one of the obvious risks of coercing a statement from someone in custody. Our federal courts are often the last protectors of our liberties and justice. We are thankful and proud that a federal court fulfilled its fundamental role for Brendan Dassey today. In doing so, this federal court served all Americans.”
Attorneys for Dassey, as well as his mother, Barbara, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The filmmakers behind Making a Murderer cast doubt on the legal process used to convict Avery and Dassey, and their work has sparked national interest and conjecture. Armchair investigators have flooded Twitter and message boards, and key players in the case have appeared on national news and talk shows.
Authorities involved in the case have called the 10-hour series biased, while the filmmakers have stood by their work.
Directors/executive producers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos issued a statement in response to the ruling Friday.
“Today there was a major development for the subjects in our story and this recent news shows the criminal justice system at work,” the statement reads. “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.”
3:30 p.m. PT: Updated to include statement from Dean Strang.
5:26 p.m. PT: Updated to include statement from directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.
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