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  • Writer's pictureTracy Keogh

The Continued Wrongful Conviction of Brendan Dassey: A Year in Retrospect.

Since 1989, there have been 60 exonerations in the state of Wisconsin with over 414 years embezzled from the wrongfully convicted. The wrongful incarceration of Brendan Dassey should have catalogued 2018’s tally at 61 and 427 respectively. However, the procedural jigsaw that is the federal appellate process and the unduly restrictive AEDPA statute gutted Brendan’s habeas corpus petition. Positioning his fight for freedom abaft an ornery Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), we lurched out of 2017 with hearts both bruised and stout.

"His confession was not voluntary and his conviction should not stand, and yet an impaired teenager has been sentenced to life in prison," "I view this as a profound miscarriage of justice."

Judge Rovner’s dissent

The Lamp of Liberty Still Burns

The new year brought with it the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals order to dismiss Brendan’s habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 2254. Judge Duffin (US District Court - Eastern District of Wisconsin) acted in accordance with the courts mandate, effectively dismissing over 10 years of legal imbroglio from Brendan’s irrepressible legal team. This procedural, yet epochal move was fundamental to Brendan’s writ of certiorari progressing.

February 14th we were among the 27,000 Facebook viewers who witnessed a discussion between Professor Drizin and the Dean of Concord Law School, Martin Pritikin. Focused on Drizin’s work in the wrongful conviction space, false confessions and Brendan’s legal and constitutional options. It was here that Drizin signalled additional counsel would be joining the Dassey legal team at SCOTUS.

Laura Nirider confirmed that formidable former US Solicitor General, Seth Waxman, a seasoned Supreme Court litigator and his colleagues at Wilmer Hale had joined the fight. The voluntariness issue culminated in Dassey v Dittman (16-3397) seizing a justifiable position on a SCOTUS docket with a petition for a writ of certiorari filed February 20th. The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth issued a press release to note the occasion.

“Brendan is deeply grateful that Seth Waxman and his colleagues at WilmerHale have joined his team – as are Steve, Bob, and I. It speaks to the importance of Brendan’s case, as well as the justness of his cause, that the country’s top Supreme Court litigators have graciously donated their time to urge the Court to resolve this important legal question.”

Commentary from Newsweek, the Washington Examiner and consecutive articles from the Post Crescent (19th, 20th and 21st February) attributed to the deluge of juvenile justice and false confession analysis that was to follow.

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself"

March was met with a flurry of media coverage, online content producers syndicating repurposed articles to satiate the demand from an audience that crossed demographic and societal spectrums. From legal pundits at, and, Brendan’s roadmap to freedom mobilised support from the four corners of the globe. The UK’s Independent, Ireland's RTE (national broadcaster) and Australian national newspapers (among many others) ensured Brendan Dassey Google SERP results delivered outreach and awareness in equal measure.

Early March saw Professor Drizin eulogise Judge Milton Shadur who inspired Drizin in his representation of Brendan Dassey, as Viviana Alvarez-Toro and Cesar A Lopez-Morales dignified the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law with an insightful analysis ‘Revising the False Confession Problem’ further profiling Brendan’s injustice.

Amici Curiae

“Spring is the time of plans and projects” uttered Tolstoy and as March drew a climatic breath, the support for Brendan continued to unfold with an inspired torrent of amicus briefs supporting Brendan’s petition for writ of certiorari.

The perpetually impressive Marsha Levick (Deputy Director and Chief Counsel of Juvenile Law Center) filed an amicus brief on March 22nd. The JLC was joined by a draft of eminent US Juvenile Justice advocates. On March 26th the JLC was accompanied by:

March 23rd saw Brendan’s petition to the Supreme Court featured on SCOTUSblog as the Petition of the Day.

"The class filled up within the first hour of registration"

April arrived ghosted by a hangover of expectancy as Dassey supporters were left buoyed by March’s legal manoeuvres. Both Laura Nirider and Brian Gallini authored commentary for the legal blog The Faculty Lounge. Gallini’s “Bringing Brendan Dassey into the Classroom” published on April 18th heralded the first in a series of posts by Gallini developed to articulate the diverse range of issues raised specifically by Brendan’s case, the dissection of Brendan's mistreatment and how better to engage students in those topics.

With media coverage showing no signs of abating, the theme of education surrounding the complex issues at the heart of Brendan’s wrongful conviction found another platform in the University of Utah. With a course developed by Professor Shima Baugham concerned with ethics, DNA, juvenile rights, prosecutorial conduct, false confessions and other themes highlighted by Making a Murderer. Raising the question of reliability within criminal justice institutions is an argument thoroughly debated by defence attorney Dean Strang, who addressed students undertaking the course.

As April collided with May, we learned of Wisconsin criminal defence attorney and author Michael Cicchini’s foray into Brendan’s injustice, announcing the October release of ‘Anatomy of a False Confession: The Interrogation and Conviction of Brendan Dassey.

WISDOJ Marches On

With Schimel at the helm, the state of Wisconsin lodged a respondents brief at the US Supreme Court May 10th requesting the court to deny review. The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth aided by Seth Waxman and Wilmer and Hale filed in response May 25th, the collective intake of breath from Dassey nation was palpable.

The media became a heaving horde of support, coverage from,, ABC and Chicago news to fellow legal pundits assembled to contribute. Attorneys including Bill Amadeo of Grabel and Associates writing for the Michigan Criminal Lawyers Blog, ‘Brendan Dassey When the Judicial System Becomes the Criminal’ to Marsha Levick writing for the National Law Journal asking SCOTUS to enforce protections for children during police interrogation. The Faculty Lounge courtesy of Brian Gallini continued to contribute to the supportive content flooding newsfeeds worldwide.

Not to be outdone Netflix Australia, two years and five months on, listed Making a Murderer as one of the “Best Netflix Australian Shows of 2018” followed by the Tiny Desk, Big Dreams, NPR Contest, where Sarah and the Underground submitted their melancholic song “Bad Man’ inspired by Brendan.

“We have a special place in our hearts for Brendan Dassey” said Dillard. “He was arrested at 16 so he and I are the same age. I’m 27. Many believe he was falsely coerced into a confession”

Dassey Swimming in the Cert Pool

Careering into June, professional and scholarly support for Brendan’s case had reached summit like proportions. With June 18th finally confirmed for Dassey v Dittman to be tabled for conference, a surge of commentary came from a litany of judicial stakeholders including Marty Tankleff, Saul Kassin PhD, Professor Brandon Garrett to media stalwarts such as The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, The New York Times, The UK Times and The New Yorker to name but a few. Such was the standard of critique, nine articles garnered mentions in the much coveted SCOTUSblog.

Verifying the reach of Brendan’s wrongful conviction, Murdoch University (Perth) Criminologist Dr. David Keatley developed a Behaviour Sequence Analysis System in response to the maligned REID technique.

Worldwide rallies get underway, June 9th and 10th, as Professors Drizin and Nirider discuss the case with Rabia Chaudry on the Undisclosed Podcast.

Professor Drizin would receive The Perske Award from ARC for championing the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system.

Brendan’s petition was denied in nonchalant silence by the Supreme Court on June 25th, 2018.

Laura Nirider released a statement

“We will continue to fight to free Brendan Dassey," said Nirider, the co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University. "Brendan was a sixteen-year-old with intellectual and social disabilities when he confessed to a crime he did not commit."

For the most verbose among us, words would offer no comfort in the face of a fractured justice system presented with the opportunity to redress juvenile justice across the United States. There was no ‘equality before the law’ for Brendan Dassey at the marbled hands of the Supreme Court.

Will Making a Murderer Season 2 Conquer or Divide?

The leaks news of Making a Murderer season 2 although no official date is given by the streaming colossus Netflix.

“The snivelling defence attorney Len Kachinsky” is jailed for violating a restraining order and suspended as accusations of harassment and intimidation play out legally.

July documents further commentary from The Faculty Lounge with Brian Gallini’s “The Other Explanation for Brendan Dassey’s Conviction.”

Wicklander-Zulawski amici to Brendan’s writ of certiorari release a statement post Supreme Court decision.

Developmental and legal psychologist Lindsay C.Malloy shares her experience in giving a TED talk on developmental issues in the legal system. Malloy’s TED talk “ Why teens confess to crimes they didn’t commit” has been viewed over 500,000 times. Her pitch discussing the case of Brendan Dassey was her third and ultimately successful pitch in securing an invitation to become a TED speaker. Malloy believes it was the Brendan Dassey angle that grabbed the coveted spot.

July came to a close with news of the US-Asia Law Institute (USALI) visit to China as part of its continuing program to work with partners in Asia to prevent and redress wrongful convictions. Professor Leo and Doctor Andy Griffith discuss Brendan’s case.

The Road to a Walker Free Wisconsin

“Always seek justice, but love only mercy.

To love justice and hate mercy is but a doorway to more injustice”

Wisconsin partisan primaries dominate August as Making a Murderer arrives at the ballot box and to the Calumet County race for Sheriff. Lt Mark Wiegert he of fatherly pats and coercive interrogation techniques ultimately prevails. Nicholas Bolz, a former Calumet County district attorney, said Wiegert is part of the county's "Good Old Boy Network." No! Really?

Wisconsin primaries (August 14th) asked the electorate to determine the Democratic opponent to oppose incumbent Governor Walker. The states public education chief, Tony Evers, proved victorious from a field of ten candidates. Dassey supporters surge in a wave of support.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled in the Kachinsky stalking case as The Faculty Lounge continues to educate with “Len Kachinsky and the Fallible Strickland Standard.”

Netflix Confirms Making a Murderer Season 2 Release

September anchors with highly anticipated news. Netflix reveal the second chapter of MAM2 will stream globally from October 19th, the news hits online news outlets, flooding newsfeeds worldwide.

Attorneys David Rudolph (The Staircase) and Jerry Buting (Making a Murderer) discuss participation in their respective docu-series at the Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Professor Drizin rightfully hosted the panel as attorney for Brendan Dassey. Meanwhile over at The Faculty Lounge, Brian Gallini discusses a disparate calibre of defence attorney in “The Aftermath of Len Kachinsky’s Defence Representation”.

September culminated in a conversation with Wisconsin defence attorney and the author of Anatomy of a False Confession: The Interrogation and Conviction of Brendan Dassey, Michael Cicchini.

“The Case Against Brendan Dassey is Words and Words Only”

October 19th Making a Murder 2 premieres on Netflix.

Igniting the fight for justice, MAM2 is devoured by the masses hitting viewing statistics of over 19 million within the first couple of weeks. The ranks of supporters ballooned as Twitter becomes a fluid feed of social commentary, a breathing hub of opinion and debate where the fight to free Brendan and Steven is as potent as December 2015. There is no relief for those of us who believe in Brendan Dassey.

The tenacious Kathleen Zellner is heralded as wrongful conviction royalty as the ardent Laura Nirider confirms she doesn’t actually wear clogs…

Videos in support of Brendan and the CWCY flood social media, with messages from Amanda Knox, Damien Echols, Dean Strang, Jason Flom, Sir Peter Jackson and advocate Jeanne Bishop.

“What evil scum these men are”

November disembarks with a manifesto from Sir Peter Jackson. Articulating his disgust, it spoke to the shared revulsion felt by millions of supporters.

“What defies belief is the way in which the State of Wisconsin, and in particular the Attorney General, are totally obsessed with keeping Brendan Dassey in prison for several more decades. This smirking Attorney General looks so damned pleased with himself and is using every means at his disposal, to keep an innocent young man behind bars for the next forty odd years”

Professors Drizin and Nirider announce touring dates as they bring Brendan’s story and discussion regarding false confessions, wrongful convictions and reform to theatres and auditoriums across the United States and United Kingdom. As demand grows, venues are booked across Ireland and Scotland.

“But ultimately, the focus is always on Brendan and his case. 'Brendan is the foundation of everything we do,' she says. 'We are his lawyers. We are the people that are his voice. Brendan is at the root of everything we do, and I suppose metaphorically, part of my goal is to bring Brendan Dassey in the room with me too.” – LN

Midterms arrive with Wisconsin unceremoniously disabusing themselves of the Seuss like Scott Walker and gold plated Brad Schimel. Twitter erupted, Wisconsinites had triumphed. This was not party political, this was the removal of malfeasance. Headlines across the world asked the same question “Did Making a Murderer Change the 2018 Midterms?” Why yes, yes it did.

November climaxes with reasoning whether Making a Murderer makes the case for God…

‘Tis the Season for Podcasts

The False Confession tour launches in the UK with media coverage ensuring Brendan’s tragic plight is at the forefront of conversation. Coverage from the BBC, Belfast Telegraph, to eonline and Ireland’s RTE and maintain public awareness.

Northwestern’s Planet Lex podcast anchored by Northwestern Law’s Vice Dean, Jim Speta hosts Professors Drizin and Nirider, discussing Brendan’s legal options moving forward.

The Miami Law official podcast, a weekly podcast from the University of Miami School of law discuss “The Tragic Case of Brendan Dassey.”

A jury acquits Brendan’s former attorney (or Judas your pick), Len Kachinsky of stalking his court clerk as Making a Murderer filmmakers are sued for defamation by Andrew Colburn. Colburns suit contends that Riccardi and Demos wrongfully accused Colburn of framing Brendan and Steven. Paradoxical? Ironic at best.

As we head into 2019, we continue to seek vindication for Brendan Dassey. Over 669 weeks (4689 days) have been expunged from a life not yet lived. As Tony Evers and Josh Kaul take office January 7th, I recall Steven Drizin’s comment when asked about possible pathways to freedom for Brendan.

“An open-minded and progressive Governor”

Hope is a righteous commodity, truth clandestine at times and the fight to free Brendan continues.

“For someone in Brendan's position, there are a couple of options. Brendan can file a post-conviction petition raising new evidence either of his constitutional rights being violated, or new evidence of his actual innocence. He also has the ability to file a petition for executive clemency before the governor of Wisconsin” LN

…and we wait...never free Brendan Dassey.

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