MANITOWOC -- Brendan Dassey sat silently Thursday as a judge sentenced the teen to life in prison for his role in the rape and murder of a woman.
Dassey, 17, at first did not want to comment when Manitowoc County Circuit Judge Jerome Fox asked him whether he wanted to say something to the relatives of Teresa Halbach and his own family before his sentencing.
Then, softly, he offered up: "Just that I didn't do it. I wouldn't do nothing like that."
In April a jury convicted the Mishicot teen of being party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse and second-degree sexual assault in the death of Teresa Halbach on Halloween 2005.
A life sentence is mandatory for first-degree intentional homicide. But the judge had leeway to decide whether to leave open the possibility of parole.
On Thursday, the judge granted Dassey the possibility of parole in 41 years, citing Dassey's youth, lack of a criminal record and secondary role in the crimes. Dassey will be 59 when he is eligible for parole on Nov. 1, 2048.
Prosecutors asked that Dassey serve at least 50 years in prison while the defense asked for 20.
Dassey was accused of helping his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach, 25. A photographer from rural Calumet County, she had gone to the Avery family's auto salvage yard near Mishicot to take pictures of a vehicle for sale.
Relatives searching for her later found her vehicle partially concealed in the salvage yard, and investigators found her charred bone fragments in a burn pit near Avery's home.
Dassey initially confessed to investigators, describing in detail how he raped Halbach as she was shackled to a bed. Avery then stabbed her and handed Dassey the knife with which the teen slit her throat, he told investigators.
He later recanted the confession, saying investigators coerced him. He said he made up the account or was repeating details from a story he'd read.
After a separate trial, Avery, 45, was sentenced to life in prison in June with no possibility of parole.
In the Dassey case, the prosecution, defense and Halbach family agreed Avery was the instigator in the attack and Dassey was a follower. He was consistently portrayed as a person of low intelligence who was susceptible to Avery's suggestions.
Still, Dassey could have chosen to save Teresa from Avery and be a hero instead of a rapist and murderer, said Mike Halbach, Teresa's younger brother. He asked the judge not to give Dassey possibility of parole but said later the family was relieved with the sentence.
"He deserved a harsh sentence and he got a harsh sentence," Halbach said. "It was appropriate."
Dassey's attorney, Mark Fremgen, did not make himself available for comment afterward. But the teen's half brother, Brad Dassey, said his half brother hurt his case by continuing to assert his innocence.
"He didn't show remorse or nothing," the 23-year-old said.
During sentencing the judge agreed with the defense that Avery instigated the crime and Dassey only followed his uncle's lead. He said Dassey's sentence should be less extreme than Avery's.
"While (Dassey) participated in the crime, he does not bring the same baggage to this court as Mr. Avery brought to his sentencing," Fox said.
Along with the life-imprisonment sentence issued Thursday on the first-degree homicide conviction, the judge also sentenced Dassey to 10 years in prison for second-degree sexual assault and four years in prison for mutilating a corpse. The sentences will run concurrently and Dassey was given credit for the 11/2 years he has already served.