Making a Murderer Part 2

On Saturday 17th August Epic Studios, Norwich plays host to the event ‘Making a Murderer Part 2 – Brendan Dassey’s Post-Conviction Lawyers Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin in Conversation’. Join the lawyers as they discuss coerced and false confessions, interrogation tactics, and the wrongful conviction of Brendan Dassey whose case has captivated the world in the Netflix’s smash docu-series “Making A Murderer 2”. 

Making a Murderer Season 2 follows the story of Steven Avery, who was convicted of first degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm in 2007 in relation to the murder of local freelance photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005; and alleged accomplice Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was found guilty of party to first degree murder, mutilation of a body and second degree sexual assault at the age of 16. Avery has been sentenced to life without parole with having been Dassey sentenced to life and eligible for parole in 2048, when he would be 59 years old.

Steven Avery faced a previous wrongful conviction for a charge of sexual assault in relation to an attack on Penny Beemsten in 1985, for which he served 18 years imprisonment before the verdict was overturned in light of new evidence surfacing proving his innocence. Avery’s lawyers claim the latest convictions show signs of evidence tampering and institutional corruption at a state-level in the way the case was handled by parties culpable in the prosecution of his prior convictions, for which he later sought $36 million in damages from Manitowoc County, its former sheriff, Thomas Kocourek, and its former district attorney, Denis Vogel. It has also been claimed that evidence had been hidden and destroyed during the trial, and that the evidence presented was inconclusive in determining guilt in the case. Most recently, in February 2019 Avery won the latest motion in his appeal based on these findings and may face a new trial as a result.

Brendan Dassey’s conviction has sparked even greater speculation than Avery’s, in that he was convicted without any physical evidence and on the back of a confession widely-believed to have been coerced. Dassey, known to have an extremely low IQ which is stated to make him a highly-suggestible subject, suffered interrogation techniques which were later ruled by a US magistrate judge as resulting in a confession that was ‘clearly involuntary in a constitutional sense’.

Dassey was interrogated four times in 48 hours without a lawyer or parent present. Investigators used a method known as ‘The Reid’ technique, which is explicitly used to make suspects confess. The consensus is that Dassey was led to believe that a confession would allow to go home to his family and continue with his life. Dassey later recanted the confession on this premise, however he had already been convicted by this stage.

Despite a magistrate judge ruling in Dassey’s favour, there are no signs at present that the state will not uphold his conviction requiring him to serve the entirety of his original sentence. In December 2017 the Seventh Circuit Court upheld Dassey’s original conviction in a vote of 4 to 3. Most recently, Dassey’s appeal for a retrial was denied.

Steven Drizin is a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzer School of Law where he has been on the faculty since 1991. He served as the Legal Director of the Clinic’s renowned Center on Wrongful Convictions from March 2003 to September 2013. At the Center, Drizin’s research focuses on the study of false confessions and policy work supporting efforts to require law enforcement agencies to electronically record custodial investigations. Drizin co-founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) in 2008, the first innocence organisation to focus on representing defendants who were teenagers when wrongfully convicted.

Laura Nirider is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzer School of Law. Nirider specialises in the representation of individuals wrongfully convicted of crimes as children or teenagers.

Previous infamous cases include representing Damien Echols, member of the West Memphis Three, who had been sentenced to death but released in 2011 with Nirider as co-counsel – a case examined by the documentary: West of Memphis. Nirider uses the cases of Echols and Dassey as examples of how media attention can support the trials of wrongful convictions. Nirider also publishes academic articles on interrogations and post-conviction relief. In partnership with the Association of Chiefs of Police, she has co-authored one of the only existing juvenile interrogation protocols.

“The outrage people felt – we wanted to give folks an opportunity to continue the conversation and to learn about constructive ways that we can all channel our outrage about what happened to Brendan – and our outrage about false confessions – into something more positive. Brendan is the foundation of everything we do. We are his lawyers. We are the people that are his voice. Part of my goal is to bring Brendan Dassey in the room with me too.” – Laura Nirider