A Recap of Brendan Dassey: A True Story of a False Confession

A Recap of Brendan Dassey: A True Story of a False Confession

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By Jax West

This event was on April 6, 2016, at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago.  Brendan Dassey’s lawyers Steven Drizin (Clinical Professor of Law and the Assistant Dean of the Bluhm Legal Clinic) and Laura Nirider (Co-Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and Clinical Assistant Professor of Law) discussed his case and then were joined by Judge Michael K Browne (Hennepin County District Court Judge), Dr. Antoinette Kavanaugh (Ph.D, ABPP and Forensic Clinical Psychologist) and Robert Milan (Managing Director of Stroz Friedbeg and former First Assistant State’s Attorney of Cook County) for a Q&A. Here is my recap of the event.

It started at 6:30pm, but I was unfortunately late due to horrible traffic. When I got there I was told there probably weren’t two seats together but then it turned out there were plenty of seats together still left. But the auditorium was pretty packed as well. I sat down just as Steven Drizin was saying that he binged watched ‘Making a Murderer’. Then he introduced us to Sarah Marie Dillard and the Underground who performed the song ‘Bad Man’.

You can visit their website at www.smunderground.com. I challenge you to not tear up as you listen to the lyrics. Poor people lose all the time…

Drizin told us that he was asked in 2007 to represent Brendan Dassey. He had a student at that time that he assigned to work the case. She then replaced him as the Legal Director and is now the Lead Attorney for Brendan, Laura Nirider.

Nirider then went over the case starting with Steven’s first wrongful conviction. She said that Brendan was first questioned since he was Steven’s alibi. Now he sits in prison until he is 59 years old.  She believes his confession is false. Nirider said Brendan’s Mom Barb asked him if he did it. Then we saw the clip of Brendan telling his Mom that they got into his head.

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There are realities and myths of false confessions. There were three errors during the Police Investigation: Misclassification, Coercion and Contamination. The first one brings us to Behavioral Analysis and the infamous Reid Technique. This is taught to many law enforcement officials. It says the person is telling the truth if they have open palms, frontal alignment and smooth posture changes. You’re telling a lie if you slouch, lack frontal alignment, put your hand over your mouth or eyes, say I don’t know or I don’t recall, and refer to God.  So I guess you can use this against all of law enforcement who testified against Avery or Dassey or were deposed in Avery’s suit against Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department because how many times were their answers “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall”?

Drizin said for the coercion error, the interrogator will say they know you committed this.  They will interrupt the suspect. They will move in close to the suspect and get knee to knee. They will even pat their knee. They will use false evidence ploys that are just outright lies. The Reid Technique was never to be used on children or someone mentally challenged. They ask leading questions to give the suspects the answers they are looking for.

Nirider said MaM did not show you that the interrogation we saw of Brendan was actually the fourth time they interrogated him over 48 hours. On 2/27/06 they went to Brendan’s High School and pulled him out of class and took him the principal’s office. They did not film this interrogation and there is only audio of this available that is sometimes hard to understand. You can listen to the entire thing here:

They would say to him that he must have seen things in that fire pit. You must have seen a hand, feet, head, something. Brendan eventually agreed and then said he saw a finger, foot and a forehead, the very things Investigators Weigert and Fassbender just planted in his head. Then they planted in his head that Teresa Halbach was assaulted.

Later on 2/27 they take Brendan to the Police Station. This time they videotape this. You can watch that here:

They had him now repeat everything they planted in his head at the earlier interrogation.

Finally they get him in the evening on 2/27 at a hotel they put him and his Mom in. They did NOT record this interrogation in any form.

Then on 3/1/2006 they pull him out of school and drive him 45 minutes away to the Police Station where they now get Brendan to confess to rape and murder. You can watch that here:

There is a report that says Brendan hasn’t been able to look an adult in the eye since the third grade. We were then shown more clips of Brendan’s interrogation. I am not going to recap them as there is only so much I can stand of those videos.  It is just too heartbreaking and infuriating to watch. Nirider shows how in that final interrogation Brendan is literally backed into a corner and the exit is blocked. They promise to help him.  Tell him over and over to be honest. They use a parental dynamic saying they are parents and have a son. They bring up Brendan’s mom.

Drizin said there are THREE FACTS not widely known about this case. law enforcement are supposed to hold back some facts of the case from a suspect. Brendan was not interrogated on February 28. What happened on the 28th? A report (Exhibit-91) came from the Crime Lab that said Teresa Halbach was shot in the head.  So they needed Brendan to give them that fact. Also the battery in the RAV4 was disconnected and Teresa’s belongings were in a burn barrel.

Then we saw clips of Weigert and Fassbender trying so hard to lead Brendan to these three things. Telling Brendan that something happened to the head. The crowd laughed loudly here and I get that they’re laughing at the idiocy of this but I am sorry, I just can’t find this funny. I literally had tears in my eyes. It saddens me so to see this innocent boy get manipulated by these authority figures. Then we see them ask who shot her in the head?  What did he do under the hood? Did he put some things in the burn barrel? What happened to her personal effects? Drizin said this is one of the worst cases of police interrogation practices he’s ever seen. There was not a shred of evidence that puts Brendan in that trailer. Do people really think Brendan was able to clean up so well as to not leave any trace?

The clip below shows Brendan’s interrogators trying to coach Brendan into telling them what happened to the victim’s head. The longer clip above does not contain this segment.

We watched more clips. Brendan asking if he is only there for one day. He asks his Mom: “What if Steven’s story is different?” And when he tells his mom that they got to his head. Do you notice how Weigert and Fassbender immediately return to the room after Brendan says that and shuts down that conversation? Barb asks the officers if they were pressuring Brendan. They tell her they can tell when people tell the truth because they have been doing this for a long time. But the thing to take from this is as soon as Brendan is alone with his Mother he recants but once the officers walk in he gets quiet.  Brendan’s recantation was never shown the jury.

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So where are we today? Brendan’s case has been denied by the State, Appellate and Supreme Courts. It is now in Federal Court. They are contending that Brendan had ineffective assistance of counsel. Len Kachinsky used the confession against his client.  The confession was coerced and contaminated.

Then they went to a Q&A panel that included Judge Browne, Psychologist Kavanaugh and Former Cook County State’s Attorney Milan. They invited the audience to submit questions that might be answered. I submitted one that was not asked: How is it possible to convict two people for the same crime but using two different scenarios?

I lost a lot of interest during the panel section. I know this was an event for law students so maybe that’s why I lost interest as it was more general stuff and not directly about Brendan’s case. A lot of people kept getting up to leave at this point so it was hard to stay focused too.

They talked about what can be done to prevent juvenile false confessions. Nirider said the International Chiefs of Police are working on something. When I hear that organization I cringe though as they are having a convention in Naperville that I was setting up to protest as they were scheduled to have Weigert and Fassbender speak on the great job they think they did on the Brendan Dassey case. They have since cancelled the event so the protest isn’t happening.

Nirider said they should never make promises of help or tell them they get to go home if they tell the truth. They should never disclose facts of the crime and shouldn’t talk to a minor without a parent or lawyer present.

Drizin said interrogations should be electronically recorded. Their own protocols were violated by feeding Brendan facts and promising to help him. The Police Officers are not lie detectors even though they claim to be due to how long they’ve been on the job. He likes the PEACE Technique. He said it’s an acronym and wasn’t going into what it stands for.  Here is a link where you can read about both the Reid and Peace Techniques: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/rpt/2014-R-0071.htm

Drizin said Buting and Strang were the best laywers Avery could buy. Len Kachinsky was the best Brendan got and he was only paid $40 an hour to defend him. You actually lose money to take this case on.  But once again, poor people lose all the time.

They talked about Ken Kratz’s press conference. Milan said that was outrageous and you aren’t allowed to do that in Illinois. He said you can’t lay out all those details.  What bothered him is that no judge stepped in.  He said everybody messed up in this case.  Nobody stepped up and did the right thing.

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They were asked, why wasn’t Brendan’s Mom Barb in the interview? Drizin said it is not a requirement in Wisconsin that a parent be present. He said Barb is a pitbull in how she defends her son now. She was not given the information back then on how to help Brendan.  They told her they were just going to ask him a few questions so she gave them permission and has had to live with that all these years.  Drizin is not confident that Barb could have protected Brendan had she been in the room anyway.  Parents are powerless and too often do more harm than good. So a lawyer should be in there.

Nirider said that there are States that are now considering changes that a parent or a lawyer needs to be present: Tennessee, Rhode Island, and California. Milan thinks that Barb would have stopped the interrogation had she been in there and that she wasn’t there because the cops didn’t allow her to be. He said the cops knew they were on tape and they still behaved that way.  He said they’re moronic.

At the end they mentioned how they are doing the event for free because they feel it’s important for people to hear. Strang and Buting are out on their speaking tour charging big money.  I went to the one in Milwaukee and you can read that recap here: http://freebrendan.org/index.php/2016/03/19/a-recap-of-a-conversation-on-making-a-murderer-with-attorneys-dean-strang-jerry-buting/

I will also be attending their Chicago event in June and will recap that one as well.

Everyone groaned when Dirzin mentioned that Kratz is also doing a speaking engagement. I have scheduled a protest of that event and you can RSVP to the Facebook Event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/779417248856029/

So that was it. What do we do now? We are stuck waiting on our legal system to do the right thing.  But while we wait, let’s get something going to change our laws so minors can not be interrogated without a lawyer present.  There are protests being scheduled all across the globe.  Get involved.  Have your voice heard.  To find out more about Brendan Dassey please visit http://freebrendan.org/ or find us on https://www.facebook.com/freebrendan/

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  • Tiffanie Harpin

    This article is concise and well written. I watched MaM and am following this case closely. I couldn’t watch the interrogation videos of Brendan for a second time. The first time I watched they were gut wrenching, infuriating, and tore to my very soul to such an extent that I couldn’t stop weeping for two days. Brendan has been wronged on so many levels by the judicial system and I don’t understand how Len Katchinsky, Fassbender, and Weigert sleep at night for what they have stolen from this kid. I have never, ever seen such blatant corruption, misuse of power, and unethical protocols as I have with the Manitowoc and Calumet Sheriff’s depts. I just cannot fathom the fact that Brendan is still sitting in prison today.

  • susan

    Excellent article. We all live on Avery Road!!