Brendan Dassey, left, listens to testimony Jan. 19, 2010, at the Manitowoc County Courthouse in Manitowoc, Wis. Dassey, whose homicide conviction was overturned in a case profiled in the Netflix series "Making a Murderer" was ordered released Nov. 14, 2016, from federal prison while prosecutors appeal. Dassey's supervised release was not immediate and is contingent upon him meeting multiple conditions.
(Sue Pischke / AP)
Could Brendan Dassey — the intellectually challenged defendant whose story is told in Netflix's documentary series "Making a Murderer" — be getting out of prison soon?
A hearing Tuesday in front of a three-judge panel of Chicago's 7th Circuit U.S. Appeals Court may just give his lawyers hope.
Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 after he confessed to teaming up with his uncle, Steven Avery, to rape, murder and burn the body of photographer Teresa Halbach on their family's property in rural Wisconsin.
That conviction was overturned in August when a U.S. magistrate judge in Milwaukee found that Dassey's confession was involuntarily given and unconstitutionally coerced by cops who took advantage of his young age and limited intelligence — a point forcefully made by the campaigning documentarians behind "Making a Murderer."
Conviction of 'Making a Murderer's' Brendan Dassey overturned
Dassey — who was 16 at the time of his video confession and who has an IQ of just 73 — has remained behind bars while the state of Wisconsin appeals the decision to quash his conviction.
But U.S. Appellate Court Judge Ilana Rovner had pointed questions for Wisconsin Deputy Solicitor General Luke Berg from the get-go at Tuesday morning's hearing, interrupting Berg almost as soon as he started speaking.
When the cops who interviewed Dassey told him, "Let's get it all out today and then it's all over," Rovner asked, wouldn't Dassey have interpreted that as an offer that he could go home if he told them what they wanted to hear?
"I want you to imagine it is not an average person, but a 16-year-old with a very, very low IQ, who is extremely suggestible," Rovner said. "And I would like you very much to concentrate on the 'suggestible.' "
Rovner seemed unimpressed when Berg told her that "neither an average person, nor Dassey, would interpret that as meaning he could go home."
Appeals court blocks 'Making a Murderer' inmate's release
"What if there were 20 such statements, 30 such statements?" the judge asked, referring to the video interview that formed one of the most damning sections of the documentary. "Do you think someone with Brendan's intellect understands that 'The Truth will set you free' is an idiom?"
Referring to a point in the interview when one of the officers told Dassey that "I'm not a cop right now," Rovner, asked, "Isn't that just a blatant lie?"
But Berg seemed to get more traction with Judge David Hamilton, who told Dassey's attorney Laura Nirider he saw no evidence on the video interview that Dassey had given his confession involuntarily.
And Berg got the last word, concluding the hearing by giving a grisly recitation of Dassey's confession. "He remembers her crying," Berg said.
"He remembers the awful smell as she was burned." The memories, Berg said, "were raw and they were real."
The court has yet to rule.