Brendan Dassey was a 16-year-old Wisconsin boy with intellectual disabilities who was interrogated and confessed to a rape and murder that he did not commit. I still got hope and it’s gotten stronger over the years, you know, and having everybody backing me up, you know, having them stand by my side and I got my own army fighting for me. I’m not done fighting for Brendan Dassey. There are countless people doing hard time in American prisons for crimes they didn’t commit. I’ve interviewed dozens of them for my podcast and now we’re bringing these powerful human stories to your screens. Together we can help shed light on some of the current problems plaguing our criminal injustice system. I’m Jason Flom and this is Brendan Dassey has been stuck behind bars for over 13 long, miserable years since he was just 16 years old.
for over 13 long, miserable years since he was just 16 years old. His story first gained national attention in 2015 when Netflix released the multi-episode documentary “Making a Murderer” that became a true cultural phenomenon. Brendan and his uncle Steven Avery were both convicted of the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach and Brendan is currently serving a life sentence in Wisconsin. He’s continued to maintain his innocence and his lawyers and supporters, myself included, believe with every bone in our bodies that he was coerced into a false confession by police. A new clemency petition hopes to convince Wisconsin governor Tony Evers of Brendan’s innocence and get him released and sent home to his family, at long last, where he belongs. Today we have the first interview ever given by Brendan Dassey. We’re here with Laura Nirider, attorney for Brendan now for 12 years. That’s right. Going on 12 years. Hopefully not for too much longer. You got involved with Brendan’s case at what stage? Brendan was a 10th grader in the public school special education system. That’s who he was, in many ways it’s still who he is. For the first eight years or so that we represented Brendan Dassey, he was a forgotten person. He was sitting alone in a prison cell. I suppose if anybody remembered him it was as a murderer, and then “Making a Murderer” was released on Netflix, streamed by millions of accounts. It was much bigger than we’d ever expected. And suddenly the world was saying Brendan Dassey’s name. Are we ready? Are we recording? Brendan, are you there? Brendan? Brendan, are you there? Yeah, I’m here.
All right. Good, good, good, good. So Brendan, I’ve got to ask you. Tens of millions of people now all over the world, as you know, who have watched “Making a Murderer” have learned about your story, have felt like I did, the sense of outrage and frustration and want to do something. Have you seen the movie? Brendan: No I haven’t. And can you explain, I mean, is that — can you watch it if you wanted to? No, I don’t think I can watch it here. No, they don’t — they don’t get Netflix in prison. Do you want to see the show when you get out? Are you interested? I might, I don’t know if I can though. Yeah. You mean it might be hard to watch? Yeah. You know, more or less because I lived it. So why would I want to watch it again. You got involved with Brendan’s case at what stage? I came back to Northwestern after graduating and for the last 12 years I’ve been building the Center on Wrongful Convictions where we represent Brendan and other kids just like him. Steve Drizin, my colleague on the case, handed me the interrogation video. The same videos that years and years later ended up in “Making a Murderer.” I watched them all and my heart broke and I knew that this is it. This is what I had to do, fight for people like Brendan. What was it about those tapes? These police, going into the interrogation they know or they think they know based on their own investigation that she had been shot in the head. So they’re waiting for Brendan to describe shooting somebody in the head. Remember, this is very important. We already know what happened. Okay. Let’s just be honest. you’re okay, Brendan? Let’s get this out. And he says, “We choked her.” Well, that’s that’s not right. So they say to him, okay, you know, know what else, Brendan, what else did you do to her?
She was stabbed. Still not right. So they start dropping him hints. Something with the head. What else did you guys do? Come on. What he made you do, Brendan. And Brendan says, “We punched her?” He punched her.
And his voice goes up like that like he’s asking a question. He punched her.
And that’s still not right. So it’s like, come on, Brendan, what else? Something with the head.
He’s actually getting colder, something where you get hot and cold — Well, and talk about getting colder, at one point you know, Brendan’s completely at sea and he says, you know, “We cut off her hair?” And this goes on and on and on and finally Brendan, you know, he must get exhausted and he just says: That’s all I can remember. The officers, at that point, say to him, “Brendan, I’m just gonna come out and ask you…” All right, I’m just gonna come out and ask you… Who shot her in the head? And you know, Brendan says, well that was that was my uncle Steven. And then, you know, comes one of the most heartbreaking moments of the entire interrogation because they say to him “Brendan, why didn’t you just tell us that?” And he says: ‘Cause I couldn’t think of it. He was guessing, the whole time he’s guessing and he had to be told the right answer because he couldn’t guess right. After Brendan’s finished confessing they allow his mother into the room for the first time, his mom Barb. She’s been outside in the hallway. And they let her into the room and the cameras are still rolling in the room right and they leave the two of them alone and they’re probably hoping that Brendan’s going to confess to her. And she says to him, “Brendan, did you do this?” And he says, “Not really.” And she goes, “What do you mean not really?” You can just hear him say, “They got to my head.” Did you? Not really. What do you mean not really? They got to my head. A lot of people think that Brendan is the only person to ever confess to a crime he didn’t commit. But that’s not true. There are hundreds of Brendan Dasseys around the world and in fact the interrogation techniques that we all saw being used on Brendan, those are commonly used interrogation techniques. In fact, officers are taught to use those techniques. I can pretty much guarantee that as you’re sitting here watching this today there’s someone being questioned in the United States right now just the same way that Brendan Dassey was questioned. And we know that these techniques are so powerful. They twist the world so much that they can cause not only true confessions but also false confessions. Today’s visiting day, right? Yeah, I’ll be getting a visit from my mom tonight. And they just moved you to a place which is closer to home, which is great. Yeah.
Can you talk about what like your daily life is like. Well I wake up for breakfast at 6:30 and then I go to a day room at 8:15. And I, you know, either play on my tablet or play cards in the day room and then email my family just hang out with the guys here that I consider friends. At 11:30 I eat lunch, and then there’s a count at 12:25 and then there’s another day room at 12:45. I’m usually asleep by like maybe 10:30. One of the great things by the way about the fact that Brendan did move four months ago is he actually earned an early transfer out of maximum security because of the incredible behavior and just the trust that the institution has been placing in him. Now Brendan had a number of jobs at his old institution. He was working with inmates who needed help, vulnerable inmates, taking care of other people helping take care of the institution. And even now you were talking yesterday about helping the elderly, people who can’t get around, pushing the wheelchairs and doing that stuff, right? Yeah I even had to do that yesterday to push someone up to the library. Oh I think it was Laura that asked you if you had a superpower what would it be? That’s right. That’s always one of my favorite questions to ask Brendan. I would want to have the power to heal illnesses and diseases all over the world. And where do you think that comes from? Well I just like helping people so I wanted to help other people in the world. We have filed a petition with the governor of Wisconsin asking that he grant Brendan clemency; that he release Brendan Dassey from prison. Governor Tony Evers is the only person in the world with the power to do that. I get these these messages constantly from people who just think it’s time for Brendan to come home. We’re honored to be in a position where we can hopefully show the governor that it is the right time to do this. Yes and the good news is that by all accounts this governor is a reasonable man. He’s visited a juvenile detention facility, it’s one of the first things he did. That’s right. He did. And he comes from the education system. You know, he was the head of the Wisconsin Board of Education before he assumed the governor’s office. And for those who aren’t familiar with the clemency process clemency is unfortunately an underused power. Different governors have very different approaches to this. Some of them are extremely stingy is one word or sparing and others have granted hundreds including some very conservative governors. Governor Tony Evers was just elected, just sworn into office this past January. So he is restarting this, this pardons apparatus, this pardons power that he has that hasn’t been in place for the past 10 years. So he’s got a bit of a blank slate to work with because this is a state that gives him enormous amounts of power to decide who gets this mercy and who doesn’t. What helps you sort of get through this, Brendan, as this was all happening to you? Where did you find your strength? Mostly having my family support me and have my back. Yeah.
Especially your mom, right? Yeah. That’s incredible. You know, Jason, those letters that Brendan has gotten, you know, Brendan, why don’t you tell him some of the countries that people have sent you letters from. Do you remember some of the countries? Singapore, England, Ireland, Iceland, South America, Canada, United States. You got some from New Zealand, right? Oh yeah. New Zealand too. Yeah, and even Australia, right? Yeah, Australia. It’s amazing. And also some from Wisconsin, right? Yeah. That’s great. Brendan, if there’s something you wanted to say to all the people who believe in you out there, what would you say? That I love them and that I appreciate everything they’re doing for me and supporting me and keep it up and I’m proud of them. Just keep fighting for me and keep showing your love and support. And now this is the part of the show where I get to just kick back in my chair, turn my microphone off and leave it open for you for what I call closing arguments. So anything you want to say about anything. I don’t care if you want to talk about the weather or what you had for lunch yesterday. It’s all up to you to say whatever you want. As we close the show, so Brendan, thanks again and please share us your closing arguments. I don’t know what to say. I love Pokemon and my favorite Pokemon is Mew but there is a new one coming out called Alcremie that I really like and hopefully I get to see some other more new ones coming out pretty soon. Well that’s that’s good enough. And you know I think it’s actually perfect. Thank you for taking the time to learn this important story but please remember it’s not an isolated incident. Best estimates are that ten thousand people are wrongfully convicted in the U.S. each and every year for crimes they didn’t commit and these wrongful convictions mean that the real perpetrator may still be out there. There’s no justice for the victims’ families. And then we all lose when the criminal justice system or injustice system we rely on in a fair and just society becomes corrupted.