Tonight, Tom Fassbender, co-lead investigator in the Steven Avery case, will speak to Dateline NBC in his first-ever TV interview. During the interview, Fassbender will respond to allegations that investigators coerced Brendan Dassey into falsely confessing.
Fassbender did not make an appearance in Netflix’s “Making a Murderer”, which is responsible for bringing Teresa Halbach’s murder, and Steven Avery’s trial, into the worldwide spotlight. Tonight, Fassbender will break his silence, telling NBC’s Andrea Canning that he “just tried to get at the truth.”
Read on to find out what you need to know about Tom Fassbender.
1. Fassbender Says He Did Not Try and Manipulate Brendan
Brendan Dassey was convicted in 2007 of the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, along with his uncle, Steven Avery.
In his interview with Dateline, Fassbender will defend the means through which he acquired a confession from then 16-year-old Brendan Dassey. “It’s easy to armchair quarterback. We didn’t try to manipulate Brendan. We just tried to get at the truth. And I don’t believe it was a false confession. Are there parts of it that he may have not done, I don’t know … I just don’t know.”
Dassey’s attorney, Laura Nirider, argues otherwise. “Those officers wanted that information in the worst way. They got it in the worst way. By feeding to straight to Brendan Dassey,” she tells Dateline.
2. A Federal Judge Ruled That Dassey’s Confession Was Involuntary and Overturned the Conviction in August
In August 2016, a federal judge in Milwaukee overturned Brendan Dassey’s conviction, and ordered that he be released. This week, a state appealed the ruling and arguments were heard by a Chicago court. According to the Chicago Tribune, US Appellate Court Judge Ilana Rovner asked Wisconsin Deputy Solicitor General Luke Berg why he told Dassey, “Let’s get it all out today and then it’s over.” Rovner reportedly said to Berg, “I want you to imagine it is not an average person, but a 16-year-old with a very, very low IQ, who is extremely suggestible. And I would like you very much to concentrate on the ‘suggestible.'” Berg responded by saying that “neither an average person, nor Dassey, would interpret that as meaning he could go home.”
Berg concluded the hearing by referencing a section of Dassey’s confession, in which he says he remembers hearing Teresa Halbach crying. “He remembers the awful smell as she was burned,” says Berg.
3. He Received a ‘Meritorious Service Award’ for His Work on the Avery Case
According to a 2008 post on the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s website, Fassbender received the Meritorious Service Award from The Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators for his work in the Teresa Halbach Homicide/Steven Avery case.
The piece states that the award is “given to a group of members or a team of investigators from a department or from assisting departments who demonstrate the highest degree of professionalism in their respective positions during an investigation or during a multijurisdictional investigation.” It was also granted to Mark Wiegert, Fassbender’s co-lead investigator.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen presented Fassbender and Weigert with the accolade at an annual conference, saying, “This case exemplifies cooperation between law enforcement agencies. It shows what can be done when multiple law enforcement agencies come together on the state and local level, open up lines of communication and focus on a single goal. It is our mission to assist law enforcement, and to do so with the highest level of professionalism and competence. Tom personifies this mission, and he is very deserving of this recognition.”
4. He Has Been a Certified Law Enforcement Officer in Wisconsin for Over 30 Years
According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Fassbender has been certified in law enforcement for over 30 years.
He received his Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before starting a career in law enforcement with the Wisconsin State Patrol. In 1985, writes the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Fassbender became part of the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation, and since 2002, he’s worked in the Special Assignments Bureau investigating homicides, cold homicide cases, and sexual assaults.
5. Dassey’s Ruling Could Take Months
Dassey’s ruling could take months, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. More than 100 people attended the oral arguments this week, which were just one part of the appeals process.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, “There is no timetable for the panel to issue their ruling, but it could take months.”
If judges ultimately decide that Dassey was unfairly convicted, it will be up to the state whether or not he’ll have to be put on trial again. Until then, he remains behind bars at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin.