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  • Writer's pictureTracy Keogh

Inside Making a Murderer: Fighting to Free Brendan Dassey

Picture: Kobe Lane

Melbourne welcomes Steven Drizin, Laura Nirider and David Rudolph

“So tomorrow if you have time write to Brendan…it means everything to him” these words from Laura Nirider were met with a collective sigh from an audience that had fastidiously listened to Steven Drizin and Nirider speak of the injustice that had befallen Brendan Dassey for almost two hours.

As the evening got underway to the strut inducing “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, the Plenary auditorium at the Melbourne Convention Centre readied itself for the throngs of Dassey supporters who had travelled from the four corners of the globe to feel a tangible connection to the case and the incredible lawyers leading the charge.

"If I say Kratz?"

Opening the proceedings, “we’re going to play a little game, if I say Kratz, you say?” and the crowd obliged Professor Drizin with verve. Moments of levity were undercut by the reality of the continued wrongful conviction and incarceration of Brendan Dassey. Professor Drizin had called Brendan just before flying out to Australia and asked him “what would you like to tell your supporters in Australia?” Brendan replied, “just thank you for your support and I love you all” The audience was with Brendan. Laura and Steven had succeeded. In that moment Brendan was in the room.

Did someone say 'prosecutorial misconduct?'

The Inside Making a Murderer and The Staircase event offered a deep dive into the affliction that is prosecutorial misconduct and the conspiratorial pilfering of the presumption of innocence from a society that seeks not actual innocence, but the standard of evidence that is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This is a core principle of both the American and Australian criminal justice system. Joined by David Rudolph, lead counsel for the Michael Peterson trial profiled in Netflix’s doco-series The Staircase, Professors Drizin and Nirider joined David in addressing the damnatory pre-trial press conference held by then Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz. Kratz ensured there was never going to be a “beyond a reasonable doubt” for Brendan Dassey. Oft debated as to whether it slithered across the line violating Wisconsin’s rules of professional conduct for prosecutors, Rudolph simply stated, “Kratz should have been disbarred” while Professor Drizin impishly, recalled the continuing saga of the sweaty disgraced former prosecutors’ obsession with all things perspiration. Regaling Kratz’s presence at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Drizin told of a student who felt compelled to relay to Professor Drizin, that Kratz was in line “sweating buckets” – there was much ire for Kratz and his cohort in the wrongful conviction of Brendan Dassey, Len Kachinsky. The audience vocalised their disdain at every mention…and smiled at the karmic footnote that has ensued.

Making a Murderer meets The Staircase

There were commonalities between the cases at the heart of Making a Murderer and The Staircase, malevolent villains such as blood splatter analyst Duane Deaver and the loathsome Kachinsky; egoist DA’s such as Hardin and Kratz, junk forensic science and media influenced bias. There were also great chasms of difference. While the trial of Michael Peterson gyrated around forensic evidence, we acknowledge the case against Brendan “is words and words only”.

"They got to my head"

We watched the concluding minutes of Brendan’s March 1st interrogation, those 5 explainer minutes that Brendan’s then counsel agreed to omit and keep from the jury. The juncture where Brendan expresses “they got to my head” where Brendan recants to his Mum, in a way only the two of them understand. Ineffective doesn’t cut it, Brendan was once again failed by his legal representation who were ostensibly colluding with the prosecution. There were audible gasps around the auditorium in those moments. A sense of not quite comprehending that Brendan a child of 16 when charged and now a man of 29 is still waiting in an 8 x 4 cell in Wisconsin; that this injustice continues.

How old is Jerry Buting, discuss?

The evening pivoted between Professors Drizin and Nirider and David Rudolph. Rudolph proving quite the anecdotist discussing Michael Peterson with many learning that Avery trial counsel, Jerry Buting had been a student of Rudolph’s. Does this mean David Rudolph is age defiant, or that Master Buting matured early? *Hmm*

Rudolph explored the much maligned “owl theory” unfortunately sans his PowerPoint presentation causing flashbacks to his previous attempt over 18 years ago. And we learned what inspires David to fight to protect the rule of law and what he fears. He recited a quote by a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany, Martin Niemoller:

“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”

It was an aspirational evening. Laura Nirider when asked why studies show that more than 85% of true crime fans are women, replied “because us women can smell bullshit right" followed by a rousing statement in support of Brendan and details of legal next steps.

"It doesn't take a lawyer to see Brendan belongs nowhere near a prison"

As Avery’s post-conviction appeal careers through the state courts, Brendan’s team are ever watchful with options that include the pursuit of post conviction relief back in state court using newly discovered evidence of actual innocence or an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Professor Drizin spoke of executive clemency at the hands of the new governorship of Wisconsin and the hope the changing of the guard offers. There is much work to do, however for just over 2 hours, we experienced a tangible connection to Brendan Dassey in an auditorium full of people there to bear witness and show support for Brendan.

We look forward to the day we see Professors Drizin and Nirider running to that courthouse for Brendan, ready to file!

Free Brendan Dassey.

To catch Inside Making a Murder and The Staircase tickets available here.

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