NETFLIX series ‘Making a Murderer’ was watched by over 20 million across the globe in 2015 with a second season broadcast in 2018. The first series was 10 years in the making and followed the investigation of the murder of 25 year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. Steven Avery was convicted of the rape and murder in 2005. Avery’s cousin Brendan Dassey at age 16 was convicted as an accessory in the crime when he told investigators that he had helped his uncle, Steven Avery.
Limerick Post spoke to Laura Nirider, post-conviction attorney for Brendan Dassey. Nirider and lawyer Steven Drizin will present, ‘False Confessions, Inside Making A Murderer 2’ at Dolans Warehouse this Wednesday June 5.
The duo will discuss coerced and false confessions, interrogation tactics, and the wrongful conviction of Brendan Dassey whose case and post conviction process continues today.
This will be Laura Nirider’s first visit to Ireland and she is looking forward to the tour to shine a light on how prevalent false convictions are in today’s justice system.
Nearly 12 years ago. Laura was a law student and Steve Drizin was her professor.
“I knew nothing about the criminal justice system, or wrongful convictions. I was in Steve’s class one of the globe’s experts on false confessions, had been assigned Brendan’s case right after he had been convicted.
“When I watched the confession videos, my heart broke and I knew that this is what I wanted do with my life. Watching these tapes made me want to do what I could to help.”
In series two, as the lawyers work to get Dassey’s conviction overturned, Laura states to the camera, “The truth is just sitting there on that interrogation tape all you have to do is persuade someone to look at it.”
Asked to expand on what the lawyers had found while examining the tape that was central to the convictions, Laura highlighted the tactics used to suggest to Dassey that if he helped police to “fill in the blanks”, he would be able to walk free.
“When you look at those interrogation tapes you look at a 16 year-old boy with intellectual limitations who is being questioned alone with no parent or guardian by his side
“You see a set of interrogation tactics being used on him that we see over and over in hundreds of other self-confession cases.
“They tell him that the prosecutors are thinking of charging him with the murder of Teresa Haibach – which is a lie.”
Questioned four times over 48 hours by two detectives, with no legal representation, the interrogators assure Dassey that as long as he fills in the blanks, gives them some story, he will have nothing to worry about.
“He struggles to fill in these blanks. He’s telling stories about what happened. They are asking him to describe when Teresa Halbach was killed.
“Brendan doesn’t know that she was shot in the head. He guesses all these other ways of killing someone.
“We stabbed her, no, that is not right.”
“We choked her. No,that’s not right either.”
“They start dropping hints, ‘Come on, Brendan. Something with the head!’ He is completely at sea.”
“They had to tell him ‘Brendan, who shot her in the head?’”
“After Brendan has agreed to confess and has adapted his story, he asks to go back to school after confessing to rape and murder. He has been told that as long as he has filled in these blanks, he’ll will be OK!”
“That is a pattern that we see in hundreds of false confession cases.”
In season two of ‘Making a Murderer’ the lawyers came within 12 hours of getting Brendan Dassey out of prison. An appeal succeeded based on the unconstitutional coercion of his confession but a Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld his conviction.
“The courts blocked it in a very unusual and rare move.
“We lost the appeal by a single vote.”
Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin still represent Brendan Dassey. Options open to him now are to go back into court and file a post conviction petition based on newly discovered evidence.
Brendan Dassey is now 29 years-old, serving a life sentence with no eligibility for parole until 2048. Did the publicity of the TV show and the public outcry over the case make his prospects of release more remote?
“I think that the TV series has benefited the case. The spotlight on the injustice is absolutely crucial.”
“The first eight years I represented Brendan, he was forgotten, then to have his story told and to resonate so clearly across the globe. Brendan started getting letters from Australia and Ireland from all over – wishing him well. The truth will come out.
“He has a list of every place he has received a letter from. Brendan is sustained by the hope and that is good enough for me.”
‘False Confessions: Inside Making A Murderer 2’ with Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin tours Ireland this week, coming to Dolan’s this Wednesday June 5.