If you've been watching Making a Murderer, you will have been banging your head against the wall (perhaps metaphorically, perhaps literally) time and time again. The story of Steven Avery - the Manitowoc, Wisconsin man who was sentenced to life imprisonment after being acquitted of a separate crime he spent 18 years in jail for - is unbelievably tense and frustrating viewing.
Even worse, possibly, is the fate of Brendan Dassey, Steven's nephew who - at 16 years old and with an IQ of around 70 - confessed to a crime that nobody is sure he committed.
Brendan's confession is a harrowing thing to watch.
There's no DNA evidence to support the story that prosecutors got out of Dassey. The kid is borderline mentally handicapped. He's a child questioned without a parent present. The questions are pointed at best, dangerously leading at worst.
So why did Brendan Dassey confess to something that he didn't do? Well, Douglas Starr of the New Yorker (via NYMag) explains The Reid Technique - used by interrogator John Reid on murder suspect Darrel Parker - a form of interrogation which mirrors that used on Brendan Dassey:
Reid hooked Parker up to the polygraph and started asking questions. Parker couldn’t see the movement of the needles, but each time he answered a question about the murder Reid told him that he was lying. As the hours wore on, Reid began to introduce a story.
Contrary to appearances, he said, the Parkers’ marriage was not a happy one. Nancy refused to give Parker the sex that he required, and she flirted with other men. One day, in a rage, Parker took what was rightfully his. After nine hours of interrogation, Parker broke down and confessed. He recanted the next day, but a jury found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
The kicker is, of course, that Parker didn't kill his wife; a fact that only came to light after Parker had spent 15 years in prison as an innocent man.
The Reid technique, NY Mag asserts, is widely considered to be a prime method of eliciting false confessions:
The Reid Technique is quite likely to induce false confessions at an alarming rate, and it's premised on the supported notion that nonverbal cues are true indicators of dishonesty rather than nervousness. Unfortunately, it’s caught on in a big way, both in the U.S. and around the world.
NY Mag also notes just how easily Dassey, a young kid of limited intelligence who thought that confessing would allow him to go back home and watch Wrestlemania, told his interrogators anything they wanted to hear:
The similarities to Dassey’s case are striking, even if the details are different and the investig.ations separated by half a century: Through simple persistence, interrogators were able to introduce story lines that had no bearing on reality, but that a vulnerable suspect, tired and confused and increasingly desperate, eventually agreed had happened.