State to 'vigorously oppose' release motion in 'Making a Murderer' case

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Department of Justice will “vigorously oppose” a motion to release Brendan Dassey from prison while his appeal in the Teresa Halbach murder case works its way through the legal system.

In mid-August, Federal Magistrate William Duffin of Milwaukee overturned Dassey’s conviction and gave state prosecutors 90 days to either release him or initiate retrial proceedings. On Sept. 9, Attorney General Brad Schimel announced that Duffin’s ruling would be appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago. The motion to release Dassey during the appeals process was filed in Duffin’s court on Wednesday by attorney Laura Nirider of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.

Making a Murderer, a hugely popular Netflix documentary series that began airing last December, featured the prosecutions of Steven Avery and Dassey in the 2005 murder of the 25-year-old Halbach. During separate trials in 2007, both Avery and Dassey were convicted of killing her.

The state will argue against Dassey’s attempt to be released from prison, said Rebecca Ballweg, senior communications specialist at the Attorney General’s office.

“We will vigorously oppose any motion for release because we are confident that Dassey’s conviction will be reinstated on appeal,” Ballweg wrote in an email to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin on Thursday.

Ballweg said Duffin has “already addressed this issue” by ordering that his ruling that overturned Dassey’s conviction be stayed during the appeal.

“Under the appellate rules, any request should therefore be directed to the Seventh Circuit at this time,” Ballweg said.

Dassey’s legal team argues in its motion that Dassey is not a risk to flee and would not pose a danger to the public if he is released from prison. Lawyers also provided the court with a summary of a release plan for Dassey that would involve a social worker from the Bluhm Legal Clinic, along with support from members of his family.

“Petitioner Dassey has been held in custody since March 31, 2006 — when he was 16 years old — for a conviction that this court has now overturned,” the motion for release states. “That conviction was based on a videotaped confession that this court has deemed involuntary and about whose reliability the court harbors ‘significant doubts.’”

The motion also states that the state “has demonstrated neither a strong likelihood of success on appeal nor a substantial case on the merits.”

Schimel said in announcing the appeal that the ruling that overturned Dassey’s conviction was erroneous.

“We believe the magistrate judge’s decision that Brendan Dassey’s confession was coerced by investigators, and that no reasonable court could have concluded otherwise, is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law,” said Schimel. “Two state courts carefully examined the evidence and properly concluded that Brendan Dassey’s confession to sexually assaulting and murdering Teresa Halbach with his uncle, Steven Avery, was voluntary, and the investigators did not use constitutionally impermissible tactics.”

Avery is also seeking to overturn his conviction. He is serving a sentence of life with no possibility of parole.


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