A federal appeals court ruled to uphold a lower court’s decision to overturn Brendan Dassey’s conviction on Thursday.
Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 in Wisconsin for the death of photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005. At age 16, Dassey told detectives he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach. Both were featured in "Making a Murderer." The 2015 Netflix documentary series raised questions about the conviction, leading some to believe that Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who was also charged with the murder and is serving a life sentence, are innocent. The documentary suggested that police might have planted evidence on Avery’s property and that investigators took advantage of Dassey’s limited intellect to coax him into confessing. Avery previously served 18 years in prison for the wrongful conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen, before being fully exonerated in 2003 through DNA evidence. He filed a suit against the county two years before he was arrested as a suspect in the Halbach murder.
Last year, a federal magistrate judge ruled that investigators took advantage of Dassey's youth and cognitive problems. That judge overturned Dassey's conviction according to WISC-TV. A ruling released Thursday also stated that Dassey’s confession was not voluntarily given. A three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Dassey should be released, according to NPR, unless the state of Wisconsin retries him within 90 days or appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state of Wisconsin, however, argues that detectives did nothing wrong and a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Justice released a statement Thursday:
"We are evaluating the 2-1 decision from the court. We anticipate seeking review by the entire 7th Circuit or the United States Supreme Court and hope that today's erroneous decision will be reversed. We continue to send our condolences to the Halbach family as they have to suffer through another attempt by Mr. Dassey to re-litigate his guilty verdict and sentence."
Lawyers for Dassey, now 27, said they they'll take immediate steps to secure his release as soon as possible. The state has 90 days to decide whether or not to retry Dassey.
A motion for his Avery’s appeal was filed earlier this month.