The Netflix series Making a Murderer has flung open the prison doors: Brendan Dassey may be walking free after a nearly a decade.
In 2007, Dassey was found guilty of first-degree homicide, second-degree sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 41 years. But in a 91-page ruling issued Aug. 12, a Wisconsin judge overturned Dassey’s conviction.
Dassey was one of two key characters, along with his uncle Steven Avery, in the popular Netflix series documenting the investigation of the 2005 Halloween night murder of 30-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach, and the trials that followed. The show, created and produced by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, questioned the conviction of both Dassey and Avery. It proved enormously popular, and was watched by almost 20 million viewers. The series also generated an outpour of support for the pair in prison, including a Change.org petition with over half a million supporters and a petition for a presidential pardon, which garnered over 130,000 signatures.
In the ruling that overturned Dassey’s conviction, the judge criticized his defense lawyer’s “misconduct” and called out the case investigators for “repeatedly [claiming] to already know what happened on October 31” and making “false promises” to him, thereby twisting the narrative. The judge argued that Dassey’s confession should be considered “involuntary” since he was only 16 at the time of the murder and he had “intellectual deficits.” The court ordered that Dassey be released from prison in 90 days unless the authorities schedule a new trial in that time.
The is the third time in recent years that a documentary has driven real-life events that changed the life of its main character. In March 2015, Robert Durstwas arrested by FBI agents in New Orleans the day before he appeared to implicate himself for murder in scenes of the last episode of HBO’s documentary The Jinx. In June of 2016, Adnan Syed, whose murder conviction was at the center of the hit podcast Serial, was granted a new trial after 16 years in prison. Even if neither Dassey nor Syed are exonerated, these series have successfully unveiled the shortcomings of the justice system when they were tried for the first time. And
In July, Netflix confirmed that there would be a second season of Making a Murderer. If Season 2’s promise of exclusive access to intimate characters associated with the case wasn’t enough, Dassey’s newfound hope for retrial is sure to drive new drama.