A Wisconsin inmate featured in the Netflix Making a Murderer series will stay in prison after a federal appeals court overturned a ruling that could have freed him.
Brendan Dassey had claimed that he was tricked into confessing that he helped his uncle rape and kill photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005.
However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 4-3 ruling that the findings by a Wisconsin state court that he participated were “reasonable,” even thought one dissenting judge said the case was “a profound miscarriage of justice.”
Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for his role in the Halbach murder. The 7th Circuit said in a 39-page ruling that although it was not unreasonable to debate whether Dassey’s confession was voluntary, as the state court ruled, their finding was reasonable.
Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner strongly disagreed. “His confession was not voluntary and his conviction should not stand, and yet an impaired teenager has been sentenced to life in prison,” she wrote in her dissent. “I view this as a profound miscarriage of justice.”
Also dissenting was Chief Judge Diane P. Wood. “Without this involuntary and highly unreliable confession, the case against Dassey was almost nonexistent,” she wrote.
A federal magistrate judge overturned Dassey’s conviction last year on the grounds that his age (he was 16 at the time of confession) and learning disabilities allowed detectives to take advantage of him.
A three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit upheld the magistrate’s ruling in June. But Wisconsin prosecutors asked for a review by the full 7th Circuit, which came back with a different decision today.
Dassey’s attorneys, Laura Nirider and Robert Drizin, said they were “profoundly disappointed” and would petition the U.S. Supreme Court on his behalf.
“Today’s ruling contravenes a fundamental and time-honored position of the United States Supreme Court: interrogation tactics that may not be coercive when applied to adults are coercive when applied to children and the mentally impaired,” they said in a statement.
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