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Making a Murderer Litigator Explores Bigger Picture in Avery Case

Dean Strang - CDLA
Dean Strang – Strang / Bradley LLC

So that was interesting.

On Wednesday evening, I attended a special event sponsored by the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association (CDLA) of Manitoba called, “An Evening with Making a Murder’s Dean Strang.”

If you watched the Netflix series you would’ve been impressed with Strang’s passionate, determined defence of his client, the controversial “alleged” killer Steven Avery.

It was my respect for Mr. Strang’s efforts that motivated me to buy tickets, knowing of course, people from the Law Enforcement community would be in the extreme minority in the crowd.

I wasn’t wrong about that.

The room was literally filled with practising defence attorneys, law students, Judges and even a former Justice Minister.

Despite our differences, we all had one thing in common, we were fans of the show and fans of Mr. Strang.

Criminal defence attorney Josh Weinstein performed emcee duties and introduced Mr. Strang with great warmth and admiration.

It was show time.

Steven Avery Mug Shot - Police Handout
Steven Avery Mug Shot – Police Handout

When he took the stage the guest of honour presented as the same humble, soft-spoken, sincere man we expected to see.

He wasted no time getting on topic and spent the first 45 minutes artfully retracing the beginnings of one of the most twisted, dramatic criminal cases ever experienced in American justice.

The story of a man who spent 18 years of his life behind bars after being wrongfully accused and convicted of rape and attempt murder, only to be released, charged and convicted of an even more heinous crime – the murder of 25-year-old Auto Trader photographer Teresa Halbach.

Ironically, Strang started out his career on the other side of the bar and candidly admitted;

“I was the worst Federal Prosecutor that ever lived.”

Enter Steven Avery.

After taking the Avery case, Strang went about his business reading over 25,000 pages of transcripts and reviewing over 200 hours of video taped interviews and interrogations.

Once he realized the size of the case, he developed a short list of candidates he hoped might join him as co-counsel.  At the top of that list was experienced criminal defence attorney Jerry Buting.

Unbeknownst to Strang, police were arresting Brendan Dassey at the precise time he was meeting with Buting (for the first time) to discuss the possibility of joining forces to defend Steven Avery. In a stunning revelation, Strang indicated had it not been for that 65 minute meeting, it was very likely Jerry Buting would have been retained to defend co-accused Brendan Dassey.

(Strang explained that within that 65 minute meeting Buting became privy to enough confidential information to create conflict of interest that would disqualify him from defending Dassey.)

That coincidence essentially sealed Dassey’s fate.

Social Injustice, Class, Race & Ethnicity

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 4.49.41 PM
Making a Murderer – Netflix

It was about this time in the program Strang took us on an unexpected journey.

It seems his focus in the post script is centered on issues regarding social injustice, class, race and ethnicity.

I didn’t see that coming.

Strang openly wonders if the Avery case would have had any interest at all if the perpetrator had been a person of color in a major city as opposed to a white man of low intelligence in a rural setting.

I think I know the answer.

In Strang’s mind the Avery case was all about class, race, ethnicity and poverty.

But not poverty limited to a single definition or meaning.

Poverty in the big picture.

Strang argues people who are impoverished have little chance of finding true “justice” in the justice system.

His definition of poverty or being “impoverished” was multifaceted and included;

  • being impoverished in education
  • being impoverished in literacy
  • being impoverished in a person’s fund of general knowledge
  • being impoverished in mental health
  • being impoverished in love and / or emotional support
  • being impoverished of hope

Strang insists there is definite linkage between class and poverty and suggests the result in the Avery case proves his theory.

A case he described as a, “dismally gothic story.”

Strang’s argument is based on the concept of fair and equal representation in the criminal justice system.

He insists impoverished people (big picture definition) are at a stark disadvantage when it comes to the concept of fairness in criminal justice.  A cornerstone of his argument concerns the compensation defence attorneys receive to defend their clients.

He went on to share a few factoids that even had me scratching my head.

Facts like public defenders in certain American States only receive a maximum payment of $2,000 to defend clients who face life sentences.  The compensation doesn’t get better for defendants who face the death penalty.

Strang drew parallels between the American justice experience and poverty and over representation of Indigenous people in the Canadian justice system.

If the deck is stacked against impoverished people, in terms of full and fair representation, how do we guarantee the guilty are convicted and the innocent go free.

“We can’t claim much confidence in our courts if we’re disabling the adversarial system that keeps us from the truth,” Strang said in frustration.

The Q & A Session

Making a Murderer - Netflix
Making a Murderer – Netflix

Once the monologue was complete the floor was opened for questions.

“What are you going to ask him?”, my wife asked with a concerned look on her face.

“Don’t worry honey, I’m not going to make the man relitigate the case,” I replied.

Steven Avery’s guilt or innocence is not an issue in my mind.

I did the analysis, reviewed the transcripts and arrived at my conclusion.

I was content to sit back and observe at this point.

“Do you have an opinion regarding who the real killer is?” asked a member of the audience.

“I do,” replied Mr. Strang.

His delayed response was spot on, it created a palpable sense of tension as event attendees held their collective breath in anticipation of his reply.

“However, I have no intention of sharing it here,” he said with a smirk on his face.

He went on to explain his position as the air literally rushed out of the room.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he ultimately shrugged.

“How frustrated were you with the way the police handled or mishandled the evidence in this case, the miraculous appearance of the car keys and the manipulation of the blood vile?” asked a clearly pro Avery attendee.

The answer was unapologetic.

The planted evidence defence was unavoidable Strang lamented while conceding innocent explanations existed to counter certain conspiracy theories – ie: the punctured blood vile.

I suspect the q & a session could have gone on for hours.

Epilogue

CHIEF DEVON CLUNIS (CACP PHOTO)
Chief Devon Clunis (CACP)

Strang’s concerns regarding social justice reminded me of the mantra espoused by former Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis – “Crime prevention through social development.”

It was a strategy implemented by an optimistic Jamaican born police Chief raised by his mother in a single parent family I explained.

The question I had to ask was, “Can it work?”

“It can help,” Strang replied.

He then added the caveat, “Men have hit each other over the head with large rocks since the beginning of time and that’s not likely going to stop any time soon.”

Translation – the human race is inherently violent. 🙁

No argument there, unfortunately his observation didn’t offer much in the way of insight into the larger issue.

The most insightful moment of the evening was undoubtedly missed by most attendees in the pro-Avery defence oriented crowd.

It came when Mr. Strang responded to the question regarding who Halbach’s “true” killer might be.

In his response, Strang spoke about motive, an important part of any murder case. He stressed Teresa Halbach was a wonderful person who had no enemies, a person who had never done harm to anyone.

In fact he suggested, “Of the seven billion people on the planet, no one could have had a motive to kill her.”

His assertion resonated with me.

The minuscule suspect pool provides the smoking gun.

Think about it…

We know Teresa Halbach didn’t kill herself.

That means at least one of the 7 billion or so people on the planet did have a motive to kill her.

To find the killer, we don’t have to consider the 7 billion people who didn’t have a motive to kill Teresa Halbach, all we have to do is reduce the suspect pool to identify that “someone” who did.

Who could that someone be?

  • It could be someone who gave her the creeps.
  • It could be someone who called her using the *67 caller ID blocking feature.
  • It could be that someone who was the last person to see her alive.
  • It could be someone who tended a bonfire all evening where fragments of almost every bone in her body was found.
  • It could be someone who burned her cell phone, camera and PDA in a burn barrel on the Avery property.
  • It could be someone who will never be able to explain the critical 14 minutes that point directly to his guilt.

There can be little doubt that someone is Steven Avery.

“If ever someone’s bones are found twenty feet from my bedroom window in my backyard, I’m gonna be a worried guy.” Dean Strang – Netflix Making a Murderer

Footnote:

The Critical 14 Minutes

  • At 2:27 pm – Teresa Halbach spoke to her receptionist and advised her she was on the way to the Avery property.
  • At 2:30 – 2:45 pm – Bobby Dassey reports seeing Halbach taking photographs – when she’s done she is last seen walking towards Avery’s trailer – she is never seen alive again.
  • At 2:41 pm – Halbach’s cell phone goes out of service for the last time.

(It’s important to remember Steven Avery admitted to meeting Halbach during this timeline.)

(It’s important to note, if the phone is dead, logic dictates Halbach is dead.)

Motive

When young women are murdered the motive in the overwhelming number of cases comes down to one or two things;

  • Domestic Violence
  • Sexual Assault

It’s clear in Halbach’s case the motive was sexual assault.

One Comment

  1. Steven Avery’s story certainly has me contemplating the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. A man who spent 18 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit might consider himself entitled to commit one. People interpret things in light of their experiences. Fairness and justice are most important to us when they have personal relevance.

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