Inside the Interrogation Room with Brendan Dassey: A Masterclass with Dr. Richard Leo
"It's such an injustice" says Dr. Richard Leo a Professor of Law and Psychology at the University of San Francisco. "I know it is easy for us to forget the horrors of his prison life, it’s got to be awful specially for someone like Brendan."
Dr. Richard Leo is a world leading expert on police interrogation practices, false confessions, the impact of Miranda, psychological coercion and the wrongful conviction of the innocent. A prolific and multi-award-winning author, Dr. Leo came to Brendan's case in 2009 retained as an expert in his field to testify at Brendan’s post-conviction hearings in the January of 2010. I spoke in depth with Dr. Leo concerning Brendan, the phenomenon of false confessions and his role in the post-conviction process.
A discussion with Dr. Richard A Leo from interviewer to interviewee
Thank you for your time Dr, Leo, and the opportunity to pose questions concerning Brendan's false confession, your involvement in 2010 all of which I believe will prove of interest to those who support Brendan Dassey.
I have previously interviewed Dr. Lawrence White...
RL:"Yes, he was involved you know this better than me, he was obviously involved in Steven Avery’s case, as an expert."
Yes. I found it quite interesting to hear from Dr White that if he had known what he knew after watching Making a Murderer he would have pushed harder to testify on behalf of Brendan.
RL: “In the documentary Making a Murderer Len Kachinsky is counsel for Brendan and doesn’t he get replaced at some point?”
Yes, he was removed from the case and Mark Fremgen and Ray Edelstein were appointed.
RL:“And did they do a competent job? Kachinsky was replaced before trial, and didn't represent Brendan. Maybe it was too late because Kachinsky had already…said things to the media and he had that private investigator who basically coerced false statements from Brendan, so maybe it was too late for those attorneys to save Brendan, I don’t know but did those attorneys do an okay job? Or did they not?
From a lay person’s perspective, I don’t believe so they didn’t mount a false confession defence at all their defence strategy focused on making Brendan a sympathetic character.
RL: “So, did they say he was innocent, that he didn’t commit the crime?” So, how do you get around a false confession?”
They are the questions, I'm hoping you will answer.
RL: "I assume you thought that Dean Strang and Jerry Buting did a good job with Steven Avery right, but if Avery’s innocent it would be because the evidence was planted against him, it was less clear in Brendan’s case. I wasn’t in the Making a Murderer documentary so a lot less people know of my involvement in the case it was post-conviction. I’ll stop asking you questions, but I have one more for you.”
Yes, of course.
RL; “Larry White’s a very good psychologist and he wrote a very good report for the case, he is a very conscientious guy I think he limits the work he does on these cases to just the state of Wisconsin, maybe Minnesota. He doesn’t do very much of this expert witness work I think that’s because he wants to stay sane. He was hired by Steven Avery’s team, I’m trying to imagine to get a better understanding of what he said, if he knew then what he knows now, I’m just wondering, as he was hired by Avery’s defence team and not by the other team - he wrote a report but he didn’t testify, right?"
RL: “So, I don’t know, how could he have tried harder since the attorneys who needed him weren’t the ones who retained him?” He would have had to have gotten permission from Avery’s lawyers…"
"Avery’s lawyers in the American legal system have to give Steven Avery the most zealous representation and Brendan Dassey’s confession was not used against Avery. The last thing Avery’s lawyers want is to have anything call attention to Brendan Dassey’s confession."
Yes, the services were offered, and I believe Dr White may have been somewhat reluctant. Dr. White had been paid for by Steven Avery’s team. So, there was an expert in the wings able to testify, however as history shows he was not called to testify.
RL: “They didn’t want him to testify?” Someone would have had to pay for his time during testimony and the preparation even though Steven Avery had already paid for him to write that report. Obviously, Brendan didn’t have the money, he doesn’t come from a family with money, that’s why I asked the question if they offered his services, did they offer to pay for it?”
That I don’t know. When I interviewed Dr. White he said when he learnt after the trial that a false confession expert had not testified at trial, he felt sick and worried for Brendan.
RL: “He thought they would have just got a different expert”
I assume so too. He also said after watching Making a Murderer and learning there was no evidence to link Brendan to the murder of Teresa Halbach he would have pushed harder to testify at the trial. But that’s not the defence that Fremgen and Edelstein mounted. Which I do think is ineffective.
RL: “What was the defence they mounted; I know they tried to claim him as sympathetic but what did they say specifically?”
It was very much focused on presenting Brendan as a certain type of character, the sympathetic character, they also used their cross examination of Mark Wiegert on the stand and tried to use that cross-examination to help unpack false confessions. It was skewed. How do you defend a case that turns on a false confession and you don’t have a false confession expert testify on behalf of the defendant? That makes no sense and to use one of the instruments of that interrogation to in some way support a false confession defence? It seems nonsensical.
RL: “Well, I’m going to try and find out because now I’m curious. I was involved in Brendan’s post-conviction case for a year or so, that was five years before Making a Murderer even came out and so the case had not been on my mind. I remember a lot from my specific involvement as I mentioned to you, I reviewed the case this semester so that’s refreshed some of my recollection."
The Bluhm Legal Clinic
You were originally retained by Professor Drizin, is that right?
RL: “Yes, Professor Drizin and may have been Professor Nirider too but I think it was under the auspices of the Northwestern Law School clinic. It wasn’t a privately retained case he was one of their clinic clients.”
So how did your involvement come about?
RL: “I was contacted in 2010, 2009 rather, so this is now a decade ago but Steve Drizin and I had written articles together and were close colleagues, so my recollection is that we spoke at a conference we were both at about the case. He wanted to retain me. It’s possible I’m misremembering that and we spoke on the phone before this conference but basically he told me he had this case and he needed an expert and he wanted me to get involved, and if I got involved he would give me the tapes and all the relevant materials. Then if I had a favourable opinion that I would write a report and possibly testify at an evidentiary hearing in post-conviction to overturn the conviction - so all of that happened."
"I reviewed the materials, I had a favourable opinion and I wrote the report which I posted online I’m guessing you’ve seen it.” Then I ended up testifying at a post-conviction hearing in state court in Manitowoc. And the judge denied the testimony, the testimony was pretty much straight from the report, so basically, I was saying this was a coercive interrogation leading to an involuntary confession, it had additional unreliability and it was thoroughly contaminated. All the main points of that report. But of course, the system there is very insular, my recollection is that the judge didn’t really take it very seriously."
I found it quite interesting that Judge Fox throughout the first trial was not privy to the science surrounding false confessions and didn’t have a false confession expert, yet in the post-conviction appeal process he had you, and he had Professor Drizin.
RL: “He didn’t seem very interested, you’re right.” He had the opportunity to be educated but I think his mind was already made up - the guys guilty he’s confessed and moreover got convicted."
When you have a judge who has previously convicted the defendant presiding over the post-conviction appeal, how often do you find a judge ready to overturn their own ruling? How likely is that to happen?
RL: “I don’t have any statistics, but my sense is that it is very rare. I think it is very hard to admit error there’s lots of books about that, cognitive dissonance and cognitive biases in the criminal justice system, particularly after going through a whole trial. In the American criminal justice system, this never happens, but judges have the ability to what’s called ‘direct a verdict’ and that means that if a jury convicts somebody and the judge feels that no reasonable jury could have convicted that person despite the conviction the judge can direct a verdict of acquittal. So, the judge can in effect override the jury verdict. And I’m guessing the judge had the same bias that just about everyone else has, presumption of guilt and that was confirmed in the judges mind by the confession and then confirmed again in the judges mind by the conviction, so there are so many layers the judge would have to overturn."
Around the time of 2006, this is three years before you became involved, you were involved with the Wisconsin Justice Study Commission is that right?
RL: “Yes, that’s right, I went there and testified. It was a very serious commission I don’t know if it was called the Steven Avery commission at that point or the Wisconsin Justice Study Commission but my recollection and it might be incomplete, is that they were entertaining testimony not just on false confessions but also on deception during interrogation. Many countries Australia being one of them, don’t allow police to lie about evidence but America does, so I was talking about studies on deception and false confessions and I think Professor Drizin was there, Keith Findley probably was there and Dean Strang and Jerry Buting may have been there too. I just didn’t know them at the time."
Were you aware of Brendan’s case at that time?
RL: “Not to my recollection no, I’m not even sure if Steve Drizin was… I was definitely aware of Steven Avery and I think I was talking to Keith Findley who was explaining as well as others just how embarrassing the whole Steve Avery thing was - it had all this momentum, I think the assumption was that he was guilty. I could be misremembering and its possible I was made aware of Brendan Dassey’s case in connection with Steve’s, but I do remember being aware of Steven Avery’s second conviction, second case."
The Voluntariness Standard
Regarding the voluntariness standard, it seems such a fallible standard and is so open to interpretation I was wondering what your thoughts were on the voluntariness of Brendan’s confession?
RL: “Well, I think that the standard is very troubling, because it’s so open ended that a judge can always come up with a reason to say its voluntary or involuntary, Most of the time they say its voluntary. What does voluntariness really mean? You know, if somebody is being tortured they’re told ‘we’re gonna hit you for the 37th time with this rubber hose or you can confess and the 36 prior times the person chose not to, now the person says fine, I mean in some sense that’s a voluntary choice right?"
"We would never call that a voluntary confession, it seems like voluntary is the wrong word, especially when you consider some people have stronger wills, other people have weaker wills so it seems like there should be a reliability standard not a philosophical voluntary standard and maybe that’s why you say it’s fallible and I say it’s malleable. So, there’s a problem with what it even means."
"When you get into a court of law, the courts, the lower courts are just trying to follow the case law made by the higher courts. I think Brendan’s confession was not voluntary in the sense that I mentioned in that report. There was some promises, there were some implied threats and Brendan is so easily confused, he was so compliant, that I don’t think he perceived that he had a choice. I don’t think it was voluntary and I think if our system had been more concerned with reliability and more sensitive to his weaknesses that would have been the perfect mechanism to suppress a questionable at best confession. And without that he would not have been convicted as there was no evidence linking him to it, including Steven Avery never having said anything that linked Brendan to it.”
Yes, and there was not a slither of DNA of Brendan at either of the two supposed crime scenes, there are two convictions for the same crime positing different crime scenes and methodology. How does a court convict on that basis for the same crime?
RL: “So, what you’re saying is that the prosecutorial theory that led to the conviction of Steve is different to the prosecutorial theory that led to the conviction of Brendan and that they’re irreconcilable?"
Wisconsin courts have been applying the voluntariness standard for over 40 years without refinement, I find that troubling. In 2007 as we know electronic recording of interrogations was passed as a result of State v. Jerrell CJ. Statistically that has contributed to fewer motions to suppress at court level but has also laid bare interrogation tactics that perhaps have not been previously scrutinised and not understood by juries or jurists. While the policy of recording interrogations undoubtedly will add a layer of protection to interrogations what are your thoughts on the judge having the interrogation tapes and denying Brendan’s motion to suppress, he had full access. Why do you think it had no effect on the judge?
RL: “I don’t think the judge watched them. I’m guessing, I don’t know and I think the judge was biased in favour of conviction and the judge saw no yelling, no screaming no pounding on the table, no threats of violence or the death penalty so I think the judge just treated it like a casual conversation. But I’m speculating, if I had a transcript of the motion to suppress hearing maybe the judge would give away some of his thinking, but I would be surprised if he actually reviewed those tapes, but maybe he did.”
I would agree with you, I am yet to find anyone who has watched those interrogation tapes and not come away with a sense of horror.
RL: “Are all the interrogation tapes accessible, are they on YouTube etc, how do people get access to them?”
They have been available on YouTube and are now featured on the website that Brendan’s legal team have created to support the signing of the clemency petition, BringBrendanHome.org.
Post Conviction Hearing 2010
In your affidavit you systematically dismantle Joseph Buckley’s assertions can you explain the process you undertook to arrive at those findings. Was it a straightforward process for you once you had reviewed the tapes and materials?
RL: “Obviously I know the research literature very well, and the police training manuals, so I just reviewed the materials, the tapes and the transcripts, and analysed them. Buckley has as I understand it, come out since then after Making a Murderer and claimed what they did to Brendan was not right that it’s not the REID method, which I don’t think squares with his report on the case. I’d have to confirm that. REID and associates have a monthly newsletter and I thought in that newsletter after Making a Murderer came out, they stated what happened to Brendan was horrible, they didn’t recommend it and so it wasn’t part of the method they were recommending. Therefore the method they are recommending where they make a lot of money, is not implicated or at fault. But I think that’s different to what he said in his report."
I suppose there is an element of self-preservation there, as the REID technique has fallen in favour and credibility since MAM.
RL: “Which is one good thing to come out of the case.”
MAM certainly shone a light on interrogation practices. I interviewed Dave Thompson from Wicklander-Zulawski…
RL: “He’s good, had he watched the tapes?”
I believe Dave Thompson has watched the tapes; he is a vocal advocate for Brendan crediting the case with inspiring him to ‘become an agent for change’. They stopped using REID and are promoting and training with a different interrogation methodology. And even though REID make the assertion to not use the technique in specific circumstances, unfortunately the investigators did use it against Brendan at the expense of Brendan’s life.
Why do you think that the judge dismissed the notion of fact feeding, and that it acts as a precursor to suspects giving statements that seem falsely authentic? Why do you think Judge Fox and others just didn’t get it?
RL: “I agree with what you are saying. I thought Making a Murderer did such a good job its just so surprising to me. Maybe the judges didn’t look at it. But at the local level, prior to Making a Murderer I worked on a lot of cases in the United States where people who I thought were innocent who made statements based on horrible police practices, whether it was psychologically coercive techniques, and or contamination of feeding of details, the scripting … still the jury convicts, the judge sentences and doesn’t throw the confession out. I’ve seen this many times before, including cases that were more outrageous than Brendan’s.”
There’s seems to be such a lack of protections for juveniles in the US legal system.
RL: “In my state of California, they have a rule that they have to speak to the public defender if they are 15 or under before the police can interrogate. The police have to essentially get the defendants sign off after contacting the public defender."
Len Kachinsky and the Case for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
I’m interested in your thoughts on Len Kachinsky and the Wisconsin Appellate judiciary finding that he provided Brendan with competent representation – Kachinsky also failed to preserve critical issues and his concession at the motion to suppress that Brendan was not in custody for purposes of Miranda, do you have any thoughts around that?
RL: “All I know about Kachinsky is what I saw in that one episode of Making a Murderer and he comes off as ineffective right. I thought the courts should have recognised a successful ineffective assistance of counsel claim and that the problem is that the investigator that he assigned to get a confession from Brendan poisoned the well, as did Kachinsky himself when he made those comments to the media. So, I think it is a horrible example of the role of bad defence attorney or at least one who’s ineffective in a case that leads to or contributes to wrongful conviction. Obviously, we don’t know what it would have been like if Dean Strang or Jerry Buting or Keith Findley or somebody very good had represented Brendan Dassey, maybe he still would have gotten convicted … Len Kachinsky’s work was highly ineffective and incompetent."
Kachinsky spoke to the press I believe 10 times before he spoke to Brendan and after his first meeting, he addressed the press and called Brendan “remorseful”
RL: ‘That’s just outrageous, he was implying that he was guilty, and Brendan was trying to tell him I didn’t do this."
Brendan’s team pursued ineffective assistance of counsel under Cuyler v Sullivan, many have posited it should have been under the Strickland standard.
RL: “Strickland is the normal case, but often times judges won’t grant the Strickland standard.”
Is there a reason for that?
RL: “I’m not an expert of ineffective assistance of counsel, but I think the reason is that the system doesn’t want to admit error except in the most extreme cases, so it’s a very protective system. It’s rare for people to get their convictions overturned. And when they do, we often hear a lot about it, so it might appear more common than it really is. I don’t think judges want to grant people second trials, and all the resources and time that entails unless they feel the error was egregious so instinctively, they default to saying the system didn’t demonstrate one or both prongs."
I don’t think you could come across something as egregious as Kachinsky's representation of Brendan.
RL: “Egregious and incompetent, yeah.”
Then you have O’Kelly who elicits further incriminating statements from Brendan, his own defence team.
RL: “A polygraph interrogation, right?
Yes, Brendan requested the polygraph and then you have O’Kelly lying to Brendan about passing it, when on professional review Professor Drizin has confirmed that Brendan passed the polygraph with flying colours.
RL: “No surprise there.”
In Jeffrey Deskovic’s case they lied to him about the results of his polygraph and used it as a tool to coerce as they did with Brendan. I think it is outrageous that a court has not ruled Kachinsky’s behaviour as ineffective.
RL: “They rarely do, it’s a high bar and of course there are two versions of the facts and they often go with the facts presented by the prosecution. I’m not sure if they said it met one prong but not both I’d have to read it to say more, but it is on its face inexplicable."
What About Miranda?
Brendan obviously had an overwhelming deference to authority and Miranda offered little protection. Do you feel Miranda needs reform?
RL: “I think Miranda is largely meaningless, in America almost everybody waives their Miranda rights and in Brendan Dassey’s case its not even clear he understood. Even if he did understand he would of course have waived them because that’s the kind of person he is. Because he’s innocent which it appears, he would have thought he had nothing to hide. So, Miranda warnings often times just benefit the police because they sanitise the interrogation process and co-opt the suspect, I just don’t think they are a very effective safeguard for juveniles or for adults. I don’t put much faith in them as a protective safeguard."
On review of record do you think its safe to assume that the interrogators would have been aware of Brendan’s vulnerabilities.
RL: “I don’t know if they were aware of Brendan’s vulnerabilities, it certainly seems obvious on the Making a Murderer video. So, I like to think that any reasonable officer should have been able to figure that out, but I don’t know whether in fact they did, or were."
Do you feel it was a suspect driven investigation rather than an evidence driven investigation when it came to Brendan?
RL: “Yes, I don’t think that their goal was to test hypotheses and figure out where the evidence leads and get corroboration of the confession. I think their goal was to build a case and develop a prosecution even though the police are supposed to be neutral investigators. I think their function became prosecutorial early on, so it wasn’t a fair interrogation."
Just coming back to the trial attorneys Fremgen and Edelstein, what do you think they could have done to have proven Brendan’s confession false?
RL: “I think you nailed it. First, they should have put a false confession defence on. With a false confession defence you need to answer two questions; (1) why would someone have falsely confessed? (2) how do we know it’s a false confession? They could have had an expert not only on interrogation and confessions they could also had a juvenile expert on brain development and the social maturity of juveniles, they could have had an expert on people with low function and low IQ, they could have had anywhere between one and three experts to develop their false confession defence and present a compelling explanation for why he would have falsely confessed. And how do you know it’s a false confession? Because the person doesn’t know the details. They get them wrong; they guess. And as Making a Murderer showed us there are places where Brendan just doesn’t know. It’s clear he is guessing and the fact that he is guessing suggests that he was innocent, and they were blind to it. We saw it on the Making a Murderer video, I don’t know why they couldn’t see it in real time."
Has your opinion altered at all since the documentary?
RL: “No. I think if you compare the report that I’ve written to the presentation in Making a Murderer I think they are pretty consistent. There’s nothing I’ve seen that suggests that either his statements were voluntary or reliable."
The REID Technique
Just a final word on REID, do you think that there is a place for the REID technique in the modern interrogation room?
RL: “I’d like to see a movement in the direction of the PEACE method of investigative interviewing. The REID method has a number of problems, one is that they teach police to be human lie detectors based on very bad psychological science that shows the exact opposite of what REID claims. This training of them to be lie detectors makes them falsely confident in their erroneous judgements – which then triggers interrogation where they presume the guilt and they are driven by the goal of getting a confession and not the goal of figuring out the truth. In that process they use techniques that REID recommends like lying about evidence, though I don’t think they recommend that for juveniles, and minimisation and maximisation where they apply promises and threats. I don’t see salvaging the REID method, it has been watered down a little by REID but its still fundamentally problematic, because it’s guilt presumptive, confirmatory, based on lies, implied promises, implied threats, when certain techniques are used and it’s just confession driven. It’s a highly problematic technique, it’s a recipe for getting false and unreliable confessions in my opinion. It needs to be thrown out and rebuilt from the ground up. We need a different technique if we are serious about minimising and preventing false confession especially with juveniles."
Why do you think the judicial system is so risk adverse to the notion of a false confession?
RL: “I think people in the judicial system don’t really understand it, they have the same bias that others have which is why would an innocent person falsely confess and they reason to it through their own experience, ‘I would never falsely confess, I’d have to be visibly tortured’ they find it fundamentally counter-intuitive because false confessions are seen as self-destructive, irrational and against common sense. They don’t understand how easy it is and, in that situation, not knowing that police are trained in these very aggressive, manipulative techniques. They don’t understand how easy it is for innocent people and how common it is, for innocent people to be manipulated or stressed or pressured or coerced into making false and or unreliable statements or confessions during interrogation – despite the many, many examples."
Having said that why is false confession evidence so highly prejudicial in the absence of corroborative crime scene evidence?
RL: “I think confession evidence whether it is true or false is highly impactful or consequential and I think in America we tend to think if somebody says it that means it’s true. A journalist Malcolm Gladwell, just wrote this book where he talks about this theory about ‘default truth’ that we assume people are telling the truth, tend to assume it and it’s the same thing about confessions, all the more so because we have this idea that it’s against somebody’s self-interest to falsely incriminate themselves. So. the fact that they are incriminating themselves probably means its true because usually what people say is true, and it would be against their self-interest to say this."
"Then you get the way some of these confessions are sometimes detailed and they are scripted by the police and they sometimes involve emotions consistent with what we expect truthful people to be saying. So multiple things coming together. Our instinctive belief that when people say something it is true. Our belief that confessions must be true because it doesn’t make sense why somebody would make them – and we would never do it and then they are detailed, and have a coherent motive, and often involve expressions of remorse and other emotions that we associate with truth telling. So, for all those reasons I think confessions become highly prejudicial and are just presumed to be truthful whether they are or not."
Do you think judges and juries are informed enough to discount a false confession?
RL: “No, no, definitely not. That’s why Larry White’s testimony in the Brendan Dassey trial would have been so helpful, but there are times when juries still convict. They say ‘well the expert was well spoken, the expert was intelligent and this was all interesting, we just don’t think it applies in this particular case.’ There’s no guarantee that the jury in his case would of put much weight on it, it might have made a difference, it might not have made a difference."
We see in the post-conviction process with yourself…
RL: “It didn’t make a difference with the judge that’s for sure. They presume guilt at that stage not innocence, they’re just really litigating procedural issues.”
I was interested to note that you have worked on cases such as Michael Crowe, Marty Tankleff, Beatrice Six and I’m sure there are a litany of others. Are there commonalities shared between these types of cases?
RL: “Tankleff and Crowe were juveniles as you know, the Beatrice Six were not, but yes there are commonalities across these cases, one commonality is the police make a series of errors in all these cases. They usually rush to judgement, they have tunnel vision and they misclassify an innocent person as guilty. Then they use typically manipulative and coercive and accepted interrogation methods to manipulate that innocent person into either making or agreeing to an “I did it’ statement. Sometimes the person is vulnerable because of their age or they’re vulnerable because of their cognitive and intellectual deficits and functioning, or they might be vulnerable because of mental illness as in some of the Beatrice Six defendants cases, and then they pressure and persuade the suspect to adopt a script often feeding them details along the way. Then they testify that the interrogation wasn’t coercive, they testify that they didn’t do anything wrong, that the person was guilty, there was corroboration when there wasn’t – so there’s a lot of commonalities in these cases. They are really cases of coerced and contaminated police induced false confession."
You recently gave a seminar regarding Brendan’s case, what are the major takeaways you hope your students document?
RL: “The class is about the wrongful conviction of the innocent, how and why the American criminal justice system sometimes convicts innocent people of crimes they didn’t commit and what we can do to minimise and prevent these errors. I can only spend one week on false confessions, one week on eyewitness misidentification, week on snitches, forensic error, police and prosecutor misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel and so on and some topics such as plea bargaining, the death penalty and their role in wrongful conviction. First and foremost I hope the students recognise that false confessions are a serious cause of wrongful conviction of the innocent and that they gather an understanding of how and why false confessions occur – the kinds of interrogation techniques that put innocent suspects at risk, the kinds of poor decision making and cognitive biases that police make that lead them to misjudge innocent people as guilty, the kinds of deceptive, manipulative and coercive interrogation techniques that lead innocent people to sometimes falsely confess and bad investigative and interrogation practices like contaminating, feeding facts, scripting."
"I want them to understand how and why that happens and to be able to recognise it and then to be able to think critically about well what reform? Should we have electronic recording? Should we train police better, will that make a difference? Are there other evidentiary standards or legal processes or rules that we should have preventing police from being allowed to lie about evidence. That’s what I hope they would get out of that week, and then of course Brendan Dassey’s case is a case to illustrate that because so many of them already knew about Making a Murderer and the case and the video draws them in."
I’m assuming at this stage that everyone is aware of the clemency petition that has been filed on Brendan’s behalf. In your experience is this filing an anomaly. Have other false confession cases found justice via this avenue of relief?
RL: “The Brendan Dassey case become an anomaly if that’s the right word in the sense that its very high profile, so all eyes are on the case and he has very good lawyers’ post-conviction – most defendants don’t. I suspect clemency petitions are very common, I have heard of them before and they make sense. You just want to get your client out of prison. The Norfolk Four is a case that comes to mind, it’s a case I wrote a book on. They were granted clemency, it was called a conditional pardon in the state of Virginia, then after that they eventually got full exoneration."
Advocating for Brendan Dassey
Do you have any last thoughts regarding Brendan that you could share with the people that support him?
RL: “I would say that he needs the continued vigilant support of people like you and other supporters around the world. If you look at the history of wrongful convictions in America and the lucky few who are able to prove their innocence and or get released, its usually because people outside the criminal justice and legal system have been the ones to pry it loose through their sustained pressure and efforts and all the things they do to bring publicity and attention to the case. The system is not going to get Brendan out, the lawyers representing him I hope they can get him out… its essential that the world keeps watching and noticing his case, that’s why I was disappointed that Making a Murderer 2 didn’t have more of an effect in the United States where Making a Murderer the first season, just enraged everybody who watched it. So, I hope that Brendan’s supporters will continue to be vigilant using media attention and garner political attention so that the pressure is kept on the system to eventually release him."
"Everyone needs to remember this is as big an injustice as it was 5 years ago as it was 10 years ago, even more in the sense that he has served more time, and every day he serves in prison is a day he should not be serving in prison. All the system had to do was give him a new trial, a fair trial and they couldn’t even do that. It was such a shame as his conviction had been reversed, then it went en banc and the reversal got reversed."
Absolutely, in the August of 2016, there had been such joy for Brendan and his family and the way it veered off track was incredibly tragic.
“Personally, I can’t imagine that someday he won’t be released, because young people are very moved by his case, and eventually someone who is young … will be in political power… I think it is only a matter of time. I’m being optimistic but being optimistic is the wrong state of mind as we have to keep the pressure on the system to correct the system - if we have hope of correcting the system."
The current Governor of Wisconsin recently granted the first pardons in over eight years, there are positive movements afoot. There is hope inherent in that and hopefully Brendan will at some stage be at the receiving end of one of those.
Thank you Dr. Leo I truly appreciate how busy you are and I’m very appreciative of your time.
RL: “Thank you and I’m appreciative of all that you’re doing on behalf of Brendan.”
To read Dr. Leo's affidavit click here
To learn more about Dr. Leos work, read more here
Please go to BringBrendanHome.org to listen to Brendan in his own words and sign the petition in support of clemency.