Written by Jax West
If you’re reading this, then you have most likely become obsessed with the Netflix 10-episode documentary, ‘Making a Murderer’, just like me. I came across it on accident in December of 2015 not knowing anything about it. I was instantly hooked and binged the entire thing in one night. I then started searching for more information on the Internet to find out what wasn’t included in the documentary. I even fell down the Reddit rabbit hole for a few days. I contributed money to StevenAveryCase.org to get all the documents, pictures, interrogations released for all to have access to. I traveled three hours to go see the Avery Salvage yard, quarry, and Zipperer house for myself. I have joined countless Facebook groups. I even went so far as to reach out to Steven Avery’s current lawyer because her office is literally five minutes from my house and offered to be her gopher for free. My goal is to help in any way needed. But enough about me. Let’s get to what you really want to know about.
I attended “A Conversation on ‘Making a Murderer’” with Attorneys Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, on March 18, 2016, at Riverside Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is about a 90 minute drive from my home. The doors opened at 7 pm and I was there. The lawyers were introduced and interviewed by Mitch Teich, from WUWM Lake Effect Radio. It started at 8:09 pm. They sat on the stage in some chairs with the spotlight on them. There was a big screen behind them that showed the courthouse. I took two pages of notes in the dark and will now go over the highlights here.
The attorneys said they would not talk about anything that was covered by client/ attorney privilege. They are doing this tour because they are inundated with questions about the case. Dean is NOT on social media and doesn’t plan to ever be. You can find Jerry at @Jbuting on Twitter. Jerry has been practicing law for 30 years and Dean is coming up on 28 years. They were told that this was the biggest criminal case in Wisconsin history.
Why did they take the case? Dean said Steven Avery was the most detested man in Wisconsin. A lawyer wants to do public good. He doesn’t want to sound corny. Dean also said publicity brings business.
Jerry said it is not common for two lawyers from two different firms to try the same case together. Dean said Jerry is better than him at scientific and forensic evidence. He joked that Jerry is not abrasive like people have said. Dean said they were good cop/bad cop.
Jerry said they were both wary of the “Making a Murderer” (MaM) project when they took the case. Dean said one of the filmmakers is also a lawyer so she knew not to film things that were privilege, etc. He said the filmmakers kept their word with them. Jerry said no scenes were scripted and they weren’t told questions in advance. They were good at being a fly on the wall. So he and Jerry would brainstorm with each other with them there.
Jerry and Dean stayed in two private, furnished apartments that were on top of each other. They talked about the scene of Ash Wednesday. Jerry said he and Dean are Catholic and so are the Halbachs, so they made sure to find a church that wouldn’t interfere with the family. They had the ashes on their foreheads when the filmmakers joined them and asked if they wanted to wipe the ashes off first but they told them no because that’s not what you do.
Jerry said there were a lot of negative vibes towards him and Dean in town. They know that’s part of the job. They did their best to stay away from the Halbach family.
Dean wishes the prosecutors had worked with the filmmakers. Jerry said he had no idea they would refuse to cooperate. He said the filmmakers did what they could. That’s why they would show the questions from the press.
Jerry didn’t want to do press conferences everyday but the special prosecutor said he would be doing one every other day and Mike Halbach would be doing the other days so they had to do them to give a balanced side. Dean said they got the prosecution to agree to only talk about that day of the case only in case the jurors were cheating.
Jerry said they had no editorial control of MaM. He joked that he only had eight Twitter followers prior to the documentary. Jerry watched it a week before it premiered on Netflix. Dean watched it after it aired. He said he lived it and wasn’t eager to watch it. Jerry said he had to talk to Steven before it aired but he did not binge watch it.
Dean said someone lost their life and the family had a hole torn in them that will never close. He said the rape victim (Penny Beerntsen) never intended to get it wrong and that this case brings it all back up for her.
Jerry said this was the most difficult case he’s had to disengage from. For the judge to say Steven was probably the most dangerous man that has ever been in his courtroom was difficult for him to accept. Dean said Steven is one of two clients he has had that is serving life without the possibility of parole. He said you carry this with you. He said life without the possibility of parole wasn’t available in Wisconsin until 1990 and was supposed to almost never be used and instead it is widely used. He said it’s a social death sentence. They’d rather be executed then have no hope of parole while in a cage.
Dean said when you believe your client is innocent it makes it easier. Many guilty people say they’re innocent.
Dean asked, where was the blood? They ripped up the carpet and took the paneling off the wall. Nothing they said in the press conference happened.
Dean said some lawyers want to win for the sake of winning. He thinks the system needs to be stricter on what lawyers can say. Not the media. But the lawyers. Jerry said the vast majority of prosecutors don’t do these kinds of press conferences. For Kratz to start out by saying if you’re under 15 you should leave the room, everyone just turns up the volume. He said they said a lot worse in that press conference than the documentary showed. Like claiming they knew what the poor woman was saying. It sickened you.
Jerry said they can take your child out of class to interrogate you and they do it every day. He said guilty people assert their Miranda Rights. Dean said if this was 1976 instead of 2006 Brendan would probably be taken to Juvenile Court and they would protect his childhood. But it was 2006.
Then they talked about The Reid Technique. Here is how Wikipedia defines it:
The Reid Technique is a method of questioning suspects to try to assess their credibility. Supporters argue that the Reid Technique is useful in extracting information from otherwise unwilling suspects, while critics have charged the technique can elicit false confessions from innocent persons, especially children.
Jerry said it was designed in the 1950’s and 90% of police in the country are trained on it. It connects anxiety to lying. They will make them anxious and then tell them they are lying. They will give them a polygraph and then lie to them and tell them they failed it. They will say the machine doesn’t lie, you do. The police can lie about evidence. The courts have lost sight of the fact that vulnerable individuals will give false confessions. Most people say they would never confess to a crime they didn’t commit, but the police will not accept their denials and lie to them. Then the accused will come up with a lie (in an attempt to appease their interrogators) and then they don’t remember it and get tripped up and the jury hears that, instead of the statements they had previously repeated over and over again before being pressured to change their story. Dean said they claim false evidence like they have your fingerprints or your buddy said you thought it up. They think they won’t be believed in court and will get more time so they lie. Jerry said they used to be held incommunicado and beat. Now they have the Reid Technique which is psychological.
Jerry said the filmmakers tried to capture the big items that were in dispute; the blood, the magic key, the bones, and the burn pit. They had to leave things out. Like the “sweat” DNA on the hood latch. Jerry wanted us to know that there is NO SUCH THING AS SWEAT DNA. Kratz tried to say it wasn’t from blood so it was from sweat. But their expert didn’t do the presumptive test. Jerry said they had an answer for all that. The prosecution analyst was in the car moments earlier and didn’t change their gloves before touching the hood latch.
The documentary did leave out defense evidence too. The bone evidence and where the body was burned was not discussed. The State said the rivet was from Daisy Fuentes jeans that are sold at Kohls. They used a magnet but didn’t find the big metal button that buttoned up the jeans anywhere. So she was burned somewhere else. But the filmmakers had to make editorial decisions.
Dean wished they could have shown jury selection. They spent a week doing that. But then there was the press conference before the case. He is not critical of the omission and knows that prospective jurors and current jurors can not be filmed.
The attorneys talked for awhile about jury duty. Jerry said he was called once but was disqualified and then brought into chambers so he didn’t say anything to anyone else. He asked how can the jury not find reasonable doubt? He said if you won’t serve then you can’t be critical. He said it’s typically retired and young people who serve. So it’s not a jury of your peers that you’re entitled to.
The poor always lose. Jerry said Wisconsin has a good public defender program and 70% of cases go through that. Then the rest go to lawyers who are only paid $40 an hour. Wisconsin has the lowest paid attorneys in the country and he thinks it’s time to raise that rate. Dean said 80% of people are too poor to pay for a lawyer and to be poor is to be presumed a criminal.
Jerry said he tries to be sensitive to the victims but it is not his role to defend them. They are revictimized when convicting the wrong person while the real perpetrator gets away with it. Dean says he tries to make sure to not take away their humanity.
Jerry likes that the documentary portrays the pain and anguish the defendants’ family goes through. Jerry said he does embrace being a role model of defense attorneys with integrity when you usually only see them portrayed as sleazebags.
Jerry wants us to know that the “perp walk,” where they are in black and white stripes, shackled, and wearing mitts, are staged events that law enforcement does to show they are guilty and dangerous. Jerry cautions that people shouldn’t prejudge that, even if we hear they have supposedly confessed.
How can we help? Dean said there are lots of charitable groups you can donate your time or money to. He suggests we take this conversation home and simply talk about it. He said democracy begins in conversation.
This is where it ended at 9:48 pm. I will say I greatly enjoyed it. I will be going to it again when it comes to Chicago in June, and I am going to see Brendan’s current lawyers talk in Chicago in April. This case has changed my complete outlook on our justice system. It is sad but I had to tell my 22-year-old son if he is every questioned by the police for ANY reason to say he can’t talk until there is a lawyer present. Until MaM I thought if I am innocent that it is much easier if I just explain, and if I ask for a lawyer then I am thought of as guilty. Now I know differently. It doesn’t matter what you look like, where you’re from, or who you are. We are ALL potential Steven and Brendans.
One last thing before I let you go. We are staging a protest against the two officers who coerced Brendan into giving a false confession by using the Reid Technique. The two are speaking at a law enforcement convention in Naperville, Illinois on April 26. It starts at 10 am, and is at the NIU Conference Center located at 1120 East Diehl Road. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to the Facebook event here:
If you want to talk about this case you can do so here:
For more about the tour you can visit their official page here:
Remember: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice AVERYwhere!