Roughly one thousand years ago, back in early 2016, everyone was talking about the Netflix true-crime series, Making a Murderer. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’s Emmy-nominated docuseries took what many considered a sympathetic appraisal of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of attacking a woman in 1985, who served 18 years before being exonerated–and then got arrested for raping and murdering photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005. (Halbach’s charred remains were found on Avery’s property.) Avery was tried and convicted, and while his guilt was largely seen as probable (well, not by the signees of this petition), the issue of his nephew Brendan Dassey’s culpability remains much thornier.
A new wrinkle in his ongoing saga developed on Monday morning, when the Supreme Court declined to hear a plea to intervene in Dassey’s case.
The uncertainty surrounding Dassey’s conviction has always been about whether his confession was coerced. As a learning-disabled 16-year-old, Dassey was interrogated four times over a 48-hour period, and video recordings appear to show investigators telling him information about the murder that he does not know. Following the release of the Netflix documentary, Dassey, who is now in his late twenties, became the subject of renewed attention.
After a federal magistrate ruled in 2016 that Dassey’s confession had been coerced, it overturned his conviction and ordered him released. This decision was confirmed in June 2017 by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. But by December of that year, the full en banc Seventh Circuit upheld Dassey’s conviction; the majority found that the police had no coerced Dassey’s confession.
When this case was headed to the Supreme Court, it looked like a potential opportunity to address the phenomenon of false confessions, a topic Netflix has probed elsewhere with its series The Confession Tapes. Ultimately, the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case on Monday morning, sealing Dassey’s fate in prison for now. Perhaps new information about the case will come to light when the forthcoming companion series, Convicting a Murderer, eventually premieres.