A jury convicted a 17-year-old boy Wednesday of raping a photographer and helping his uncle, whose previous brushes with the law brought attention to the case, kill her and burn her body.
Brendan Dassey was convicted of homicide, sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse in the death of Teresa Halbach, 25, on Halloween 2005.
His uncle, Steven Avery, 44, was convicted last month of her murder and is awaiting sentencing June 1. He previously served 18 years in prison for rape before being exonerated by DNA evidence and freed in 2003.
Dassey faces sentencing Aug. 6. Both he and Avery face mandatory life terms on the homicide charge.
Mike Halbach, Teresa’s brother, said his family was relieved the two cases were over.
“Hopefully Teresa can now enjoy her time in heaven instead of worrying about us,” he said. “We’re sending both of them to prison.”
During the nine-day trial, Manitowoc County Circuit Judge Jerome Fox allowed prosecutors to show the jury a three-hour videotaped statement in which Dassey detailed how Halbach was raped and killed. The teen later recanted the confession.
‘I don’t know’
Unlike his uncle, who never took the witness stand at either trial, Dassey testified in his own defense, saying he had lied when he told of going to Avery’s home, seeing Halbach shackled nude in a bed, raping her and helping Avery kill her and burn the body.
He said he made up the story but may have taken some details from a book he read.
“I don’t know,” he answered repeatedly when asked why he would say such things.
The prosecution argued that evidence such as leg irons and handcuffs in Avery’s bedroom and two bullets — one with Halbach’s DNA on it — matched what the teen had told investigators.
Avery’s trial drew widespread attention because he had served 18 years in prison for a 1985 rape before DNA evidence showed he didn’t commit that crime. Released in 2003, he claimed he was framed for the Halbach murder by the same sheriff’s department he was suing for the wrongful conviction.
Halbach disappeared after going to the Avery family’s auto salvage yard to photograph a minivan Avery’s sister was selling through Auto Trader Magazine. Her cousins later found her vehicle in the lot, partially concealed by branches, pieces of wood and car parts.
Investigators found charred fragments of her bones in a pit behind Avery’s garage and in a barrel, along with her camera and cell phone.
In closing arguments, special prosecutor Tom Fallon said Dassey accepted his uncle’s invitation to rape Halbach because he wanted to know what sex was like. He helped kill her and burn her body to dispose of the evidence of the crimes, he said.
But defense attorneys argued there was little that tied Dassey to Halbach’s death, other than what they claim was a false confession.
“What we don’t see up until this point and have not heard is anything scientific that matches Brendan Dassey, that places Brendan Dassey at Steven Avery’s at the date and time of the killing. No DNA. No fingerprints,” defense lawyer Mark Fremgen said.