Netflix Sensation “Making a Murderer” Highlights Work of Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth

January 12, 2016

Last month, Netflix debuted Making a Murderer, a 10-part documentary series about Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man convicted of sexual assault in 1985, only to be exonerated by DNA evidence and released in 2003. In 2005, while he had a $36 million civil lawsuit pending against the county and law enforcement leaders, he was arrested for the murder of a 25-year-old woman last seen on his property.

In 2007, the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) took up the case of Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was 16 years old at the time of the crime. During the course of the investigation into Avery’s case, Dassey was interrogated without a lawyer or parent present, resulting in a confession his lawyers and many viewers of the documentary believe was clearly coerced. Northwestern Law Professors Steven Drizin, Laura Nirider, and Thomas Geraghty have represented Dassey through his appeals process and feature prominently in Episode 10 of the documentary.

Coverage of CWCY’s involvement and the future of Dassey’s case has been widespread.

From Esquire:

Dassey, who in 2007 was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for being a party to first-degree intentional homicide, is still fighting to prove his innocence. Helping him do so are two attorneys, Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin of Bluhm Legal Clinic at the Northwestern University School of Law. Dassey's lawyers claim that law enforcement used psychological interrogating tactics that "overbore [Brendan's] will and exceeded his personal ability to resist due to his age, intellectual limitations and high suggestibility." They also argue that, by pursuing a potential plea agreement with prosecutors, his pretrial attorney, Len Kuchinsky, was not looking out for his best interests. After being denied in their appeals to the Wisconsin state court system, Dassey's case is in now in the hands of a federal judge.

From Rolling Stone:

"The tactics that you see on the [Dassey] interrogation tape are all too common," Dassey's attorney, Laura H. Nirider, tells Rolling Stone. (Nirider is a project director at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.) "They were designed originally for seasoned adult criminals, and what you see on the tape is them being used on a 16-year-old with intellectual disabilities. As a result, you see these powerful psychological tactics designed for adults absolutely steamroll Brendan."

From Huffington Post Live:

Netflix's docuseries "Making A Murderer" has America wondering whether or not Steven Avery is in prison for a crime he didn't commit. We discuss reactions, details that were omitted from the show and what to make of America's criminal justice system. (Featuring Steven Drizin, attorney representing Brendan Dassey; Jenn Karlman, Anchor, Fox5 San Diego, covered Steven Avery murder trial; and Dean Strang, one of Steven Avery’s trial lawyers.)

From the Chicago Reader:

Northwestern law professor Steven Drizin, a cofounder of the center, says their team spent two years investigating the case and came up with striking new evidence: one of Dassey's own court-appointed attorneys, Len Kachinsky, and an investigator working for him, Michael O'Kelly, had "essentially conspired to coerce a confession out of Brendan" in order to get him to testify against his uncle, and had then allowed him to be interrogated by the police without his attorney present. "We were floored," Drizin says.

From NBC Chicago:

“We’re hopeful is what I would say,” Drizin said. “The deeper you go into this system, whether it’s in the state court system or the federal court system, the harder it is to win. We’ve won cases in federal court before and we’re hoping that this is another one that we’ll win.”

Visit our In the News page for additional coverage. For more information on the work of CWCY and how interested viewers can help, visit the center’s website and read an action agenda (pdf) written by Drizin.