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Lawyers Seek to Free Inmate Featured in 'Making a Murderer'

Brendan Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 in photographer Teresa Halbach's death on Halloween two years earlier

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    NEWSLETTERS

    (Published Thursday, June 22, 2017)

    Attorneys for a Wisconsin inmate featured in the Netflix series "Making a Murderer" petitioned for his immediate release Friday after a federal appeals court ruled that his confession was coerced.

    Lawyers for Brendan Dassey filed papers Friday with the Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals asking that he be released on his own recognizance, saying Thursday's decision by a three-judge appeals panel left no reason for further delays.

    The state is unlikely to prevail in any further appeals or if it retries the case without his confession, they wrote, but said those appeals could prolong Dassey's time in prison "by months, if not years."

    The court gave prosecutors until 5 p.m. Monday to file a response.

    Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 in photographer Teresa Halbach's death on Halloween two years earlier. Dassey told detectives he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach at the Avery family's Manitowoc County salvage yard. Avery was sentenced to life in a separate trial.

    Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said earlier Friday that the state would take whatever steps are necessary to keep Dassey behind bars. He said it would be dangerous to release him, given the seriousness of the crime. Speaking on WTMJ-AM, Schimel said his initial move would be asking the full 7th Circuit to review the panel's decision.

    A federal magistrate judge overturned Dassey's conviction in August, ruling that investigators coerced a then-16-year-old Dassey, who suffers from intellectual challenges, into confessing. That court said Dassey, now 27, should be freed, but put a hold on his release pending the appeal.

    In a 2-1 decision, the appeals panel affirmed that court's ruling, saying "no reasonable court" could have any confidence that Dassey's confession was voluntary.

    Avery is pursuing his own appeal in state court. He and Dassey contend they were framed by police angry with Avery for suing Manitowoc County over his wrongful conviction for sexual assault years earlier.

    Their cases gained national attention in 2015 after Netflix aired "Making a Murderer," a multi-part documentary looking at Halbach's death and the ensuing investigation and trials. Authorities insisted the series was biased.

    Karnowski reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke contributed from Milwaukee.