There were points as I was watching Making a Murderer where I was confused because I was half paying attention, half fooling around on Reddit, and then there were points where I was genuinely confused because it didn’t make sense. Take for example when Len Kachinsky, Bendan Dassey’s court appointed lawyer, seemingly tried to help the kid get out of jail and then threw him right under the bus almost immediately afterward. Specifically I’m talking about how Kachinsky made a motion to keep Dassey’s confession with the police thrown out of court, then hired investigator Michael O’Kelly who vigorously coerced Dassey into giving yet another taped confession right after.
Hopefully I’m not the only person who fell off the logic train at that point. Kachinsky tries to help the kid out in court, it fails, then hires this other guy to railroad the poor kid into jail? It’d make more sense if Kachinsky tried to curb stomp the kid, failed, then tried a second time with O’Kelly…but he didn’t. He genuinely tried to get Dassey’s original confession thrown out. So what gives with the change of heart? According to an interview Kachinsky recently did with Daily Mail, he says that his role has been “misunderstood”:
‘What [viewers] are missing is on March 1, 2006, before he was charged or had an attorney, Dassey gave a four-and-half hour, videotaped confession to the police. This was used at Dassey’s trial.
‘When I got the case, I read the complaint and soon thereafter, I got the four-and-a-half hour video confession and watched it as quickly as I could.
‘I was concerned about [Dassey’s age and low IQ] so I made a motion to keep it out of evidence but that was denied.’(via)
What we saw in the Netflix show was that Manitowoc County Circuit Court Judge Jerome Fox (gee whiz what a title THAT is) ruled against Kachinsky’s motion, stating that the prosecution could use his confession and that Dassey had in fact NOT been coerced. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant — the point is that Kachinsky tried to help the kid and was shut down by Fox. If you’re looking to fit this in chronologically with the show, we see Kachinsky giving an interview with reporters immediately following the ruling in which he says “This is an extremely important decision that a 16-year-old is going to have to make. I can give him advice, but ultimately it’s his decision.”
What Making a Murderer didn’t tell us explicitly and left up to interpretation was whether or not Kachinsky was trying to screw the kid over with a guilty plea or if he wanted Brendan to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. You’re basically picking the lesser of two evils: kid’s probably going to jail no matter what now that the confession is fair game, so do you want to arrange a guilty plea bargain and be guaranteed to serve less time, or do you want to take your chances pleading innocent and possibly be in prison until you’re 60?
From Kachinsky’s perspective, he says that the videotaped confession from Dassey “would be extremely convincing and if a jury saw it, it didn’t appear to be overly leading or anything else.” And I mean he’s not WRONG — we’re basing Brendan Dassey’s innocence on whether or not the kid is dumb enough to know what’s going on around him. Honestly, I can’t tell. Dassey doesn’t know what “inconsistent” means, but is that because he’s stupid or because he’s surrounded by unintelligent people (for God’s sake his mom doesn’t even know what “inconsistent” means either)? Clearly Kachinsky was hoping that the kid would plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence…
Kachinsky told Daily Mail Online that although he never said so publicly, he thought Dassey had a slim chance of getting off and was trying to do his best for him under the circumstances.
‘I never explicitly told anybody what my strategy was but it was pretty obvious I think to some people, that I was trying to get a good deal for Brendan. I didn’t think he had much of a chance at trial.’
He added: ‘But if Brendan wasn’t going to admit to being involved in the murder, I’m not going to encourage him to take any type of plea deal.’(via)
…but it’s when Kachinsky’s investigator, Michael O’Kelly, becomes involved that the motivations become unclear. According to Kachinsky he brought in O’Kelly because he wasn’t able to get anyone else to join him on the case, and while he’d never heard of the guy prior to enlisting him to help with Dassey’s defense, he did know that O’Kelly had been to law school for “a year or two.” You’d think that would be a solid enough background, but apparently not:
‘I got in Michael O’Kelly because I couldn’t get anyone else. I had never heard of the guy before, he was a wild card.
‘He was from Chicago I think. He becomes my investigator, trying to figure out what’s going on.
‘After the motion was denied on the Friday, I told him to go talk to Brendan in the afternoon.
‘Apparently he videotaped it but that tape was never released to the state or to anyone else.
‘That was only for our internal use – we wanted to find out whether Brendan’s position was that he agreed with his March 1 statement or with his subsequent denials.
‘O’Kelly’s statement was never to be used in evidence. I realize he probably went overboard on some of the stuff he did.
Kachinsky added: ‘The guy had been to law school for a year or two and frankly I didn’t think he needed close supervision but apparently he did. Looking back, I wouldn’t have hired O’Kelly.’(via)
As for the confession that O’Kelly pulled out of Brendan, well, Kachinsky isn’t going to get off scott-free in this article; while the guy’s role in Making a Murderer may have been “misunderstood,” he was also incompetent as hell:
O’Kelly’s interrogation of Dassey led to another confession to the murder, and the teen even provided him with a stick-person drawing of Miss Halbach apparently chained to Avery’s bed.
Kachinsky said: ‘I got a call, at quarter to nine on the Friday night [from O’Kelly]. He said Brendan desperately wanted to give a statement to the police.
‘I had Army Reserve drill in the morning so I couldn’t be there.
‘He [O’Kelly] was going to be there – and if anything was to go awry, he’d call me right away and I had my phone with me the whole day.
‘That interview didn’t go too well for anybody. I saw the recording a week or two later. It wasn’t used as evidence at Dassey’s trial.’(via)
Kachinsky does admit that he should’ve been present for Dassey’s second police interview and says that while he couldn’t pushed back the army drill, he indeed could’ve postponed the interview. In the end, it didn’t really matter — O’Kelly’s interview with Brendan was never used in the trial, nor was his second interview with police. While Making a Murderer never explicitly states that they WERE used, it also never says that they WEREN’T:
‘I don’t know if the show made it clear but it seems a lot of people have the impression that the jury saw the interview that Brendan gave to Bill O’Kelly, and the second interview with police in May, and concluded that led to him being convicted.
‘None of the Bill O’Kelly’s interview or information was used at trial. None of Dassey’s second interview with police investigators was used at trial. The March 1 interview was all that was used at trial.’
Kachinsky added: ‘The state’s view of the whole thing was, we have this March 1 confession of four and a half hours, we’ve got him.’(via)
In reality, all that came of O’Kelly’s and the police’s second interview with Brendan was that Kachinsky got booted off the case by Judge Fox for allowing the second interview to be held without himself present. So really this was all Kachinsky did:
1. Tried to get Dassey’s first interview thrown out of the trial
2. Failed to get Dassey’s first interview thrown out of the trial
3. Hired a private investigator who actively tried to get Dassey convicted
4. Let Dassey be interviewed by police without himself present
5. Got himself booted off the case
Considering that Kachinsky was genuinely trying to help the kid, it appears that the O’Kelly/police debacles were due to him being a shitty lawyer rather than a guy trying to throw this kid in jail for life.
And if that’s not enough to convince you that Kachinsky was just a terrible lawyer and didn’t have any ulterior motives with regards to Brendan’s conviction, he goes on to say that Brendan has pressure from both his and the Avery family to not testify against Steve Avery:
Kachinsky said: ‘They were telling him not to cooperate with the state and drop the dime of Uncle Steve.
‘It would have given Brendan the better deal, if he was going to testify truthfully against Uncle Steve.
‘Helping the prosecution in their case against Avery would have been a by-product of that.’
Kachinsky said he was convinced Dassey’s confession would led the jury to find him guilty.
‘In some cases you want to fight the state to the last juror. Some cases are damage control and given the strength of evidence against Dassey and the strength of the confession, this was damage control,’ he said.(via)
As much as I hated the guy while I was watching the series I do have to agree with him: the main play here was damage control. The prosecution’s main evidence was that Dassey CONFESSED to the murder, and when Judge Fox ruled that the confession was perfectly usable in court what the heck was Kachinsky supposed to do? The kid was screwed unless he took a plea bargain, meaning he would’ve had to testify against Steven Avery, which of course, his family is telling him NOT to do. It’s an un-winnable case.
Personally, I’ve got a much better appreciation for Kachinsky now than I did while watching Making a Murderer — however if you’re still not convinced that he was just a guy way in over his head, he did take the time to clear the air and say the documentary’s suggestion that he was disloyal to his client was completely untrue:
‘If you labelled a defense attorney disloyal every time the client says “I’m innocent” and the attorney says back, well I don’t think the evidence is very helpful to us, then every attorney out there has been disloyal at some point.
‘There is nothing that I did in the course of the case that made life any more difficult for his subsequent attorneys.’
… ‘I wasn’t surprised by the verdict or the length of sentence.
‘Part of the reason for the length of the sentence I’m sure was that the judge was aware that Dassey knew he had alternatives.
‘That’s why he got more time than he would have done otherwise had he been willing to testify against Steve.(via)
He goes on to estimate that had Dassey taken a plea bargain, he could’ve been released form prison sometime in the 2030’s.
Despite the way events played out, Kachinsky says that while he never made any personal judgment on whether or not Dassey was innocent, he does say that he can “understand how the jury came to the verdict they did.”
[H/T Daily Mail]