Netflix’s Making a Murderer docuseries is nearly a month old – which in the world of binge-watching makes it practically ancient, just waiting to be remanded to the cobwebbed corners of the streaming giant’s search engine. And yet, the fact that people are still talking about the series and the case against Steven Avery (and his nephew Brendan Dassey) is almost as surprising as the many twists offered up during its 10-hour run. The continued conversation says something about not only the quality of its no-frills presentation, but also of the questions left swirling around possible injustices alleged to have been carried out by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, and the fairness of the verdict handed down to the two defendants.
As weird as it may be to think, one of the breakout stars from the series was Avery’s attorney Dean Strang, who, in conjunction with Jerry Buting put up a rousing but ultimately unsuccessful defense of their client. In the weeks since the series’ December 18 release, Strang has become something of an Internet sensation – hailed as much for his efforts in the defense of Avery as for his “normcore” style of dress. And while that kind of fame is ultimately fleeting, Strang is willing to use his increased recognition to raise awareness not only of the case against Avery and Dassey, but also of the problems within the American criminal justice system.
In a recent interview with Refinery29, Strang spoke to those who were moved by the docuseries and wanted to help, suggesting they could contribute to “a defense fund that’s actually genuinely connected to [Avery and Dassey]… that will happen soon.” He also touched on what the future holds for Avery and whether or not new evidence may come forth that will allow for a new trial. He said that he and Buting were both receiving a great deal of new information, some of which he remains hopeful will yield results.
“I’ve gotten a flood of ideas, potential leads, thoughts, or advice about scientific testing that might be done. Scientific techniques that might be available now, or that are available now that weren’t available in 2007, more economical ways to do scientific testing than were available in ’07 or ’06 or ’05. You know and when I say potential leads on other things and ideas, I mean possible new factual information.”
“So there’s been really kind of an avalanche of that information to me. I think that Jerry Buting, and although I haven’t talked to him about it, I’ll bet that the Brendan Dassey lawyers are getting the same kind of information. And right now I don’t know what, if any of that, will pan out as important.”
While Strang addressed the enormous amount of information coming his way, most of his answers were focused on the lessons that can be learned from this case in particular and what it says about the problems many people face in the judicial system. In addition to speaking about the defense’s inability to point to a “third party culprit” and the possibility of a “false confession” with regard to the police’s questioning of Brendan Dassey, Strang brought up an interesting statistic about the economic status of many who find themselves charged with crimes in this country. This is particularly interesting as Avery was only able to pay for his defense because of the settlement from his lawsuit against Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction nearly 20 years earlier. In comparison, Making a Murderer then underlined the various troubles Dassey faced as a result of his being unable to hire a defense attorney of either Strang or Buting’s standing. And those troubles – primarily with Len Kachinsky – appear to have played a significant role in his being convicted.
As Strang said:
“What people should realize is that north of 90% of all people charged with a crime in this country, in any county, in any state, in any federal court, north of 90% don’t have the money even to hire a lawyer. Better than 90% of people charged with a crime in this country don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, and you know they wind up getting a public defender or a court appointed lawyer. That’s how dependent our system is on charging people who are at or near an impoverished existence.”
Strang certainly seems aware the transitory nature of everything that has happened to him – both his unforeseen fame and the nationwide attention being given to Avery’s case. Given that, Strang wants to use his time in the spotlight to help shine it elsewhere, onto the specific aspects of the justice system he thinks could stand to be a little more illuminated.
“At the moment, for a very short moment in time, I’ve got people who want to ask me the sorts of questions you’re asking, and then take down my answers, and publish them to the world. So I think I have some duty to use the moment, to speak up about problems that I think I perceive by working in the criminal justice system.”
The story told by Making a Murderer continues to be a hot topic among true-crime aficionados, legal experts, and those who were simply swept up by the somber tale it presented. While there doesn’t seem to be any movement right now with regard to Avery or Dassey’s convictions – and there may never be – the work done by filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi has offered a potentially sobering message about certain problems within the American criminal justice system. This is in keeping with Strang’s comments on the “duty” he feels comes with his newfound celebrity. At the end of the day, an increased awareness of those “problems” may ultimately be the real-world impact the series hoped to achieve.
Making a Murderer season 1 can be seen in its entirety on Netflix.