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Among the law enforcement officers, investigators, attorneys, and courtroom players depicted as villains in the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, no one embodied ‘evil incarnate,’ nor was anyone’s effort at concealing their own evil even close to that put forth by Brendan Dassey’s first defense attorney, Len Kachinsky. The blonde, bespectacled appointed attorney first makes an appearance in Episode 4 of Making a Murderer, after Dassey has been arrested and charged with murder following his March 2006 confession, in which he admits to having helped his uncle, Steven Avery, kill Teresa Halbach.
At the start of his involvement as counsel for Dassey, Kachinsky admits that he knows the Dassey case will be the most challenging of his career. His words are accompanied by his ever-present “Aw, shucks” smile and a “local yokel” demeanor that does not quite cover up the fact that underneath, he thinks he is a big shot whose time in the limelight has come. He readily admits that prior to being appointed as Dassey’s lawyer, he suffered a blow to his ego when he took third place in a primary election to choose a new circuit judge. He says that when he received the call, he was very aware of his client’s case, as it “had been all over the news.” How exciting it must have been for Kachinsky, after such a painful loss, to have the chance of redemption on a statewide – even nationally – known case. The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is the ignorance of somebody in power. Clearly, Kachinsky is intelligent; he has, after all, graduated from law school and become an attorney. However, it is best to never confuse intelligence with common sense. As such, he jumps right into his new role, one for which is he woefully under-equipped, and into a much wider public spotlight.
Kachinsky’s first public act, before he has ever met his new client, is to tell the press that although his client is “morally and legally responsible,” his actions came as a result of the influence of Steven Avery, who Kachinsky describes as “evil incarnate.” Making a Murderer also shows the attorney as he further reveals he is already considering asking prosecutors for a plea bargain for Dassey. Again, the lawyer has yet to meet the client, but he is already telling the public at large that the 16-year-old is guilty. Right away, it is clear how unprepared he is for the greatest challenge of his career.
Attempts to have Dassey’s confession thrown out as coerced are futile. A statement given by Kachinsky to reporters after the ruling further highlights how completely overwhelmed he is in his new role. There would possibly be some sort of sympathy generated for him if it was not for the fact that he never seems to question that he might be in way over his head. He is so nervous to be addressing reporters like a real, true attorney that he stumbles over his words and asks the media if they can “start over.” He expresses disappointment that Dassey’s confession will stand and says that he and his client will meet to discuss options the next week. That schoolboy smile is a permanent fixture and he says that all he can do is “give him advice, but ultimately it’s his (Dassey’s) decision.” What a shame that neither Kachinsky nor his investigator, Mike O’Kelly, ever give their client a chance to make it.
Under Kachinsky’s bone-headed direction, O’Kelly “interviews” Dassey alone. It becomes clear that the entire episode is a cleverly engineered and masterfully played way to get Dassey to confess on paper the details of his original, allegedly coerced statement regarding his involvement in the rape and murder of Halbach. There is only one reason why this is so important to Kachinsky and O’Kelly – and that is to bolster the prosecution’s case against Avery. When Dassey is unable to describe what O’Kelly wants him to, and despite frequent statements by Dassey that the details in his prior confession never took place, the seasoned investigator resorts to having the young man draw pictures of the events as O’Kelly feeds him details. He ensures Dassey’s cooperation with carefully worded threats of never seeing his family again, and by claiming that only if Dassey does what O’Kelly wants him to will the teen ever see the outside of prison.
When Dassey’s mother, Barb Tadych, discovers that the investigators want her son to sign a plea deal, and after speaking with him via telephone, she realizes that he is being railroaded into pleading guilty by Kachinsky, O’Kelly, and the rest. “Your attorney believes you did it……..He wants to put you away, Brendan.” Tadych initiates proceedings to have Kachinsky replaced “because he’s not helping my son.” It comes as no surprise that during the proceedings, a struggling Dassey makes for an unhelpful witness to his own case. The motion is denied, after which Kachinsky offers his own opinion regarding the letter written by Dassey to the judge in which he asked for new counsel.
The smirk never leaves the attorney’s face as he reads bits of the letter. His disdain for his client is evident as he mocks Dassey’s version of events, writing it off as an “alibi.” He adds that Tadych encouraged her son to write the letter and that doing so seems “dumb” to him, because in order to muddy the waters in the Avery case in hopes of getting her brother off, she is essentially throwing her son to the wolves. It never occurs to him that the reason Dassey’s statements are inconsistent is because they are untrue, because Kachinsky has already voiced his opinion (publicly, and from the very beginning) that his client is guilty of the crime. The sad, naive postscript at the end of Dassey’s letter, in which he tells the judge that he and his mother like him and think he’s “a good judge,” is also fair grounds for Kachinsky’s derision, who is incapable of seeing that his client’s closing comment is something one might expect of an 8-year-old child; not a teen of almost 18. His ego is in full charge as he makes it clear that his client and, by association, his mother, are fully without the mental capability to make a decision regarding his removal as their attorney. He throws in a smug chuckle, just in case it was not clear enough before.
Any misgivings Kachinsky might have regarding his decision to allow his client to be interviewed alone by O’Kelly are not due to his own failing as an adequate defender of his client. He maintains that although it was not a mistake to do so, he would not do it again because “of all this,” which, of course is accompanied by the pie-eating, aw-shucks grin. This is a man who has no earthly clue of how woefully unqualified he is to represent Dassey, and his aspirations refuse to allow him any type of introspection that might lead him to this conclusion.
Although the motion to replace Kachinsky is denied at first, the judge does dismiss him from the case later, after learning that the attorney knowingly allowed O’Kelly to interrogate his client alone. By the time Kachinsky is replaced, the damage has been done. The new attorney, Mark Fremgen, reveals that once he received the records on Dassey’s case from the prosecutor’s office, his team realized they were in the unenviable position of having to not only defend a client in the wake of an allegedly coerced confession, but also against “major missteps” from prior counsel.
As part of the appeals process in Dassey’s case, Kachinsky is eventually called to publicly account for his decisions by Dassey’s post-conviction team, which includes Robert Dvorak and Laura Nirideris, and which is led by Steve Drizin, who specializes in false confessions. The team files a post-conviction motion on the grounds that Kachinsky violated his duty of loyalty to Brendan, which is a part of every American’s constitutional rights to counsel. The motion argues that Kachinsky acted in order to coerce his client into taking a plea bargain. As such, Drizin files for a new trial for Dassey.
During the proceedings, a visibly older, but no less self-satisfied or smug, Kachinsky takes the stand. He admits that he spoke with the press before meeting his client, but denies, with a patented “Who, me?” Kachinsky grin, ever telling them that his client was “morally and legally responsible” and “influenced by someone that can only be described as something close to evil incarnate.” He adds that doing so would be “something you should definitely not say.” The actual videotaped interview, in which the lawyer is depicted saying exactly that, is then introduced. It appears, for a time, that something has finally managed to actually affect Kachinsky. The hope that an epiphany has been visited upon Dassey’s erstwhile lawyer fades as he continues to testify regarding his public comment that his client was considering a plea bargain. He admits that he was told numerous times by Dassey that the confession was not true. He admits that his client once asked to take a polygraph, which was never administered. In his view, his client only became dissatisfied with his work after pressure from his mother, who did not want to believe he was guilty and therefore, did not want him to plead as such.
When O’Kelly is called to testify, it is clear that both he and Kachinsky worked together to force a confession from Dassey. They gave no regard to their client’s numerous protestations at innocence, to his alibi witnesses, or to his diminished mental capacity to grasp the intricate mechanics of the forces working against him. For whatever reason, Kachinsky begins the case under the assumption that Dassey is guilty and with the plan that he will swoop in and extract a plea bargain, thereby giving the victim’s family justice and his own reputation (not to mention his ego) a boost after having been so recently damaged by a humiliating primary loss.
While Dassey is serving his prison sentence, which began in 2007 and will not end until at least Oct. 31, 2048, when he is eligible for parole, Kachinsky is continuing his legal career in Appleton, Wisconsin, at Sission & Kachinsky Law Offices, although his bio on the firm’s website has been removed. He defends the work he did on behalf of his client and issued a statement to Bustle.com which included various remarks, made by the judges in response to Dassey’s case to the Court of Appeals, which claim no link between the behavior of Kachinsky and O’Kelly and Dassey’s eventual conviction. The Court mentions that by the time Dassey stands trial or is sentenced, Kachinsky is no longer involved in the case, and denies Dassey’s appeal for a new trial, as does the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2013.
Dassey’s lawyers have recently filed a petition on behalf of their 25-year-old client for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. This type of petition is filed in an attempt to have a federal judge review the case and determine whether the arrest and conviction of Dassey were legal. The petition cites the ineffective counsel of Kachinsky and Dassey’s involuntary confession. A judge reviewing the case could decide to order a new trial, set Dassey free, or reject it. Kachinsky clearly has lost no sleep over his detrimental involvement in Dassey’s conviction. He continues to shrug his shoulders and offer a “Gee, golly, I did the best I could!” defense of his actions, accompanied by what he believes is a charming, winning smile, but which does little to hide the ‘evil incarnate’ lurking beneath which, due to its pathetic and ineffectual nature, is much the same as the defense he gave to Dassey, and which is documented in Making a Murderer.
Editorial by Jennifer Pfalz
Post-Crescent.com: Dassey seeks release in Halbach murder
Bustle.com: Brendan Dassey’s Lawyer Len Kachinsky From ‘Making A Murderer’ Had A Complicated Time On The Trial
Netflix: Making a Murderer