‘Making a Murderer’: Why Is Brendan Dassey’s Confession So Controversial?

Most fans of the documentary Making a Murderer at least believe in the possibility that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are innocent. Even if filmmakers left out incriminating details and even if Avery has a shady past, there’s still a good chance he’s serving time for a crime he didn’t commit—again.

Even people who believe Steven Avery is guilty have a hard time believing that his accomplice, Brendan Dassey, should have gone to prison. The vulnerable teen was found guilty after investigators obtained a highly controversial confession. And that’s not the only reason why many fans believe Dassey deserves a new trial.

For now, Brendan Dassey is still in prison awaiting the outcome of his multiple appeals. Read on to find out why he never should have gone there in the first place.

Brendan Dassey appears in Netflix's Making a Murderer
Brendan Dassey in Making a Murderer | Netflix

Who is Brendan Dassey?

Before he became a national obsession, Brendan Dassey was just a regular teenage kid living in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. But that all changed in October 2005 with the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.

Dassey was 16 at the time and living with his parents and brothers on the Avery Salvage Yard property. Prior to his conviction, Brendan Dassey was described as an introvert—a shy and quiet kid who liked to play video games. Dassey was also diagnosed with an abnormally low IQ.

What is the Reid technique?

Brendan Dassey sits in a chair and is interrogated by a police officer in Making a Murderer
Brendan Dassey on Making a Murderer | Netflix

The entire interrogation of Brendan Dassey was taped and parts of it were highlighted during the documentary. Investigators use the controversial Reid technique of interrogation, which was developed by polygraph expert John Reid. This type of questioning has received a lot of criticism in the past.

Even though it’s been the standard in police questioning for years, at least one of the nation’s largest police consulting firms opted to stop using it because of the association with false confessions.
Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates made headlines when they announced their intention to stop using the practice.

“Confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information,” Shane Sturman, the company’s president and CEO told Business Insider. “This was a big move for us, but it’s a decision that’s been coming for quite some time. More and more of our law enforcement clients have asked us to remove it from their training based on all the academic research showing other interrogation styles to be much less risky.”

What happened during Brendan Dassey’s interrogation?

Even though their requests for appeals keep getting denied, Brendan Dassey’s legal team continues to fight for the chance to get him a new trial.

“The video of Brendan’s interrogation shows a confused boy who was manipulated by experienced police officers into accepting their story of how the murder of Teresa Halbach happened,” Brandon’s lawyer Laura Nirider said in a statement. “By the end of the interrogation, Brendan was so confused that he actually thought he was going to return to school after confessing to murder.”

A federal judge in Wisconsin who overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey agreed with this assessment. Part of the issues he found was that Dassey also didn’t have a parent present. But that’s not all.

The judge said Dassey was “generally responding to the investigators’ questions with answers of just a few hushed words, a story evolved whereby in its final iteration Dassey implicated himself in the rape, murder and mutilation of Teresa Halbach.”

Will Brendan Dassey get out of jail in 2019?

As of right now, Brendan Dassey is still in jail. But his appeals process is ongoing and some sources speculate he’ll be granted a new trial soon. Thanks to the attention brought on by the documentary Making a Murderer, it’s not beyond reason to expect that Dassey will be released eventually, maybe even this year.

If not, Dassey will be eligible for parole in 2048 at the age of 59.