Attorneys work to give Dassey hope of life outside prison.


Byline: Michaela Paukner,

Brendan Dassey's legal team is advocating for what they are calling Dassey's best chance at a life outside prison.

Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, directors of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and Seth Waxman, former U.S. solicitor general, filed a petition for clemency on Oct. 3.

Dassey, a subject of the Netflix series "Making a Murderer", confessed that he and his uncle, Steven Avery, raped and murdered the photographer Teresa Halbach in Manitowoc County in 2005. Dassey was then 16 years old. He and Avery were convicted in 2007 and have been serving out life sentences since.

Dassey's lawyers say he's borderline intellectually disabled and argue police officers manipulated him into confessing. An appeals court in 2017 upheld the ruling convicting Dassey. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not hear Dassey's case.

Now, as Dassey turns 30, his lawyers are asking Gov. Tony Evers to give him a chance at freedom by granting him a pardon or commutation of his life sentence. The Wisconsin Law Journal talked one-on-one with Nirider, Drizin and Waxman on the day they filed the petition.


Wisconsin Law Journal: When did you first hear about Dassey's case, and why did you decide to take it?

Nirider: In 2007, I was a third-year law student at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. I thought I had my career planned out as a business lawyer, a commercial litigator. I had already accepted a job, and I signed up on a whim for Steve Drizin's class on wrongful convictions. This happened to be four months after Brendan Dassey had been convicted. I remember it very clearly. Steve called me into his office, handed me Brendan's interrogation videos, the same videos that made it into "Making a Murderer" years later, and he told me to watch them. I took those videos home and watched them from start to finish, and my heart broke. I knew that I had to do something to try to help, so no more business law, no more commercial litigation for me. After graduating, I came back to help Steve develop the Center on Wrongful Convictions for Juveniles, where we've been representing Brendan and many other kids just like him.

Drizin: In October of 2007, after Brendan had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the Wisconsin Innocence Project asked me if I would represent Brendan on appeal. They were having a hard time finding any public defenders...

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