We’re not lawyers — heck, we don’t even play ones on TV. But like most viewers of “Making a Murderer,” it was hard to watch the 10 episodes of the hit Netflix documentary series and not feel badly for Brendan Dassey. The teenage nephew of Steven Avery, Brendan offered a major plot twist with real-life ramifications when he got involved in his uncle’s murder trial, seemingly talking himself into a life sentence.
Friday (August 12), fans of the series let out a collective cheer as Dassey’s conviction was overturned by a federal judge in Milwaukee. In case you never caught the show — or, like many, binged last December and need a refresher — here are the reasons many people think Dassey was wrongly convicted.
Brendan’s mental state seemed in question
If you ever watch any sort of reality show or documentary promising to depict “real life,” it’s important to remember that clever editing and off-camera coaching can produce any storyline the showrunners want to tell you.
That said, if we are to take “Making a Murderer” at face value, Brendan felt to many like a teenage boy with the mental capacity of a child. In fact, at the time of his arrest he did have a low IQ and was in several special-ed classes.
One telling moment came in March 2006, when 16-year-old Dassey was arrested for homicide … and became upset that he might miss WrestleMania. Previously, while being interrogated by police, he seemed to confess to the crime so that he wouldn’t miss his next class. At the very least, the boy seemed to extremely overmatched as he went up against the interrogators and their techniques, without even a lawyer to assist him.
He loves his mom
Sadly, the statement above isn’t meant to elicit the “awww!” you might normally offer in return, but instead is a reminder that Dassey was so hungry for his mother’s approval that the police seemed to use that as leverage against him. Many people found such tactics unfair, as they watched marathon interrogation sessions which had police implying that Brendan’s mother would be angry unless he confessed.
He might not even have been there
As “Making a Murderer” poured over the various clues, it seemed unlikely that Brendan was even present in Steven Avery’s trailer, let alone helping his uncle with Teresa Halbach’s murder. The general consensus among “Murderer” fans seemed to be that the police had talked circles around the boy until he finally made up a story, even if it didn’t hold up on closer inspection.
He wouldn’t turn on his uncle
According to “Murderer,” police originally seemed interested in Dassey not for a confession, but as a witness. The series portrays Avery’s fiancee as being similarly leaned-on by the police after Halbach’s murder, eventually fleeing town. According to “Murderer” fans, when police couldn’t get Dassey to support their case against Avery, they instead put him in their crosshairs and talked him into confessing.
He had inadequate representation
Dassey’s original lawyer was a public defender named Len Kachinsky, who “Murderer” depicted as someone who was convinced that since Brendan had already confessed to the crime, even the lack of DNA couldn’t save him. The judge eventually removed Kachinsky from the case, so Brendan was represented at trial by two other attorneys — who many fans think should have played up the “false confession” angle, but those lawyers never did, and he was found guilty.
For the reasons above and others, “Making a Murderer” fans feel as if justice may has finally been served now that Brendan Dassey is a free man after more than a decade behind bars.
Now, producers of the show are continuing to promise that Season 2 is on the way, and confirming that they will address the Dassey drama. “Today there was a major development for the subjects in our story and this recent news shows the criminal justice system at work,” directors/executive producers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos say in a statement. “As we have done for the past 10 years, we will continue to document the story as it unfolds, and follow it wherever it may lead.”
As a mere outsider, it’s hard to tell whether Dassey truly is guilty or innocent, but this much is certain: The show just received a meaty dramatic bone to chew on.