By Jim Lovering
Brendan Dassey was wrongfully convicted of murder on the basis of a coerced confession to the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. No other evidence supports his conviction, and physical evidence flatly contradicts the statements in which he incriminated himself.
At the time he confessed, Dassey was 16 years old, with an IQ of about 70. He had no criminal record, and he was not a trouble maker. Police initially turned their attention to him because he was a defense witness for another man (Steven Avery) whom they had accused of murdering Halbach. In his initial statement to police, Dassey gave a mundane and plausible account of his activities on the day Halbach disappeared. He did not in any way incriminate himself, and he provided a partial alibi for Avery.
A few months after police charged Avery, they brought Dassey in for intensive questioning. Video recordings show they adopted a friendly, solicitous manner and quickly brought Dassey under their control. He was willing to go along with any story line they suggested, but he volunteered almost no information. Instead, through a series of vague, tentative answers to leading questions, he agreed to a gruesome narrative composed by police.
In this narrative, Dassey and Avery raped and repeatedly stabbed Halbach in Avery’s bedroom, while she was chained to a bed. Forensic tests, however, revealed no trace of the victim’s blood, fingerprints or DNA in this room, or, for that matter, anywhere in Avery’s residence. Nor was any physical trace of Dassey’s presence found in the room or in Avery’s residence. Police photos show that the premises are undisturbed except for ordinary clutter. Not one scrap of physical evidence suggests that a bloody assault took place there.
Police knew the victim had been killed with multiple gunshots to the head. They tried to elicit a statement to this effect from Dassey, because this would seem to corroborate his confession. They told Dassey that Avery had done something to the victim’s head, and asked him what it was. Dassey responded that Avery had cut her hair. No matter how many times police asked what else Avery had done to the victim’s head, they drew a blank. Finally they told Dassey that Halbach had been shot in the head, at which point he agreed.
A review of Dassey’s police interrogations shows he did not begin to understand the gravity of his situation. He was gullible and pliant. He acquiesced to a murder scenario that could not possibly have transpired.
When Avery was tried for murder, prosecutors did not call Dassey as a witness, because they presented a theory of the crime that did not fit Dassey’s statements.
After Avery was convicted, however, Dassey was tried and convicted in a separate proceeding. In Dassey’s trial, prosecutors put forth a much different theory of the same crime. They ignored the physical evidence and focused instead on Dassey’s incriminating statements.
The circumstances of this outlandish case have been extensively documented in the Netflix series Making a Murderer. Steven Avery’s claim to innocence is based on the allegation that police planted incriminating physical evidence. Dassey’s claim is more straightforward. Nothing links him to Halbach’s murder except the garbled statements he made under duress, which he has long since recanted. Physical evidence proves he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.