Dean Strang stopped at the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday to talk about his work as a defense attorney for the man whose murder conviction in Manitowoc County, Wis., was the subject of the popular Netflix series “Making a Murderer.”
Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-Cottage Grove, and other legislators questioned him about the case of Steven Avery, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending 18 years in prison for rape but was charged two years later with the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
The attorney was asked whether the public needed another perspective from prosecutor Ken Kratz, who has said that the series left out important facts about Avery and that he plans to write a book about the case.
Strang said the more perspectives on the trial, the better, but he stressed the importance of not becoming “lost playing second-string jurors and after-the-fact armchair sleuths.”
He added: “The value to me of the documentary or any book about the case ought to be asking bigger questions about the system and the reality of the outcomes we achieve in our criminal justice system.”
The 10-episode documentary depicts how Avery sued Manitowoc County for the wrongful rape conviction, but settled for $400,000 as prosecutors zeroed in on Avery and his 16-year-old neighbor, Brendan Dassey, as suspects in Halbach’s murder. Avery hired Strang and Jerry Buting as his defense attorneys; they tried to prove in court that cops had framed him in the murder. Avery and Dassey were sentenced to life in prison in 2007.
The series raised questions about a public defender’s handling of Dassey’s case. Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, asked what the series showed about the difference between the legal defense a person can buy vs. what’s provided by the public defender system.
“It says a lot, and most of what it says isn’t very good,” Strang said.
But increasing public defender funding is hard, he said, because it’s “widely viewed as just using tax dollars to make lawyers rich and give bad guys lawyers. That’s a tough sell for elected officials.”
Strang gave a similar talk later in the evening at a forum in Minneapolis.