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Dassey to remain in prison, Appeals court rules

PORTAGE – It’s all but certain that Brendan Dassey won’t be home for Thanksgiving after all.

Days of anticipation – and legal wrangling – followed a district judge’s order on Monday to release Dassey while prosecutors appeal a decision to overturn his conviction to the Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Dassey’s attorneys said earlier in the week that they hoped the 27-year-old man, who had been convicted in the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, would be home by Thanksgiving, if not sooner.

As a flurry of legal arguments from both sides were filed in the wake of U.S. Magistrate William Duffin’s ruling on Monday, the anticipation of Dassey’s release grew on social media, with some incorrectly declaring that he had already been freed.

Meanwhile, outside Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, where he is being held, media lined up across the road with cameras trained on the prison, in case Dassey walked free.

Then just before noon on Thursday, the Seventh Circuit ordered that Dassey will remain in prison while the appeal is pending.

The Seventh Circuit granted an “emergency motion” filed Wednesday by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which requested that the court halt the lower court’s order that Dassey be released from custody by 8 p.m. on Friday. On Wednesday, Dassey’s attorneys filed a response arguing for Dassey’s release.

In a statement Thursday, Dassey’s attorneys said, “The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Brendan Dassey must stay in prison until his appeal is resolved. We are disappointed more than words can say. The fight goes on.”

Manitowoc County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer said he is most concerned about Halbach and her family.

“The legal process will play out and all of us have to be patient on that, but I think this is a good result today because it is in keeping with all circuit and appeals court rulings,” he told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

The Seventh Circuit ordered a stay of the lower court’s ruling a day before the Friday deadline to halt Dassey’s release. If it did not rule before then, the lower court’s order would have gone into effect.

In its two-page order, the Seventh Circuit did not offer reasoning for its decision to keep Dassey in custody, making it impossible to know exactly what factors it considered.

Almost a decade ago, juries convicted Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, in Halbach’s homicide. Their cases have been in the international spotlight since the release of the Netflix docu-series “Making a Murderer” last December.

Kathleen Zellner, the attorney representing Avery in his appeal, took Thursday’s news in stride. She has been fighting for Avery’s release since taking his case soon after the docu-series was released.

“It was disappointing, but not totally unexpected because it’s so rare for someone to be bonded out of prison over appealing a murder conviction,” Zellner told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

Milwaukee attorney Alex Flynn said he was surprised by the Seventh Circuit’s decision.

“They ruled quickly,” he said of the court, which received the state’s motion for a stay late Wednesday afternoon and issued a ruling before noon on Thursday. “I don’t know how to read that. To me, it’s remarkable how quickly it happened.”

Since the federal appeals court only had the appeal for a short time, it may have decided that “status quo is safer” in terms of Dassey being released from prison, Flynn said.

Flynn also speculated that the Seventh Circuit may have determined that it had jurisdiction in the request for Dassey’s release, not Duffin.

Flynn said it is “very, very unlikely” that the defense would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it isn’t a venue for such a request.

Michael M. O’Hear, a professor at Marquette University Law School, also doubts that the Seventh Circuit’s order will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Dassey could try to appeal to the Supreme Court now, but it’s extremely rare for the Supreme Court to take up a preliminary procedural issue like this,” he said.

Alison Dirr: 920-996-7266 or adirr@gannett.com; on Twitter @AlisonDirr; Andy Thompson: 920-996-7270 or awthompson@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @Thompson_AW; USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporters John Ferak and Alisa M. Schafer contributed to this report

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