"Brendan's statements were not only involuntary, they were completely contradicted by the lack of physical evidence," lawyers Jerry Buting and Dean Strang wrote in a statement
The former lawyers for Stephen Avery are “very gratified” by a judge’s ruling Friday overturning the murder conviction of Branden Dassey, Avery’s nephew.
Dassey and Avery were both convicted of the 2005 murder of Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach. Their convictions were the subject of Netflix’s hit true crime documentary series Making a Murderer, which cast doubt on the convictions and presented evidence that Dassey’s confession to law enforcement may have been improperly obtained.
“Dean [Strang] and I are very gratified that a federal judge has found Brendan Dassey’s statements to law enforcement were coerced and involuntary. The court found “the investigators’ actions amounted to deceptive interrogation tactics,” Jerry Buting, Avery’s former attorney along with Dean Strang, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
“Brendan’s statements were not only involuntary, they were completely contradicted by the lack of physical evidence. This shows the folly of coercing a statement from a vulnerable target,” Buting said. “It also vindicates what we have said for years: that law enforcement in the Teresa Halbach investigation was willing to go to extreme lengths to convict Steven Avery, the only person they seriously considered to be a suspect.
“The well reasoned decision is further evidence that, in the state of Wisconsin, it falls to the federal courts to protect the liberties and justice of all Americans. The federal court concluded that Dassey’s case was an example of ‘an extreme malfunction in the state criminal justice system” that federal habeas corpus exists to correct.’ ”
The judge’s order states the detectives who were investigating Halbach’s murder promised Dassey, who is described by multiple people in the series as having learning disabilities, prosecutorial leniency in exchange for his cooperation during his March 1, 2006, interrogation.
“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on Oct. 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about,” the judge said in his decision. “These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”
The judge’s decision indicates he had “significant doubts” concerning the reliability of Dassey’s confession.
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“Crucial details evolved through repeated leading and suggestive questioning and generally stopped changing only after the investigators, in some manner, indicated to Dassey that he finally gave the answer they were looking for,” the ruling reads. “Purportedly corroborative details could have been the product of contamination from other sources, including the investigators’ own statements and questioning, or simply logical guesses, rather than actual knowledge of the crime.”
Kathleen Zellner, Avery’s new attorney, told PEOPLE “we are thrilled for Brendan Dassey that his conviction has been overturned,” adding “we fully expected this outcome from an unbiased court that carefully examined his confession.”
In March 2006, Dassey, then 16, told investigators he had helped Avery rape and murder photographer Teresa Halbach on Oct. 31, 2005. But he later recanted, claiming the confession had been coerced.
Dassey’s confession to law enforcement is perhaps the most debated aspect of the Netflix series.
Dassey’s cousin, Carla Chase, tells PEOPLE that Dassey is “overjoyed” with the news.
“Now, we’re just playing the waiting game and hoping no one files an appeal,” Chase explains. “I know his mother has talked with Brendan on the phone, but he hasn’t called any of the other family. He’s overjoyed.”
Prison staff allegedly gave Dassey two hours to clear out his prison cell.
“When your conviction is cleared, they move you from one area of the prison to a different area of the prison,” Chase says. “The family is very hopeful he’ll be released. But like I said, he could get out in two weeks or it could be 90 days. The prosecution needs to have actual evidence to move forward with his re-trial, but they don’t have any new evidence.”
The prosecution has 90 days from the ruling to file for a re-trial before Dassey is released.