Brendan Dassey's Overturned Conviction May Change American Justice Forever
'Making a Murderer' was such an amazing and compelling TV moment, that it was bound to resonate into some serious results for it's protagonists. And that's exactly what's happening now for 26 year old Brendan Dassey.
'Making a Murderer,' in case you happen to be one of those weirdos who doesn't have Netflix (or a friends password), was a 2015 documentary mini-series that surrounded the contentious legal history between Steven Avery and the government of Manitowoc County in Wisconsin.
Avery comes from a large family of portly Wisconsinites, with permanent and aggressive frowns, and the silliest little accents you've ever heard. He has a fairly substantial rap sheet, but nothing nearly as serious as the violent sexual assault that netted him 18 years in federal lockup. This conviction came on the heels of Avery pullin a gun on his cousin, who happened to be married to a local sheriff's deputy. He would've done a lot more time, but he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003.
Now, DNA evidence exonerating a convict in the late 90's/early 2000's isn't all that interesting by itself. To date, several thousand people have been found to have been wrongly convicted since 1980, and the science has grown considerably in that time. But the overwhelming evidence that local law enforcement intentionally railroaded Avery to get the initial conviction makes his story a bit more rare.
One of the sheriff's deputies told the victim upon hearing about her attack, “That sounds like Steven Avery,” planting suspicion in the mind of a woman who had just been brutalized. The detective who did the initial sketch, Gene Kusche, used Avery's old mugshot as a reference, instead of drawing what the victim described. Avery also had an alibi for every moment of that day, but apparently the judge didn't believe his family. Oh. And the guy who actually did it was a pretty clear suspect from the start, but the cops had a boner for Avery, and they needed that sweet release, so they didn't bother investigating him. There are about 400 other discrepancies with that case, but you can watch the show yourself. I don't wanna wear out my keyboard here.
When Avery was released in 2003, he filed a lawsuit against the county and the officers involved in the frame job, and then his whole life went straight to shit. He dared to magnify the egg on the face of a very powerful system, and they found a way to stick that egg up his ass. The subsequent year saw Steven Avery at the receiving end of one of the most blatantly mishandled murder trials that's ever hit the public consciousness. There was tampered evidence, extremely questionable involvement by the Manitowoc Police Department, who wasn't even supposed to be involved in the actual investigation because of the aforementioned conviction that they manufactured against Avery, and key (no pun intended) finds made after several passes of the Avery property by the very cops who weren't supposed to be left alone in the first place. That last part is pretty telling on it's own. If you can't trust the officers of that jurisdiction to be left alone in the first place, then they shouldn't fucking be there at all.
But one of the most horrific parts of the way that the trial was handled was the interrogation of Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey.
Dassey was not a smart kid, to say the absolute least. Every 16 year old is an idiot in their own right, but Dassey is visibly intellectually disabled. Trial records showed that his IQ was somewhere in the high 60's or low 70's. The average IQ in America is 85-114, meaning that this kid isn't even close to breaking in to the low side of average. Then he confessed.
Clips of that 'confession' are featured on the documentary series, and if you have half a brain, they'll make your blood boil. It was as coerced as it gets. Just because you don't have a big, half-drunk detective, with his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbow, pounding on the table and screaming “We know you did it, you son of a bitch!” an inch away from his face, doesn't mean it wasn't coerced. The detectives got him to talk without a parent or lawyer present on multiple occasions, and he changed stories more than a decent hooker changes underwear. They would ask the same things over and over again until his answers fit the narrative that the prosecution was constructing, accuse him of lying, and then ask him what his scary little mother would think. At one point, after confessing to rape and murder, he asks when he can leave, explaining that he has a project due. He clearly had no understanding of the gravity of that confession.
The detectives in the case basically terrorized a slow kid into confessing, and the footage of that is something that'll make you wanna put a bullet through your TV. These are two seasoned detectives with years of experience who mind-fucked a confession that had no consistency (a word that Dassey didn't even understand) out of a kid who probably thinks that thunder is the angels bowling. It was absolutely nauseating to watch, and Detectives Tom Fassbender and Mark Wiegert should be investigated for what they did to that poor kid.
However, there's a silver lining to this saga. Last week Judge William Duffin not only publicly criticized the bumble-fuck of an investigation that was done in this case, but he actually overturned Dassey's conviction. Now, this doesn't mean that Brendan Dassey is a free man. Prosecuters have 90 days to decide whether to retry Dassey, or to just drop it and let him go free. But the ruling shows that the climate of public opinion when it comes to law enforcement has changed drastically over the last ten years.
The myriad of videos of shootings of unarmed citizens by police that have been found to contradict their official statements, and a deeper understanding by civilians that the truth in a case is inconsequential in the shadow of a conviction, has deracinated civic trust in the justice system. This is one more nail in the coffin of the argument against sweeping reform across every aspect of policing and criminal justice in America. The dialogue is officially open, and that's really bad news for the established system. What Judge Duffin did was essentially begin the process of that system cannibalizing from within, and as more high profile cases like this emerge, more of the 'bad apples' will be forced to fuck off out of the bunch.
Even if Dassey is retried, this move is a huge step in the right direction for people who would rather see the right person convicted than see their local DA just get a win, no matter who the real perpetrator is. While the desire to see someone brought to heel for an appalling crime is palpable with most of us, it doesn't do a society any good to put the importance of a conviction over the importance of finding the truth. That's really what stories like this are about. When you square peg someone into a round hole to give closure to the populous, you let the real criminals live freely, and you undermine public trust in the justice system as a whole.