It is incumbent upon police to corroborate confessions. This is written in stone by decades of appellate court rulings. I can find no indication (at least at this point in the documentary) that either Calumet or Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Offices ever attempted in any way to corroborate Brendan Dassey’s impossible story.
“Then why,” you ask, “would anybody confess to a crime they did not commit, especially murder?” Well, there are many reasons, and a discussion of that topic alone would fill volumes. Suffice it to say, however, that coerced confessions, sadly, are a fact of judicial life. As an example, it is estimated that in the recent wave of thousands of DNA exonerations of men wrongly-convicted for rape, approximately 25% of them ‘confessed’ to the crime prior to, or during trial.
An excellent example of how this happens was provided by the videotape of the interrogations of Brendan Dassey. Watching those tapes, I began to experience a nauseating feeling of déjà vu.
I am involved with the case of Christopher Tapp, a man wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of a woman in Idaho Falls, Idaho approximately 18 years ago. Police in that case became (mistakenly) convinced that the person who committed the murder was a man named Ben Hobbs. Chris Tapp was one of Hobbs’ best friends and police brought Tapp in for a series of interrogations, hoping to have him implicate Hobbs. Tapp did not possess exceptional intelligence, and was an 18-year-old easily manipulated kid. The police got him in a room and convinced him to provide evidence against his friend by telling him that if he cooperated with them, he would have no criminal liability, but that if he refused to cooperate, he would be convicted, and if he was lucky, he might avoid the death penalty and spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. (It bears mentioning that the DNA of the murderer matches neither Tapp nor Hobbs.)
Of course it does, but because that's what happened in Dassey’s case. Crucial evidence that would be known only to the murderer (that Halbach was killed by a gunshot to the head) was fed to Dassey. Then, after the information was given to him and he repeated it, the police used his “culpable knowledge” of the specific details of the crime as corroboration of his culpability. In neither the Tapp nor the Dassey case, however, did the suspects have any real idea of the actual facts of the case.
In Dassey’s interrogation, the attempts by co-lead investigators Calumet County Sheriff Sergeant Mark Wiegert and Wisconsin Department of Justice Special Agent Tom Fassbender to have Brendan say that Halbach had been shot in the head would have been comical if they didn’t involve such terrible issues and have such dire implications. Dassey obviously had no idea at all of the facts of Halbach’s murder. His insbility to specify correctly how she was killed obviously wasn't because he was afraid of culpability, because he had already admitted that they killed her, so the method of her death would have no impact on the situation. When he did not, however, come up with the correct answers, Wiegert and Fassbender’s frustration triggered mistakes and short-cuts. It was if there was a clock running, and if they didn't have a confession by a certain day, there would be a problem.
There's always tomorrow. Both Dassey and Avery were in custody. There was no threat to the community (at least according to the Sheriff's Office), therefore there was no need to rush the investigation. What might have triggered that rush? Likely, the fear that Dassey or his family would certainly get a lawyer if he was arrested, and the lawyer wouldn't have let Dassey talk to the investigators anymore.
Dassey: “I stabbed her.”
Wiegert: “Something with the head.” (Note, he gave away the fact that Halbach was not stabbed in the head--a real possibility.)
Fassbender: “What else did you guys do?”
Wiegert: “What else did he make you do? We know he made you do something else. We have the evidence; we just need you to be honest with us."
Dassey: “He cut off her hair.”
Wiegert: “He cut off her hair?”
Dassey: “He punched her.”
Dassey: “Cut her.”
Dassey: “That’s all I can remember.”
Dassey: “He did.”
Wiegert: “Why didn't you tell us that?”
The other disturbing familiarity in Dassey’s case which is so bothersome to me after working cases of wrongful conviction of Knox and Tapp, is the fact that the person who was wrongfully convicted was not originally brought in as a prime suspect in the case. In each case, the person was brought in, in order for the police to obtain from them testimony against a different suspect. In each case, the victim could not describe the crime, and in each case the police browbeat them until they wrongfully admitted involvement in the crime in some way shape, facet or degree. Each time, the police were then forced to charge the “witness,” because to do otherwise would make them look foolish.
The show makes a compelling case for the fact that Dassey was Steven Avery's alibi, and the authorities believed his alibi to be a lie. To destroy that alibi and convince the public of Avery’s guilt, they went after Dassey.
A similar concern, though possibly less crucial is the fact that the detectives not only interviewed a minor without his parent’s permission, they lied to him and told him that they had talked to his mother and his mother told him to talk to them. This lie specifically overrode this minor’s right to remain silent. In essence, any statement that day should be inadmissible.
So where does this leave us after Episode 3? First, anything Dassey says about the murder in those interrogations up to and including March 1, are fiction. Those confessions should, and statements made by Dassey should be inadmissible in any court of law and any past legal action based even in part on those should be reversed.
I am convinced now that there was target fixation on Steven Avery by both the Manitowoc and Calumet County Sheriff’s Offices, and the investigation of Halbach’s murder was tainted by their early conviction that Avery was the killer. This does not mean, to me, that Avery didn’t kill Halbach. At this point in the investigation, I would still consider him a strong suspect, even in light of the attempt to use Dassey’s trumped-up ‘confession.’
THEORIES WHICH I CONSIDER VALID:
- Halbach was likely lured to a location where the killer could overpower or control her without being discovered.
- Avery’s property was just such an area.
- Halbach disappeared at a time that Avery knew that his nearest neighbor, Brendan Dassey, would be in school.
- The killer had a method in place (or available) to dispose of Halbach’s body before he killed her. Disregarding incredible coincidence, this indicates substantial pre-planning and at least some level of criminal sophistication.
- Steven Avery was, according to the evidence available to me as of Episode 3, the last person to see Halbach alive.
Doubt has been raised in my mind (theatrically if not factually) about the RAV4 key that was found in Avery's room. Obviously, the producers have foreshadowed a potential planting of that key, but have not resolved this line of thought. However, I assume that in a later episode, the producers are going to produce some type of evidence which will indicate that the key was planted. They spent several film minutes establishing a doubt about the finding of the key, (a lot in a 1 hour documentary), and this was obviously done for a reason. I suspect from the producer's creative decisions, that the key will be pivotal--at least in the minds of some people.
However, at this point, even if the key was planted; the location of the RAV4, the fact that the burned bones were found in close proximity to Avery’s residence, and the fact that Avery had caused Halbach to be at his location that day, still cause me to lean toward Steven Avery’s probable involvement in her murder. He has never alleged anything (to this point in the documentary) that would indicate he saw people planting evidence or has anything beyond circumstantial evidence to claim that defense.
Perhaps the person who best expressed my current leaning (not conclusion) in this matter was Reesa Evans in E3, Steven Avery's appointed lawyer in his ill-fated 1985 rape defense.
“I don't know,” Evans said, “seems a little too sophisticated for the Steven I knew. What happened all those years [in prison] has a lot to do with it, it developed him into someone that he wasn't when he started.”
It's telling that his own attorney never claimed that his character and personality ruled him out as a suspect. She said only that the crime seemed a little too "sophisticated" for the man she knew in 1985.
Maybe it was too sophisticated for him then. Prison is more than incarceration; it is a graduate school in crime. After 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (the same length of time as Avery served for the rape conviction) Christopher Tapp assured me that prison changes a person. While sitting in the cell block at the Idaho State Prison in Boise, he told me that a person can’t survive in prison society without learning the 'societal' rules, learning how to protect ones self, and being exposed every day to violent people, their ideas, and their thoughts.
“You become an inmate, you think like an inmate, and you better act like an inmate, or you will be a victim."