In 2007, Brendan Dassey, Steven Avery’s nephew, was convicted of helping his uncle rape and murder Teresa Halbach and mutilate her body on October 31, 2005. Dassey’s been sentenced to life in prison, but the jury of public opinion’s far from out. Take a look at our Brendan Dassey wiki to get a better sense of who this man is and to see why this case is so controversial. From Halbach’s murder, to the tortuous videos of a young man’s interrogation and confession, to his claims of innocence post-conviction, we have it all.
Despite confessing to the crime during police interrogations, Dassey later recanted his confession. The police investigating Dassey have come under fire since being profiled in the wildly popular 2015 Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer.
It has not only been said that Dassey’s initial defense lawyer was utterly incompetent, but that police interrogators asked Dassey, who was described as intellectually and emotionally challenged as well as highly suggestible, leading questions, and even prompted him to give the answers they wanted.
In August 2016, a federal judge ruled that Dassey’s confession was coerced, and overturned his conviction. But that was delayed pending an appeal. In December 2017, his conviction was upheld with the majority saying Dassey’s confession was legally obtained.
This Brendan Dassey wiki looks to shed more light on his life, and his part in the 2005 murder of photographer, Teresa Halbach. Was justice served, or was Brendan Dassey a pawn unjustly punished for a crime he didn’t commit?
Who Is Brendan Dassey?
Brendan Dassey was born on October 19, 1989, in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, to Barbara Tadych and Peter Dassey. He has three brothers (Bobby, Bryan, and Blaine), and a half-brother, Brad.
Barbara and Peter did not have the best marriage. The couple eventually divorced, with Brendan living with his mother and brothers in a trailer on a 40-acre property associated with her parents’ Avery Auto Salvage yard.
The sprawling property is located just off Highway 147, about 3.5 miles north west of Mishicot, Wisconsin.
Avery’s Auto Salvage was more than just a family business—it was where the entire family lived, including Brendan’s maternal grandparents and uncles, including Steven Avery.
For the most part, Brendan Dassey lived a quiet life. He has been described as quiet and introverted, with an interest in video games, animals, and Wrestlemania.
Dassey went to nearby Mishicot High School, but because of his intellectual challenges—he was reported to have an IQ in the borderline deficiency range—he enrolled in special education classes.
Despite an infamous family that had a long history of run-ins with police, including his mother, Brendan Dassey never had a run-in with police.
Murder of Teresa Halbach
On November 3, 2005, Teresa Halbach’s family reported her missing. Her last known whereabouts was Avery Auto Salvage. On October 31, Halbach, 25, who was a photographer for Auto Trader magazine, had an appointment to visit the property, and take a photo of a vehicle Barbara Tadych wanted to sell. She was never seen again.
Thanks to her family, friends, volunteers, and local police, Halbach’s Toyota RAV4 was found on the Avery property, hidden beneath branches, car parts, and a sheet of plywood; the license plate was removed. Police also found the charred remains of Teresa Halbach in a fire pit, and the remnants of a cell phone and camera in a barrel used to burn trash. Police also eventually found the license plates and a car key.
During the initial search of Avery’s home, police confiscated two guns that hung above his bed: a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle and a .50-caliber deer-hunting rifle. Detectives seized a trove of potential evidence, including hair and fiber samples, hand tools, duct tape, a necklace, vacuum cleaner, claw hammer, blanket, Auto Trader magazine, plastic pail, and golf cart.
Forensic experts found blood in Halbach’s car, on the back seat panel, steering column, and center console. An analysis determined that blood from the car matched Steven Avery; sweat on the car key also matched Avery.
On November 15, 2005, Steven Avery was charged with the kidnapping and murder of Teresa Halbach and the mutilation of her body. Because he was a convicted felon, Avery was also charged with the illegal possession of a firearm.
Did Brendan Dassey Help Steven Avery Murder Halbach?
A quiet, unassuming kid, Brendan Dassey, 16, was keeping a secret. In the four months since Teresa Halbach’s murder, Dassey lost 40 pounds and had trouble sleeping. One day in February 2006, he told a friend he was feeling suicidal.
Later that month, Barbara Tadych was speaking to investigators and mentioned that Dassey stained his pants while helping his uncle Steven clean the garage floor on October 31, 2005.
Police seized on the information and, the following day, hailed Dassey in to be interviewed. They interviewed him again on March 1. Dassey, who, again, is considered to be intellectually and emotionally challenged and highly suggestible, was interviewed by police without any legal representation, parent, or another adult present.
In the first interrogation, from February 27, 2006, Dassey provided his uncle Steven Avery with an alibi for the day that Teresa Halbach disappeared. Dassey claimed he was playing his PlayStation after school, and then his uncle Steven called, asking him to come over to Avery’s trailer for a bonfire.
The second interview took place two days later, on March 1, 2006. Dassey, who was still not represented by a lawyer, answered questions from investigators Mark Wiegert and Tom Fassbender alone for over four hours.
Dassey was questioned about the murder, with police interrogators promising to “help” him, and not “leave him high and dry” if he confessed to the murder. Dassey was also lied to by police; they told him that they already knew he was guilty, and they could only help him out if he confessed.
It was during this interview that Brendan Dassey admitted to any wrongdoing. But Dassey, who is believed to have an IQ between 69 and 73 (80 is considered to be the low end of “normal”), was asked a number of leading questions. And, when Dassey wasn’t giving them the information they wanted, they prompted him to give the answers they were looking for.
Mark Wiegert: “So Steve stabs her first and then you cut her neck?” (Brendan nods “yes”) “What else happens to her in her head?”
Tom Fassbender: “It’s extremely, extremely important you tell us this, for us to believe you.”
Wiegert: “Come on, Brendan, what else?” (pause)
Fassbener: “We know, we just need you to tell us.”
Brendan: “That’s all I can remember.”
Wiegert: “All right, I’m just gonna come out and ask you. Who shot her in the head?”
Brendan: “He did.”
Fassbender: “Then why didn’t you tell us that?”
Brendan: “‘Cause I couldn’t think of it.”
Fassbender: “Now you remember it?” (Brendan nods “yes”)
In the end, Dassey gave investigators what they were looking for. That same day, police find the jeans Dassey wore when he helped Steven Avery clean his garage floor.
The next day, Brendan Dassey was charged with being a party to three felonies: first-degree sexual assault, first-degree intentional homicide, and mutilating a corpse.
An Incompetent Public Defender?
Public attorney Len Kachinsky was brought on to represent Dassey after he was arrested. After learning of Dassey’s confession, Kachinsky filed a motion to suppress, but a judge ruled it was admissible.
Soon after, Kachinsky approached Dassey and asked him to simply cooperate with police.
“I think that working with the state to try and convict Avery was a viable strategy,” Kachinsky said.
Years later, but only after the airing of Making a Murderer, Kachinsky admitted that was a mistake.
“There was some concern that if we didn’t grab the momentum, Dassey would talk to his relatives and wouldn’t be interested in fingering Avery anymore,” he said.
Police conducted a third interview with Dassey. On May 13, 2006, he once again met with Fassbender and Wiegert. But lawyer Len Kachinsky forgot to attend.
The three-hour interview also came after Dassey met with Michael O’Kelly, Kachinsky’s private investigator, who forced Dassey to write a confession and draw pictures of the crime. Again, Kachinsky elected not to be there.
Kachinsky was happy to champion his own strategy, but not everyone is convinced he was looking out for Dassey’s best interest. Six months after being appointed, Kachinsky was removed from the case.
According to the courts, allowing Dassey to be interviewed by law enforcement without legal representation is indefensible. Undeterred, Kachinsky said he voluntarily withdrew.
Washing his hands of any guilt, Kachinsky said, “You may have disagreed with my strategy in the case, eventually Dassey did too when I was discharged as his attorney, but it frankly had no affect on the verdict.”
That is open for debate. The confession that was arranged by Kachinsky, helped put Dassey in jail.
Brendan Dassey Found Guilty
Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey were both found guilty at trial.
On March 18, 2007, Steven Avery was found guilty of first-degree murder, and illegal possession of a firearm. He was acquitted of mutilating a corpse. Charges of kidnapping and sexual assault were dropped in pre-trial hearings.
Steven Avery was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In April 2007, Brendan Dassey went to trial over the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. A key piece of evidence was the three-hour trial that took place in March 2006, during which time Dassey explained how he found Halbach chained and naked to Avery’s bed, and raped her because his uncle told him to.
During the trial, then 17-year-old Dassey told the jury that he lied to investigators, and recanted his confession. When asked why he lied and made up the story, which was corroborated by evidence located at the scene, Dassey replied, “I don’t know.”
He even said that he got the details from a book he read, “I believe it was called, Kiss the Girls,” he told the jury.
That book, written by James Patterson, was turned into the 1997 movie starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.
In explaining his initial confession, Dassey told jurors that he made the admission after Fassbender and Wiegert promised “that if I told the truth I won’t go away for life.” Dassey clearly misunderstood the idiom “the truth shall set you free.”
Dassey’s attorneys, meanwhile, said that Fassbender and Wiegert took advantage of Dassey and used promises, lies, suggestions, and leading questions to get him to make a false confession.
Dassey was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, rape, and mutilating a corpse. He was sentenced to life in prison at Wisconsin’s Columbia Correctional Institute. He will be eligible for parole in 2048.
‘Making a Murderer’
While the Steven Avery-Brendan Dassey trial attracted some media attention, it wasn’t until the 2015 Netflix documentary Making a Murderer premiered that the nation really saw what went on. And how it is possible that Steven Avery was framed for the murder of Teresa Halbach.
It also highlighted the plight of Brendan Dassey, and what many consider to be a coerced confession, resulting in the conviction of an innocent man.
As expected, police, investigators, the prosecution, and Len Kachinsky say the 10-hour series is biased. The filmmakers stand by their work.
Dassey Conviction Overturned
It didn’t take long for Making a Murderer to fuel support for Dassey, and call into question the legal process used to convict him. His supporters maintained investigators took advantage of the 16-year-old’s low IQ, developmental immaturity, and impressionability to coerce a false confession.
In August 2016, federal magistrate judge William E. Duffin ruled that Dassey was manipulated into confessing his role in the 2005 death of Teresa Halbach. Duffin argued that Dassey “lacked the mental acuity to endure four interrogations.”
William E. Duffin also took aim at Dassey’s initial legal representation, writing, “Although it probably does not need to be stated, it will be: Kachinsky’s conduct was inexcusable both tactically and ethically.
It is one thing for an attorney to point out to a client how deep of a hole the client is in. But to assist the prosecution in digging that hole deeper is an affront to the principles of justice that underlie a defense attorney’s vital role in the adversarial system.”
At the time, Len Kachinsky managed to make lemonade out of lemons, and took credit for the overturned verdict.
“In the sense that [the confession] was an instance that I preserved for appeal, before I was off the case, I was in [a] sense gratified because the fact that that was the basis for magistrate judge Duffin’s decision, it shows that I did my job,” Kachinsky said.
“Without a confession, the state didn’t really have anything of a case. It was an issue that was clearly available to appeal.”
In June 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, in a two-to-one decision, that Dassey’s confession was involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Related: “Making a Murderer” Documentary’s Brendan Dassey Asks Supreme Court to Throw Out Confession
Was Justice Denied to Brendan Dassey?
In early July, the Wisconsin Department of Justice requested a rehearing of the entire Seventh Circuit panel. Until that decision was announced, Dassey remained in jail, much to the disappointment of his many supporters.
In December 2017, a federal appeals court in Chicago overturned the ruling that would have set Dassey free. In a four-to-three decision, the appeals court said that it came down to whether or not Dassey was tricked into giving a confession.
“The state courts’ finding that Dassey’s confession was voluntary was not beyond fair debate, but we conclude it was reasonable,” they wrote.
Two dissenting judges were critical of the decision.
Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote in her dissent that Brendan Dassey was “subjected to myriad psychologically coercive techniques, but the state court did not review his interrogation with the special care required by Supreme Court precedent.”
“His confession was not voluntary and his conviction should not stand, and yet an impaired teenager has been sentenced to life in prison. I view this as a profound miscarriage of justice.”
In her dissent, Chief Judge Diane P. Wood added, “Without this involuntary and highly unreliable confession, the case against Dassey was almost nonexistent.”
Both Brendan Dassey and Steven Avery maintain that the police framed them because they wanted revenge against Avery for filing a $36.0 million civil suit against Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Avery was wrongfully arrested and convicted, and spent 18 years in prison for a 1985 sexual assault that he did not commit.