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  • Writer's pictureTracy Keogh

Brendan Dassey: The Road to Freedom

Do you think I’ll be back by 1.29pm, I have a project due in sixth hour” 4,281 days have passed, and Brendan is still waiting, “……. I haven’t been free since that day.”

It is now 53 days since the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments before a panel of active judges in a rare En Banc hearing held in Chicago on September 26th, 2017. Brendan’s trajectory to freedom continues to arc, illustrating the need for reform in the arena of juvenile confessions. A false confession remains one of the most prejudicial sources of false evidence resulting in wrongful convictions throughout the United States.

Would a developmentally delayed, highly suggestible juvenile of 16, understand the gravity of the situation they found themselves in when faced with interrogative technique’s that promote false confessions? Or the legal significance or definition of the word ‘waiver’- before waiving their constitutional rights? False confessions raise significant questions for social scientists, mental health professionals, policy-makers and the public.

Much empirical research continues to be carried out on the causes and correlates of false confessions. From pretrial reliability hearings to cautionary jury instructions, to the provision of additional safeguards for the more vulnerable populations such as those who are developmentally challenged and juveniles. Protective legislation wants in this arena - to prevent erroneous prosecutions and wrongful convictions in the juvenile demographic borne from psychologically coercive police interrogations – reform was needed yesterday – reform was needed 11 years, 8 months and 18 days ago.

While police induced coerced confessions remain counterintuitive to many individuals, the wrongful conviction of Brendan Dassey has created an accessible gateway to education in this area.

Timeline to Freedom

The route to freedom has been fraught at the hands of an overtly convoluted appellate process. Brendan’s tenacious post-conviction defence team, (Laura Nirider, Steven Drizin, Robert Dvorak and the Centre on Wrongful Convictions of Youth) have navigated the path from Judge Duffin’s grant of Habeas on August 12th, 2016 to the En Banc hearing this past September. This exhaustive timeline to freedom includes:

12.08.2016: Habeas Corpus decision and order

09.09.2016: State filed notice to appeal

14.09.2016: Dassey motion for Release on Personal Recognizance

04.10.2016: State files in opposition to Motion for Release

14.11.2016: Order granting Motion for Release on Recognizance

15.11.2016: State files motion to stay the order granting the Motion for Release

16.11.2016: Order denying state’s Motion to Stay Order Releasing Dassey

16.11.2016: State files Emergency Motion to Stay Order Releasing Dassey

17.11.2016: Order granting Motion to Stay Release

13.12.2016: Amicus Brief filed by Marsha Levick, Wicklander-Zulawski, Prof B. Garrett

28.12.2016: Notice of Oral Argument February

14.02.2017: Oral Arguments 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Chicago

22.06.2017: Dassey decision upholding the District courts grant of Habeas

23.06.2017: Motion to lift stay of Order Releasing Petitioner on Recognizance

28.06.2017: Order denying Motion to Lift Stay

05.07.2017: State files for petition for Rehearing and Petition for Rehearing En Banc

04.08.2017: Order granted

26.09.2017: En Banc, Oral Arguments 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Totality and Trickery

How did you know it was a forehead?” asks Mark Wiegert. “Because there’s some ziggly lines on it" Brendan responds. Did you know that as the body dies, every muscle loses tension? They even stop pulling on the forehead, ensuring a smooth appearance (Judy Melinek MD, Forensic Pathologist) – it was physically impossible for Teresa Halbach in this false narrative to have had ‘ziggly lines’.

Did you note that during the March 1st interrogation (very) Special Agent, Tom Fassbender asks Brendan “Is your Mother here today?” - Wiegert testified that she was asked to participate. Seemingly Fassbender wasn’t aware of Barb’s presence at all.

The totality of Brendan’s circumstances are transfixed with his slew of limitations, IEP records and psychological testing, yet I have always found it of interest that all defence counsel pre the Drizin, Dvorak and Nirider era failed to address Brendan’s propensity for vasovagal syncope, how can a child who states “If I see blood or when I get a needle put in me I will faint or have a blackout like on a field (sic) trip to a hospital in eighth grade I went into a room with friends and when I seen the blood packs I had a blackout”, commit the heinous acts he was charged with? The fruit of the poisonous tree has never been so ripe. To quote Judge Wood "if you show conflicted counsel, counsel with an actual conflict of interest you’re done, the sixth amendment gives you the right to counsel."

The case against Brendan Dassey is a force majeure, in a country that periodically defers the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Which contains internationally accepted standards for the treatment of children – to pass and enact legislation that allows a child the right to confer with legal counsel prior to police interview and have that person present during the interview/interrogation process is the very least of protections it can offer. Brendan Dassey would not have lost 4,281 days (to date) to wrongful incarceration if it had.

Brendan continues to wait. We will wait with him. Free Brendan Dassey.

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