Social media is ablaze with a federal judge’s decision to overturn Brendan Dassey’s conviction “of first-degree intentional homicide, second-degree sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse in the killing of [Teresa] Halbach.”
Here are seven things you need to know about Dassey, who became a household name with the hit Netflix series Making a Murderer.
1. Dassey is the nephew of Steven Avery, who is currently in prison for murdering Halbach. Dassey and Avery lived on family property with Dassey’s mother and siblings. Despite what the Making a Murderer series wants you to believe, all evidence points to Avery being guilty.
2. Dassey confessed to helping his uncle murder Halbach, but later retracted his confession. Dassey claimed that the details he gave investigators were taken from the book Kiss the Girls and told GM Today that they berated him with “questions over and over until they got the answer [they wanted].” He also said he witnessed his uncle burn Halbach’s body but was not present at the murder.
3. The judge overturned Dassey’s conviction on the grounds that it was coerced. The judge, William Duffin, wrote that the investigators “made a series of false promises in exchange for a confession,” according to the UK Independent, and that “Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult” meant that his confession was invalid.
Dassey was 16 years of age at the time (now he’s 26) and reportedly has an IQ of 70, putting him at a fourth-grade reading level, so between that and the lack of an adult or lawyer present Dassey was lured into giving a false confession, according to Duffin.
However, as Business Insider‘s Tanya Lewis points out, IQ tests don’t “necessarily predict poor intra-personal intelligence — another term for self-awareness and introspection — the kind of intelligence you might expect to explain why Dassey was susceptible to coercion by the police.”
This is also raises the question of how Dassey was capable of reading Kiss the Girls, and the details of his confession don’t match up entirely with explicit violence in the novel. It may be possible that he was referring to the movie version, which aligns a little more closely to his confession.
4. Making a Murderer left out a key portion of Dassey’s confession. The Daily Wire reported at the time that a transcript of the confession contained the follow graphic details:
He [Avery] went to go pick up some stuff around the yard then after that we, he asked me to come in the house cuz he wanted to show me somethin’. And he showed me that she [Halbach] was laying on the bed, her hands were roped up to the bed and that her legs were cuffed. And then he told me to have sex with her and so I did because I thought I was not gonna get away from ’em cuz he was too strong, so I did what he said and then after that, he untied her and uncuffed her and then he brought her outside and before he went outside, he told me to grab her clothes and her shoes. So we went into the garage and before she went out, when before he took her outside, he had tied up her hands and feet and then was in the garage and he stabbed her and then he told me to. And, after that he wanted to make sure she was dead or somethin’ so he shot her five times and while he was doing that I wasn’t looking because I can’t watch that stuff. So I was standing by the big door in the garage and then after that, he took her outside and we put her on the fire and we used her clothes to clean up the, some of the blood. And, when we put her in the fire, and her clothes, we were standing right by the garage, to wait for it to get down so we threw some of that stuff on it after it went down.
There was also this passage as well:
POLICE: OK. Let’s start with when you bring her out to the garage. Where do you put her?
DASSEY: On the floor.
POLICE: And continue, tell us what happens.
DASSEY: And then he stabs her and then he tells me to and then he puts her into the jeep and then he said he would rather burn her so then he put her back on the floor and then he shot her five times.
POLICE: Where does he stab her?
DASSEY: In the chest.
POLICE: Show me where.
DASSEY: Like right here.
POLICE: Where do you stab her?
DASSEY: In the stomach.
POLICE: What does she say when you stab her?
DASSEY: To stop what I was doin’.
POLICE: What’s that? Is she screaming?
POLICE: Is she screaming and saying stop what you’re doing? Is she swearing at you? Is she struggling or what? Tell us how that happened.
DASSEY: Just that she was crying a lot.
POLICE: Are you holding her down?
POLICE: Who is?
DASSEY: Steven is.
This is…oddly specific for a supposedly false confession. It’s possible that Dassey did take it from Kiss the Girls, but there are some clear questions about that, as mentioned above. The Federalist‘s David Harsanyi writes that while he considers the investigator’s interrogation of Dassey as “abuse,” it’s clear “that Dassey’s confession was far more specific than his other stories and comported with evidence that turned up.”
5. Making a Murderer argues that Dassey’s confession was what landed Avery in jail. The series then leaves the audience with the impression that both Dassey and Avery were both wrongfully convicted because of the alleged coerced confession. While an argument could be made in favor of Dassey’s innocence, the evidence is still clear that Avery murdered Halbach and the series omits much of the key evidence implicating him.
6. There is a petition circulating to let Dassey participate in Wrestlemania. “We ask that the WWE and Vince McMahon help make his dream come true and send Brendan Dassey to Wrestlemania,” the petition reads, citing the judge’s overturn of the conviction as reason for WWE to do it.
7. The overturned conviction does not necessarily exonerate Dassey.
By the way, Brendan Dassey wasn’t proved innocent, just that his confession was coerced. Still a chance he raped and murdered someone
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) August 12, 2016
It is also true that there isn’t any DNA evidence placing Dassey at the scene of the murder, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there; it just means it’s harder to prove he was there, and his confession, even it was coerced, does comport with the facts of the case.
There will be a new season of Making a Murderer forthcoming.