“Torn from the headlines” has been the mantra of television news magazine shows for years, and more podcasters are using the same tactic to attract listeners. Veteran music industry executive Jason Flom, who created and hosts the Wrongful Conviction podcast, is doing that just. His show just scored the first-ever interview with Brendan Dassey, whose case was the center of the “Making a Murderer” documentary series on Netflix. It dropped Wednesday, the same day that Dassey’s attorneys petitioned for clemency to be granted.
Dasesey’s story began in 2006 when he gave a videotaped confession to the murder and sexual assault of Teresa Halbach. That confession – which was extracted after he was interrogated four times over 48 hours – has been widely recognized as false and coerced due to Dassey's inability to describe the crime accurately without being directed by his interrogators. Dassey recanted his confession immediately after he made it, and no other evidence tied him to Halbach's disappearance. But he was convicted nevertheless and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole until 2048. Then in 2016, two separate courts threw out his confession and overturned his conviction before a federal appeals court in Chicago reversed course, arguing that the Constitution doesn't recognize the falsity of a confession as a reason to overturn a conviction. He remains in a Wisconsin jail. He won’t be eligible for parole for nearly 30 years. On Wednesday attorney Laura Nirider and her team filed a petition with Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers asking that he grant Dassey clemency.
In the latest Wrongful Conviction episode, Flom visited Dassey in prison and interviewed him over the phone for the podcast. "I just wanted it all over with," said Dassey. "So, I said whatever they wanted to hear, you know?" The episode also features Nirider in a conversation that touches on hope, resilience, and the fact that Dassey, who will turn 30 years old on Oct. 19, has spent nearly half of his life in prison for a verdict the courts have said was wrongful.
Flom sits on the board of the Innocence Project and has championed criminal justice reform."It's counterintuitive to think that anybody would confess to a crime they didn't commit," Flom says. "Yet studies show that false confessions are a key factor in at least one out of every four of wrongful convictions. This phenomenon is particularly common among adolescents and people with mental challenges, but we know that everyone, from all walks of life, has a breaking point. It's not hard to understand that under enough duress, a false statement could be coerced."
Wrongful Conviction is a production of Lava For Good Podcasts in association with Signal Co. No1 and PRX.