Every so often, we have to retread what happened in real life, not on TV. This episode does a lot of that. This is about Zellner’s filing in 2016, and the fallout from it. It’s a rerun, or a video recap of what we already know from the new evidence found in previous episodes. Ken Kratz goes back on television, this time to say the filing is a “shame.” The Wisconsin state judicial board confirms that it thinks it’s doing the right thing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Zellner isn’t deterred, though — she’s back on the ballistics mission. Even Zellner’s evidence collection is starting to feel rote. Each episode unfurls the same way. She recreates something and, well, wow, something about the evidence presented in the 2006 case doesn’t make sense. In this case, the evidence is the bullet. Zellner recreates the shooting that the defense suggested actually happened. Remember: Buting suggested that the bullet wasn’t fired by Avery, but rather by Roland Johnson, Steven’s landlord. Johnson would shoot at random targets on the property, mainly gophers. He may have shot the bullet that eventually presented as the murder weapon. Then, Zellner suggests, Manitowoc County planted Halbach’s DNA on it via DNA obtained from her home.
As Zellner pursues her petition, Brendan’s lawyers are still fighting against AEDPA, which we first learned about in episode 3. Zellner even says in this episode that trying these cases in a federal court is impossible. She’s more confident with her technique — petitioning the state court. If this show is going to teach us anything, it’s that AEDPA truly sucks. (Shout out to Mel Watt, who made a passionate case against it in episode 4. He’s now the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.)
Still, once more, perhaps with less feeling: Is Brendan Dassey going to be set free? Can Drizin and Nirider defeat AEDPA? Briefly, the courts allow Brendan and his lawyers to believe this may happen. Judge Rovner of the federal court of appeals grants the writ of habeas corpus, writing that the confession was “death by a thousand cuts.” Drizin, ever the obsessive, admits that he’s jealous of the way Rovner wrote the decision. The decision also declares that the state used an “unreasonable application” of AEDPA, that pesky 1996 act. The dissenting opinion — written by the one man on the panel, ahem! — argues that the confession was retrieved using standard interrogation techniques. As for the idea that interrogation techniques are often coercive, eh.
The state ultimately files against the overturned conviction, forcing Nirider and Drizen to file a swift reply. They do, and, shortly after, they get the news that they’ve been denied. Schimel, the Attorney General, reiterates that he believes the confession wasn’t against Brendan’s will. (He does so on TV; he didn’t participate in the Netflix show.) Next up, the case will be retried en banc with the full seventh circuit. In the past 16 years, this has only happened 42 times. The state appears to be protecting its dignity, although it claims to be protecting the family of Teresa Halbach. But Zellner has a point: Wouldn’t Halbach’s memory be respected if Wisconsin ironed out this case? Even if Steven did do it, the case has been mishandled. No one really knows what happened to Halbach.
Which brings us — and the show — to Bobby Dassey. Bobby declined to be interviewed for the show, so there are no recent interviews with him. In 2006, he testified for the prosecution, claiming that he saw Halbach walk toward Steven’s trailer. He also said he saw Halbach’s car when he returned from hunting. But, according to Zellner, new testimony from Bryan Dassey suggests that Bobby lied on the stand. Bobby apparently told Bryan that he saw Halbach leave the property. He lied on the stand, or he lied to Bryan. Zellner’s theory is that Bobby lied in self-interest, concerned that he himself would look like the killer. She supports this with grisly evidence: She examines the Dassey hard drive, which contains search terms for violent pornography. There are also images of young girls drowned and decapitated — this images have all been attributed to Bobby Dassey. Thus, the finger is now pointing at Bobby Dassey, not Ryan Hillegas.
The episode ends with a semi-impassioned monologue from Steven, who wishes he could be at peace. Peace appears to be the mission of this series. Many of the people involved in the case — even the Halbachs, tight-lipped as they are — aren't at peace. Steven's 55th birthday celebration is fraught by the health of his parents. Dolores can barely walk after her surgery. Allan forgets his driver's license on the way to the prison, which prevents him from going inside the courthouse. Barb Tadych is busy campaigning to get a "Barb Tadych" law put in place, a bill that would prevent anyone 16 and under from being interrogated without a parent present. Hell, Nirider and Drizin have hung their careers on this, especially Nirider, who has been working on this case since she was a student. Zellner has staked her reputation on this case. This is her 18th post-conviction trial. At this point in this series, or at this level of the court system, some good peace is hard to find.
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