Attorney in 'Making a Murderer' crosshairs admits errors but defends work
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Bruce Vielmetti
Jan. 6, 2016
The world — or at least the millions of people who've watched "Making a Murderer" — hates Leonard Kachinsky.
In the hit Netflix series about Steven Avery's sensational 2005 Wisconsin murder case, Kachinsky's representation of Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey, comes off as one of the bigger incompetencies and injustices in a story spun as a massive conspiracy to frame Avery.
But Kachinsky, 62, doesn't much care. The semiretired Appleton lawyer and Army veteran is battling leukemia and doesn't seem to want to expend what time and energy he has left responding to his now many critics.
"I was considering the possibility of suing Netflix for false light and slander," he said. "But those suits tend to eat up time and put money in lawyers' pockets."
Kachinsky said he hasn't watched the 10-part documentary and doubts he will.
"Given the comments, people are going off the handle, blaming me for Dassey being in prison, ruining his life," he said. "I may have subjected him to a rough private investigator, and some low-level emotional stress," but no more.
Like most all the players in the show, he said he's been inundated with phone calls since the series was released Dec. 18. He says he mostly ignores any calls from numbers from outside Wisconsin, knowing the callers probably just want to rip him. He also ignores about a dozen Facebook friend requests a day for the same reason, though he does see a few mentions of him on Twitter that friends email to him.
He does concede to making errors in the case, and accepted professional sanctions that resulted. He disputes, though, that in the end, those missteps had much of an impact on the outcome for Dassey or Avery.
Teresa Halbach murder
Avery, of course, had made news in 2003 when he was released after 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. Two years later, while his civil rights case against Manitowoc County officials was pending, he was charged in the gruesome murder of Teresa Halbach, 25, a photographer for a car sales magazine.
In March 2006, authorities questioned Dassey, Avery's 16-year-old nephew, who confessed to helping Avery rape and kill Halbach. Kachinsky, who had recently lost in a bid to be elected judge, was appointed to represent Dassey.
Kachinsky says that as soon as Dassey talked to police, he began to get pressure from his family not to testify against Avery. Kachinsky tried to get Dassey's confession suppressed, but the judge ruled it admissible.
What happened next is what put Kachinsky in viewers' crosshairs.
Kachinsky thought the best option for Dassey was to cooperate, and perhaps be spared a life sentence. His private investigator, Michael O'Kelly, visited Dassey in jail on a Friday night and got him to again confess to the gruesome details he had first told police in March and videotaped the session.
The very next day, police again interviewed Dassey, who again admitted to his role in Halbach's death.
Kachinsky wasn't present at either session. He said he had mandatory training with the Army Reserve out of town that weekend. In retrospect, he says, allowing the interviews was a mistake, as was hiring O'Kelly, whom Kachinsky called "a loose cannon."
"Making a Murderer" utilizes the O'Kelly interview to great effect, suggesting he manipulated Dassey more than detectives did in their interrogations. Kachinsky said he didn't even know there was video until Dassey's post-conviction attorneys got ahold of it. It was never used at Dassey's trial.
Kachinsky was removed as Dassey's attorney in August 2006. The Court of Appeals upheld Dassey's conviction, rejecting his claims that his initial confession was involuntary, and that Kachinsky and, later, his trial attorneys were ineffective. The state Supreme Court declined to review the case.
The State Public Defender decertified Kachinsky from taking homicide cases after it learned of the O'Kelly interview and filed a complaint with the Office of Lawyer Regulation. He said he agreed to take additional training and meet other conditions for a year as part of an alternative to discipline.
Lawyers at Northwestern University law school now represent Dassey on a federal habeas corpus petition in Milwaukee federal court, pending before Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin. The suit seeks Dassey's release and review of whether he was wrongly convicted.
Meanwhile, Kachinsky says he will continue some limited law practice and his work as a municipal court judge for Menasha. He said he's living on his military pension and applying for Social Security disability.
ARTICLE: Attorney in 'Making a Murderer' crosshairs admits errors but defends work