Dean Strang Visits UL
A defence attorney, who featured in the hit Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, has said it is “neither surprising nor wrong” that his former client Steven Avery would lash out at his legal representation following his conviction.
Dean Strang made the comment in conversation with Professor of Law Shane Kilcommins at an event organised by UL Law Society and held in University Concert Hall in September.
Mr Strang represented Mr Avery during his trial for the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2006.
Last December, a 10-part documentary focussing on the murder investigation, legal proceedings, convictions and subsequent sentencing of Mr Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey in relation to the death of Ms Halbach was broadcast on Netflix.
A remark from a letter attributed by Steven Avery was put to Mr Strang.
“Dean and Jerome [Jerry Buting] are Bad Attorneys they dont (sic) now (sic) what justice is and they dont (sic) now (sic) what is a (sic) investigation is because if they did they would have done it for a (sic) innocent man like me!,” the letter stated.
“I think that I have a glimmer of the frustration and anger that Steven Avery must feel. He is now 54. He turned 54 in July. 18 of those 54 years were spent in maximum security for a crime that he did not commit. Now, he has spent more than 10 years in prison for a crime he has always denied committing,” Mr Strang said.
“28 of his 54 years have been spent in prison for two crimes that he potentially did not commit,” he added.
“From inside a prison cell, behind iron bars, every lawyer looks the same, every lawyer works in a system that has disserved you once, maybe twice,” Mr Strang observed.
Mr Strang said he and Steven Avery’s other defence attorney Jerry Buting, “did our best” and that he did not blame Mr Avery for what he was alleged to have said.
Mr Strang also revealed that Brendan Dassey, whose defence came in for strong criticism following the documentary’s release, had come within minutes of being represented instead by Jerry Buting.
“We missed, by an hour, the chance for Jerry to represent Brendan Dassey,” Mr Strang said.
The audience heard that before Mr Dassey was arrested, the Avery family and Mr Strang had agreed to bring Jerry Buting in as part of the defence team. Just over an hour into Mr Strang and Mr Buting’s first meeting to discuss the details of Steven Avery’s case, Mr Strang received a call to say Brendan Dassey had been arrested. Because Mr Buting had been briefed on the defence case for Mr Avery, he could not represent Brendan Dassey, a co-accused.
In August this year, just over a month before Mr Strang visited UL, Brendan Dassey’s murder conviction was overturned by a US Federal Judge. He was to be released within 90 days, unless the judgement was appealed or the state decided to retry him.
In his 91-page court ruling Judge William Duffin stated that investigators in the 2007 trial “repeatedly” made false promises to Mr Dassey by assuring him "he had nothing to worry about".
Mr Strang criticised the technique used in the interrogation of Mr Dassey, a man described by Professor Kilcommins as “vulnerable and suggestible”.
“It is time to change how the police in the United States are taught to interview people in custody,” Mr Strang said. The Wisconsin attorney pointed to the “suggestiveness of the questioning” in Mr Dassey’s police interview and stated that he would like to see a move away from this model, adding “there are better ways to interview people in custody”.
Mr Strang also told the UCH audience that if he could change only one thing about the US justice system, “an easy one would be to abolish the death penalty but that wouldn’t make the system more just, it would make the consequences less grievous”.
The defence attorney said he did not anticipate the scope, length or success of the documentary Making a Murderer.
“I had no idea until a couple of weeks before this came out in December 2015 that this would be a 10-part series on Netflix. I don’t think anyone could have envisioned that in 2006”, he observed.
Mr Strang said he does not agree with all of the editorial decisions made in the series but added “that all of them were fair”.
Mr Strang opened the UL Law Society event by dissecting the most common question asked of lawyers and law students, “how can you defend those people?” The experienced attorney addressed it on four fronts, tearing down the notion of “those people” being different or separate. He pointed out that most people have committed a crime in their life, noting one in four Americans has a criminal record and adding “the rest of us have not got caught”.
Mr Strang claimed that while there are some who have never broken a law and promise they never would, no one can ever state with certainty that they will not be accused of a crime.
Against that backdrop, Mr Strang reframed the question: “How can I not defend my people?”
“If you can restate the question that way, you will not have found a job, you will have found a vocation, you will have found a calling”, Mr Strang concluded.