Brendan Dassey and the SCOTUS Sucker Punch

I have written more drafts of this article than I care to count. This has me struggling more than any other case at the moment. At the heart of it is the crushing shock and disappointment, I suppose. I told myself I was prepared for the Supreme Court to refuse to hear his case, but in reality I was just as floored as everyone else. I thought originally to cover the technical aspects of what the SCOTUS denial meant, but within hours it seemed everyone had a piece out about that. So after many drafts, edits, and flat-out rewrites, I decided to stick with just sharing how I feel about it as part of main-stream America.

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I can’t speak as to the constitutionality of AEDPA and its affect on habeas applications and appeals. There are much better minds that can explain that. What I can say is it seems that coerced confessions from minors almost seems to be an epidemic these days. Also epidemic appears to be the various interpretations of the same laws by different judges. Tomato/tomahto type ruling is convicting some kids while freeing others. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of uniformity, for want of a better term. Brendan Dassey could have changed all that. A ruling from SCOTUS, whether for or against Dassey could have smoothed the way for countless others. Clarification alone would have been a huge step in the right direction.

‘Making A Murderer’ started a movement that we, the general public, didn’t even really know we needed. I went from watching the docu-series to researching the actual case files, and court transcripts. I couldn’t even tell you the hours and hours I have spent reading motions, cross-referencing case law, creating spreadsheets, and picking through hundreds of thousands of pages in an attempt to understand what happened. Added to this is the fact that in terms of this case, I am a lightweight. There are thousands of people that have done considerably more. There always seems to be someone that can point me to something I missed. If only this many people could come together for every case of a juvenile with a coerced confession, imagine what good we could do.

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The death of Teresa Halbach angers me on so many different levels, it becomes difficult to articulate. Simply beginning with how senseless her death was should be enough to make anyone sit up and take notice. She is truly, in every sense of the word, the most innocent of victims here. She was just a girl, going about her work day, causing no harm to anyone. At the hands of a person with a broken mind, she lost her life, and I firmly believe, to this very day, she still has not had justice. Attorney David Rudolph (‘The Staircase’) put into words much better than I can, what I mean. Basically, he explained that “not guilty” doesn’t mean innocent. It simply means that guilt was unproven. Even though the courts and juries found Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey guilty, I personally don’t think guilt was proven. Haters gonna hate, so I expect some flack for that statement. But you really have to ask yourself if you would be comfortable convicting your brother, father, or husband on the evidence presented. If not, you can’t comfortably say these men are guilty. If they aren’t guilty, how has justice been served for Teresa Halbach, her family, or her friends? It hasn’t.

Looking specifically at Brendan Dassey’s role in this, her death angers me on a different level. An innocent woman has died, and rather than follow a logical investigation, law enforcement and prosecutors chose to focus on a suspect, and force the evidence to fit the narrative. Part of this was to coerce an obviously very malleable mind into confessing to things he didn’t even understand. To be fair, I don’t believe he was targeted with the absolute intention of convicting him of this heinous crime, I believe he was the accidental casualty of the single minded drive to convict Steven Avery. What truly sickens me is that because of this, people have taken the “oh well, that’s too bad” mental approach to his treatment. He was considered an acceptable loss, not just by law enforcement and prosecution, but also society as a whole, at the time. Now, people are starting to see the damage done, and understand that Brendan Dassey had nothing to do with the murder of Teresa Halbach. If you accept that he is innocent, how is this justice for her? If you remove him from the equation entirely, it kicks a leg out from under the state’s assertion of Steven Avery’s guilt. Without that, it points to the fact that there just might be someone who is walking around free after committing murder. Which of course, as always, circles back to the fact that Teresa Halbach hasn’t received justice. It’s easy to become angered, and even outraged when looked at from this viewpoint.

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Over the years, I have seen criticism of the Halbach family with regard to their actions, and reactions. I cannot find fault with them, myself. A very vital, integral part of them is senselessly and ruthlessly gone. I cannot say how I would react under the same circumstances. I’d like to believe the noble part of me would like to be 100% certain that the right men were in prison. But the emotional part of me might not react the same way. I can’t know, and so I won’t judge how a family deals with such a profound loss. I cannot imagine what they are going through, and my heart goes out to them. I’ve also seen criticism of Brendan Dassey’s family. Likewise I cannot imagine what they are going through. It’s harder though, to be honest, because so many o his family have been vocal, leaving you little doubt as to their thoughts and feelings. I could definitely understand Barbara (Janda) Tadych’s rage during ‘Making a Murderer’ as she watched her son caught up in this. In fact, at one point Len Kachinsky was throwing shade specifically at Barbara, and I thought that if I were her, I’d become his worst nightmare. It was the very public back and forth that has somewhat undermined her. In some ways, I think the family is their own worst enemy.

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Believe it or not, all of this ties in to how I feel about the SCOTUS refusal. This case has played out on the world stage. It has highlighted the flaws in our criminal justice system in a very big, very public way. So if a case that has received this much scrutiny cannot get heard by SCOTUS, what hope is there for other juveniles in this same position? With a pen stroke, SCOTUS declared open season on our children. They haven’t given Teresa Halbach justice, as long as this doubt remains. With the refusal should come the knowledge that there will be many more children convicted at the hands of unscrupulous law enforcement and prosecutors, many more victims that will receive no justice. I fear that SCOTUS has become more concerned with political correctness than actually keeping justice on the correct path, and that scares me. I didn’t know until this case that SCOTUS doesn’t have to tell us how it votes, or why it refuses to hear a case. I find I am not in agreement with that. Accountability goes a long way toward a more stable justice system. Who judges the judges?

Educate yourselves and your children. Pray to whomever you pray to that you never find yourself in this position. If you do, protect your children. The assertion by prosecutors that their department is somehow magically immune to misconduct is ridiculous on it’s face. I’ll drop a few names for you to research, so you can see misconduct does occur, and it goes on for years before it gets routed out. Duane Deavers, Joyce Gilchrist, Elaine Taylor, Sonja Farak, Kamalkant Shah, and James Bolding to name a few. No city or state is exempt from possible misconduct, even Wisconsin, regardless of  what you might have heard in any press conference.

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**Addendum** With Kathleen Zellner’s latest filing, my outrage has grown. Even though she is NOT representing Brendan Dassey, who has top notch representation of his own with Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, her filing shines new light on how badly the defense for both men was hamstrung for the original trials. If all she asserts is proven true, there’ll be a few more names to add to that list above. It could also open the door for Brendan Dassey to receive a new trial, which is now his best hope.

6 comments

  1. I know how you feel, Grace.
    I’m a life-long Wisconsin resident from east-central Wisconsin, living in Madison now.
    The police in Wisconsin, generally speaking, are malignant and dishonest. The type of personality attracted to police work are not the types that become human rights activists, civil liberties workers, social justice workers, intellectuals or minds burdened by truth and critical thought
    The police, prosecutors and most of the Court system bureaucracy are small-minded, officious and anti-social.
    I have followed along, and helped on occasion, another wrongful conviction in Wisconsin — Penny Brummer.
    Like Brendan, the only evidence linking Penny to an undermined crime scene is a pretend confession in 1994.
    The dopes at the Dane County Sheriff’s office asked Penny to come in after the murder of one of her friends They asked Penny if she would take back the night she and the murder victim went out for beers together, when her friend was apparently killed. Penny nodded her head slowly, and the detectives quickly claimed this was a confession, arrested Penny and the rest is sordid history, including conviction by a majority of anti-gay bigots on a jury. No motive, no evidence, no IDed weapon, no location of murder determined; just a bunch of cops who settled on a theory, and disregarded all evidence that either disconfirmed or did not support their contrived tale.
    Goggle Penny Brummer and Madison Wisconsin.
    Repulsive. Please check it out.
    When cops and prosecutors target an innocent whether it be Brendan or Penny, by right, cops and prosecutors should be regarded as the moral equivalent of killers. They are acting with depraved intent, and destroying innocent lives. I think the lack of character of Kratz and the cops is clear.

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  2. I agree completely. I have studied wrongful convictions years ago and it was apparent immediately to me that there were issues how they handled Brendan long before it was obvious down the line. Having studied wrongful convictions and knowing the issue well, I could not believe that they were still so careless and reckless. (I am not a prosecutor or in law enforcement. I was just aware that there were established best practices and well known consequences (wrongful convictions) when best practices were not followed.)

    That the Supreme Court looked the other way was not surprising — although it was disturbing. Some of the Justices are concerned more about process and procedures than outcome. Basically, if no one had done anything procedurally wrong and an innocent person was convicted — even sentenced to death — their attitude is “oh well:. Even though punishing an innocent person would deprive that person of all his civil rights — they will look the other way.

    This is yet another reason where there needs to be national standards. If we had national standards and absolute best practices, then defense attorneys could site lapses in these procedures as part of the defense and it would increase the likelihood that officers and departments would behave better.

    (This falls under the heading of needing national standards for use of force too. When a person can get pulled over in one jurisdiction, be issued and ticket and drive away safely but when that same person under the same circumstances can get pulled over, searched, and beat or killed and the officers conduct is considered justified, we have a huge problem. Even the loosest of standards would help a lot.)

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