WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Monday it won’t weigh in on the case of a teenager convicted of rape and murder whose story was documented in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer.”
As is typical, the justices did not explain their decision declining to take the case. The justices’ decision leaves in place a lower court ruling against Brendan Dassey.
Dassey was 16 years old when he confessed to Wisconsin authorities that he had joined his uncle in raping and murdering photographer Teresa Halbach before burning her body in a bonfire. Dassey’s attorneys, however, say he’s borderline intellectually disabled and was pressured into a false confession. They wanted his confession thrown out and a new trial.
Wisconsin officials had urged the Supreme Court not to take the case, telling the court it shouldn’t second-guess Wisconsin courts’ determination that Dassey’s confession was voluntary. Prosecutors noted that Dassey’s mother gave investigators permission to speak with him, that Dassey agreed as well and that during the interview investigators used only standard techniques such as adopting a sympathetic tone and encouraging honesty.
Dassey’s attorneys can still try to get him a new trial but they’d have to convince a judge that newly discovered evidence warrants one.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes as there are plans for a second season of “Making a Murderer,” which premiered on Netflix in 2015. Viewers of the first season were introduced to Dassey’s uncle, Steven Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for a rape before DNA testing exonerated him. After his release, he filed a multi-million dollar civil suit over his conviction, but in 2005 as that lawsuit was pending he was arrested for and later convicted of Halbach’s murder. Avery maintains he was framed.
At Dassey’s separate trial, video of him speaking with investigators and confessing to participating in Halbach’s rape and murder played a central role. Authorities had no physical evidence tying Dassey to the crimes, and he testified that his confession was “made up” but a jury convicted him. He’s eligible for parole in 2048.
While Wisconsin courts ruled Dassey’s confession was voluntary, a federal magistrate judge and a three-judge appeals court panel disagreed, saying he should be retried or released from prison. Then, in late 2017, the full appeals court ruled 4-3 that the state courts’ determination that Dassey’s confession was voluntary was reasonable, meaning no release or retrial. The Supreme Court’s announcement it wouldn’t take the case left that decision in place.