Jan 12, 2016

Misconduct in Manitowoc: Police Induced False Confession, Say Expert and Attorney

Manitowoc County in east-central Wisconsin
(blackened in image) is located deep in Republican
territory, a region notorious for corrupt police
and law enforcement. 'Where did all that cocaine
from the evidence room go?' National reporters should ask
sources surrounding Manitowoc County about an
array of open secrets not flattering to police. Local
Wisconsin journalists certainly will not.
Updated - In Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos' documentary series, Making a Murderer (on Netflix), the cast of uncharged criminals wear a badge or have sworn an oath. They all work for law enforcement.

The prosecution's most damning witness, Brendan Dassey, had an IQ below 70 and was 16-years-old.

Police investigators played Dassey's condition to the hilt, working with a corrupt Manitowoc County Sheriff Dept. and District Attorney's office to wrongfully convict two innocents, Dassey and Steven Avery, featured in the film series.

After [Brendan Dassey] confessed to helping his uncle rape and kill the photographer, [Brendan] Dassey asked police if he could go back to school to make his 1:30 class; amid a similar admission, [another innocent cognitively challenged Clarence] Burcham asked if he could go on a family camping trip.

'To me, that's pretty clear evidence that they don't really understand what's going on here,' [Lawrence White, a psychology professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin,] said. The men maybe thought, "I'm not going to go to prison for this, because I'm innocent. It'll all get straightened out." And they're very naive to think that.' (Lyden, InForum)
That law enforcement investigators induce false confessions (and lie about confessions) comes as no surprise to retired public defender, Reesa Evans.

Ms. Evans is a retired attorney who in 1999 referred Avery to the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP) just after the University of Wisconsin-Madison established an Innocence Project chapter in 1998.

Ms. Evans had been appointed by the Court to represent Avery in 1985. MIP Legal Director Tricia Bushnell is now assisting as local Wisconsin counsel for Steven Avery.

In December 1985, Steven Avery was convicted of a vicious rape, prosecuted by many of the same unsavory bunch of Manitowoc County officials who evidence shows later framed Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach, as asserted in the 2005-06 trial, after Avery was exonerated and after he served 18 years in prison.

Freed in 2003, Avery filed a $36 million federal civil suit against Manitowoc County, naming several law enforcement officials as defendants.

The law enforcement officials exacted their revenge on Avery.

In an exclusive interview, Avery's 1985 attorney, Reesa Evans, says "bad faith" and systemic breakdowns in law enforcement in the criminal justice system lead her to the conclusion that part of the oath of office prosecutors take is often ignored, the commitment to see justice done.

Evans said also she is sympathetic to Brendan Dassey's false confession.

"It's difficult to understand false confessions. They happen more than people realize. Unless you have been through it, you do not realize the pressures involved," said Evans. "Interrogations involve an isolated situation with multiple cops, you can understand people would start feeling guilty when they are innocent. Investigators lie, they often will say, 'tell us this, and you can go home,' right before making an arrest."

Evans was invited last year to the premier of Making a Murderer in New York. She made the trip, viewed the first two episodes and said the series is "amazing."

Still, Evans found the series upsetting. "It was very difficult and most of all emotionally upsetting. All the feelings of powerlessness and frustration, [Dassey and Avery] went through," Evans said.

Evans is living in central Wisconsin. She did an interview with Newsweek, but said she is declining future interview requests about the documentary series.

"Laura and Moira interviewed me for about 15 hours. It's an amazing accomplishment. The series is looking at the flawed criminal justice system, as much as this particular case," said Evans.

In the 1985 case in which Avery was proven innocent, Evans notes likely prosecutorial misconduct, specifically possible Brady violations, the duty of the prosecution to disclose materially exculpatory evidence in the government's possession to the defense.

"There were possible exculpatory house-to-house results of police interviews that were not disclosed before [the 1985 trial and conviction of Avery for which he exonerated after serving 18 years]," said Evans.

In the second 2005-06 case against Avery in which Evans was not involved, Evans said she had not ever heard of a "preventative detention" and other misconduct to which Avery was subjected after he filed his civil suit.

Notes John Ferak in the Appleton Post Crescent:

Manitowoc County Sheriff's Lt. James Lenk and Sgt. Andrew Colborn were suspected of becoming aware of evidence during the 1990s that Avery did not commit the 1985 rape and ignoring the information, while Avery remained in prison. In October 2005, less than three weeks before Teresa Halbach is murdered, Lenk and Colborn were questioned during a sworn deposition connection with Avery's $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County. After Halbach disappeared, Lenk and Colborn thrust themselves into the investigation, focusing on Avery. Colborn interviewed Avery the same night Halbach is reported missing. Lenk interviewed Avery the next morning. Lenk approached Halbach's vehicle after it was found. Lenk found the keys to Halbach's vehicle inside Avery's bedroom in plain view after officers from Calumet County, the state Division of Criminal Investigation.

One hopes for criminal justice reforms revolutionary in nature in the face of the putative and defective system Robert Jackson warned us about in 1940.

In the meantime, trust in law enforcement is misplaced. You want to walk, don't talk because police lie.

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