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Justices reject ‘Making a Murderer’ appeal

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By Emily Zantow/Courthouse News

(CN) – Ending “Making a Murderer” subject Brendan Dassey’s hope for freedom, the Supreme Court said Monday justices will not decide whether his controversial murder confession as a teenager was voluntary.

Dassey, a 16-year-old with intellectual deficits at the time of his interrogation and arrest, was convicted of assisting his uncle, Steven Avery, in the brutal rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005. Halbach’s bones were found charred in a burn pit near Avery’s home.

In 2007, Dassey was sentenced to life in prison for rape and murder with no possibility of parole until 2048. Avery is also serving a life sentence for murder.

With no DNA or other physical evidence linking Dassey to the crime, his conviction rested solely on his controversial confession. His lawyers say interrogators fed him facts and coerced him into an involuntary confession that was made without the presence of a parent or lawyer.

Netflix released a 10-part documentary series about the case called “Making a Murderer” in December 2015 and is reportedly planning a second season. It strongly suggests the pair were wrongfully convicted so that rural Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, could avoid paying a large settlement following Avery’s exoneration for a different crime. Avery served 18 years in prison for a rape he never committed, and had filed a $36 million civil suit against the county.

In 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin reversed Dassey’s conviction finding that the interrogator’s “false promises” and suggestive interrogation techniques, combined with his age, inexperience and intellectual disabilities, rendered his confession involuntary.

After initially affirming the reversal, the en banc Seventh Circuit ruled 4-3 last December that Dassey’s conviction should stand.

His attorneys filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the nation’s high court in February, asking it to decide whether the Wisconsin Court of Appeals was wrong to find that a confession made by a juvenile “with significant intellectual and social limitations” was voluntary.

Six different groups filed briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, including one with more than 50 current and former prosecutors who said video of Dassey’s interrogation sparked public criticism and that the court needs to “restore the public’s confidence in the justice system.”

Wisconsin Department of Justice attorneys also filed a 45-page brief in May urging the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal, writing that investigators interviewing Dassey “used only standard techniques such as adopting a sympathetic tone, encouraging honesty, and challenging his story when they believed he was lying.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Dassey’s petition, effectively bringing an end to the 13-year-old case.

Dassey will have to wait until he is 59 years old to apply for parole.

Top photo: In this Aug. 2, 2007 file photo, Brendan Dassey is escorted into court for his sentencing in Manitowoc, Wis. The Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer” tells the story of a Wisconsin man wrongly convicted of sexual assault only to be accused, along with his nephew, of killing a photographer two years after being released. Steven Avery and his then 17-year-old nephew Dassey were accused of killing Teresa Halbach, a photographer who visited the Avery family salvage yard to take photos of a minivan on Halloween and was never seen alive again. (Herald Times Reporter/Eric Young via AP, Pool)

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