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Brendan Dassey's conviction overturned

In this Aug. 2, 2007 file photo, Brendan Dassey is escorted into court for his sentencing in Manitowoc. (Herald Times Reporter/Eric Young via AP, Pool)

MILWAUKEE (WLUK) -- A federal judge has overturned Brendan Dassey's conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach.

In the 91-page decision, Federal Judge William Duffin was critical of the work done by original defense attorney Len Kachinsky, calling it "indefensible" but says that's not the basis to overturn the conviction.

However, the state courts unreasonably found that the investigators never made Dassey any promises during the March 1, 2006 interrogation. The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about. 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 Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

Dassey will not be released immediately, as Judge Duffin gave prosecutors 90 days to initiate proceedings to retry him.

Duffin's analysis focused on the confession and police tactics:

Based on its review of the record, the court acknowledges significant doubts as to the reliability of Dassey's confession. 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. 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,.
It is true that neither federal law nor the United States Constitution requires that the police even inform a juvenile's parents that the juvenile is being questioned or honor a juvenile's request that a parent or other adult (other than a lawyer) be present during questioning... Not only did Dassey not have the benefit of an adult present to look out for his interests, the investigators exploited the absence of such an adult by repeatedly suggesting that they were looking out for his interests," Duffin wrote. "Moreover, Dassey's borderline to below average intellectual ability likely made him more susceptible to coercive pressures than a peer of higher intellect.

Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery were convicted in the Oct. 31, 2005 murder of Halbach - a freelance photographer who went to the Avery's property to take photos for a car sales magazine. Dassey was 16 at the time of the murder.

At 16-years-old, without a parent or attorney present, Brendan Dassey admitted to police he helped kill Teresa Halbach. In 2006 Dassey told two investigators he and his uncle Steven Avery raped, killed, and burned Halbach's body. He said he did so, because Avery threatened to stab him otherwise.

The judge's decision Friday, however, is that investigators did not follow the constitution when getting Dassey's confession. The judge said investigators made false promises to Dassey to get him to admit the crime.

Dassey himself recanted his confession several times, saying in past court documents he felt threatened by police to make a confession and that he confessed to make the questioning stop. In one document Dassey said "I was always very clear that I didn't want to admit to anything, because I hadn't done anything wrong.

The judge also criticized Dassey's original attorney Len Kachinsky's work.

Over phone, Friday, Kachinsky admitted he made mistakes, but that no evidence against Dassey resulted from those mistakes.

"None of it was ever, frankly, ever gonna be needed by the state or wanted by the state for trial. So Dassey's conviction really had nothing to do with those mistakes," Kachinsky told FOX 11.

Kachinsky told us Dassey was convicted because of his confession statement.

"It had everything to do with the fact the judge denied the motion to suppress the statement. The statement was played in full four and a half hours in front of the jury," Kachinsky explained.

In a statement posted online, the attorneys handling Dassey's appeal, Steven A. Drizin and Laura Nirider, said they were "overwhelmed" by the decision.

"We look forward to taking the appropriate next steps to secure Brendan’s release from prison as soon as possible and are thrilled for him," they said.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice says it is still reviewing the order and would have no immediate comment.

The Calumet Co. Sheriff's Office, which led the investigation into Halbach's disappearance, released a statement saying any comments would come from the DOJ. Calumet Co. authorities handled the investigation as Avery was suing Manitowoc County over a wrongful conviction in a previous rape case.

The two men were convicted in separate trials a year and a half later.

The case was the basis for the Netflix documentary series "Making A Murderer."

Two attorneys who have defended Avery took to Twitter to express their pleasure Friday.

In January, FOX 11 took an in-depth look at the status of appeals by both Dassey and Avery. Also in January, an online petition at the White House's website calling for President Barack Obama to pardon both men was signed by more than 100,000 people earlier. The White House explained that since Avery and Dassey were convicted in state court, a pardon would have to come from Gov. Scott Walker. Walker has declined to pardon Avery and Dassey.

Dassey is currently imprisoned at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage.

FOX 11 reached out to Dassey's family members. His half-brother Brad told us Saturday, "The only thing I can say right now is we're hopeful he'll be home soon and we're all excited. It's been a long time coming."

Watch previous reports from the Avery and Dassey cases.

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