Making a Murderer Victim's Teacher Shares Pain of Brendan Dassey's Overturned Conviction: 'Teresa Is the Victim'
A former teacher of Teresa Halbach‘s, the 25-year-old Wisconsin photographer whose 2005 murder was depicted in Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murderer, says she was shocked when a federal judge overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey.
Dassey was found guilty in 2006 of participating in the murder along with his uncle, Steven Avery.
“Everyone feels for Teresa,” Jean Wollerman, Halbach’s first grade teacher, tells PEOPLE. “She is the victim here.”
Last Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin tossed out Brendan Dassey’s conviction and ordered him released from prison within 90 days if prosecutors decide not to appeal or retry him, though several legal experts told PEOPLE an appeal would likely keep Dassey in prison for at least another year.
Wollerman said the judge’s decision owed to Making a Murderer, which called the convictions into question.
“It is sad that a TV show can overturn things and can make changes in our justice system, and a TV show just shouldn’t do that,” says Wollerman. “It stirred up everything. They were tried and they were convicted, and end of story.”
She added, “If a jury convicted both of them then the court did their job, but now you put it to a movie and obviously people are going to elaborate on a movie to make it interesting. And then you get it so it is twisted, so everybody in the world thinks that these two guys are innocent.”
To read more about the latest in Brendan Dassey’s case, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
The series suggests that Avery was framed by investigators in retaliation for a $36 million lawsuit he filed against Manitowoc County and authorities. It also infers that the videotaped confession of the then 16-year-old Dassey – who is described by multiple people on the show as learning disabled – was coerced.
In March 2006, Dassey told investigators he had helped his uncle kill Halbach. He said the pair had shot her in the head and burned her body at a bonfire on the Avery property later that evening. But he later recanted, claiming he never saw Halbach and had nothing to do with her murder.
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The judge’s order claims the investigators promised Dassey 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 decision reads. “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.”
For her part, Wollerman doesn’t believe investigators coerced Dassey. “They are just asking him questions and he was sitting there calmly answering,” she says.
Wollerman says she feels sorry for Halbach’s family who, again, must relive the murder.
“It is just a sad thing,” she says. “And you have the person who had to suffer through it all not here, and that is what is really sad about it. Brendan is going to be let go and free and be able to get on with his life while she can’t – she can’t live her life. She is not here to live her life.”