Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Teresa Halbach

'I Wanted to See How It Felt'

Brendan Dassey's trial began on April 16, 2007, with Judge Jerome Fox presiding.  The 17-year-old faced three charges: first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and first-degree sexual assault with a dangerous weapon.  His attorneys, Mark Fremgen and Ray Edelstein, who had been assigned to the case by the state public defenders office, maintained that their client was innocent and that because he had a low I.Q., the police were able to manipulate him and coerce a false confession.  But the prosecution contended that although Dassey recanted his confession, the physical evidence — including the rifle, the bullet embedded in the floor of the garage, the victim's bullet-damaged skull, and her charred remains — supported everything that he had originally told the police.

Teresa Halbach's sister Katie took the stand and testified that Teresa owned a pair of Daisy Fuentes jeans.  Expert testimony revealed that rivets found in the fire pit where the same type as those used on that brand of jeans.  Katie Halbach also testified that the lanyard attached to the car key found in Steven Avery's bedroom had been a gift from her to Teresa. 

State DNA expert Sherry Culhane testified that no traces of Teresa's DNA were found on Dassey's clothing, but she also pointed out that his clothes had extensive bleach stains as a result of the garage cleaning that Dassey and his uncle had performed.  Bleach, Culhane said, destroys DNA.

The prosecution called Manitowoc County Detective Anthony O'Neill to the stand and asked him to describe his impressions of Dassey after his first interview with the teenager on the day that Halbach's SUV had been found on the Avery property.  O'Neill testified that he felt that Dassey had been holding back.  Dassey kept asking the police that day, "Do you think he did it?," referring to his uncle.  This struck O'Neill as odd since at that point Teresa Halbach had been listed as a missing person not a homicide.

The jury then heard an 80-minute audiotape of that interview.  When Dassey had been asked if he knew where Halbach was, he repeatedly said, "I don't know where she is."

The prosecution also played a three-hour videotaped interview with Dassey conducted by Special Agent Tom Fassbender of the Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation and Detective Mark Wiegert of the Calumet County Sheriff's Department.  In this interview Dassey confessed to raping Halbach, slitting her throat, and helping to burn her body.  He described the crimes without emotion, even when he said, "I feel really sad because I helped him [Avery]... I feel sad for the family because they lost a daughter."  He went on to say that he should have done something to stop his uncle.

When asked why he raped Halbach, Dassey replied, "I wanted to see how it felt...  Sex."  Later on the tape he said that Avery forced him to rape her and threatened to stab him if he told anyone about it.

Kayla Avery
Kayla Avery

The defense tried to blunt the impact of the taped confession by calling Dassey's 15-year-old cousin, Kayla Avery, to the stand.  Kayla had told the police that Dassey had confided in her that he had seen Halbach tied to a chair in Avery's trailer and that he—Dassey—had seen body parts burning in the fire pit.  But on the stand Kayla testified that her cousin had never told her that.  "He didn't tell me anything," she said.  "I kind of made up the statement."

 

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