Defense Attorney From 'Making A Murderer' Speaks Out
"Unlikely sex symbol" and attorney Dean Strang teases that he could possibly again represent Steven Avery, the subject of Netflix's Making a Murderer—if the conditions are right. Strang and Jerry Buting acted as the defense for Avery, a Manitowoc County, Wis. man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years for a 1985 assault and rape he didn't commit, then convicted only a few years after his release of murdering a 25-year-old photographer, Teresa Halbach, on October 31, 2005. The 10-part docu-series Making A Murderer follows the case over the course of 10 years, and strongly insinuates that Avery may have been framed by the same law enforcement officers who put him behind bars the first time. [Note: spoilers ahead]
Strange and Buting fought hard for Avery, alleging that the police in Manitowoc County had framed Avery for the murder to get out of paying him a settlement for his wrongful imprisonment. Prosecutor Ken Kratz has conducted recent interviews accusing the documentary of being one-sided in favor of Avery, and leaving out key evidence, but Strang is still on the side of Avery's possible innocence.
He told the Daily Beast that he believes "substantial, real and reasonable doubts remain about whether an innocent man got convicted."
Regardless of this piece of missing evidence or that Internet conspiracy theory (there are many), Strang said that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, for anyone who is accused of a crime. Though he admits that Avery may by guilty, that's not how the law works. "If our system worked on convicting people on maybes, then everybody could pat themselves on the back and go out and have a beer, convicting a man on a maybe," he said.
"Could he be guilty?" Strang continued. "Sure, he could. Do I think he was proven guilty? No. Do I think there's a real strong chance that he could be innocent? Yes. But that's just me. I wasn't asked to decide."
Strang told the Daily Beast that he and Buting have both spoken with Avery on occasion over the last decade, but that their involvement in any future cases would depend on a number of factors, including what Avery wants and needs, and after determining if the legal pair made any mistakes or were less than effective. He said money, which Avery is likely out of, is not a factor.
Strang recently appeared on Fox News's The Kelly File with Megyn Kelly in the same segment as his former courtroom nemesis, Kratz. Kratz firmly insists that Avery is the right person to be sitting in jail for Halbach's murder.
One of Kratz's key pieces of evidence left out of the docu-series is Avery's DNA, which investigators said they found on the hood latch of Halbach's RAV4. The RAV4 was discovered several days after Halbach was reported missing by a former private investigator and relative of the Halbach family who was part of a search party after she went missing. The RAV4 was found on Avery's property—a 40-acre salvage yard—poorly covered in a few branches. The prosecution alleged that Avery stashed the car there, and had lifted the hood to disconnect the battery. Avery's blood was also found in small smears inside of Halbach's car, and the prosecution maintained that it had come from a deep cut Avery had on his finger. Strang has issues with that evidence now, just as he did back then. Namely, the lack of Avery's fingerprints anywhere inside or outside of the car. And if Avery wore gloves, then how did his DNA get on the hood latch? How did his blood get inside the car?
"Look, there aren't always fingerprints," Strang said. "But that is a problem because the state thinks he drove the car."
This would mean, Strang said, that Avery managed to open the door, start the car and drive it without leaving a single fingerprint—but somehow leave behind smears of blood DNA inside and other DNA on the hood latch. Strang also told Kelly that the DNA could have been transferred using any other surface that had Avery's skin or DNA on it. Strang and Buting both argued that the Manitowoc police had access to Avery's blood from the first case, where Avery was wrongfully convicted of raping 36-year-old Penny Beernsten. (It's worth noting that Avery was only exonerated after DNA tests linked serial rapist Gregory Allen to Beernsten's case, after Avery had been locked up for 18 years.) The attorneys are shown in the documentary tracking down that vial of Avery's blood, where they find the seal on the piece of evidence had potentially been tampered with. Strang told the Daily Beast that they did not have time to do their own independent testing to investigate the possible tampering of the blood further.
Kratz's other key evidence he says was left out of Making a Murderer included investigators finding leg irons and handcuffs in Avery's trailer. These were the cuffs that Dassey claimed Avery used to secure Halbach to his bed, though Avery claimed they were for his girlfriend at the time, Jodi Stachowski. Stachowski was in jail at the time of Halbach's murder for driving under the influence.
The prosecutor also mentioned that Avery had used *67 to call Halbach twice before she would have arrived at the salvage yard that day and had previously requested that it be her who come to take the photos. Halbach had visited Avery's salvage lot on assignment several times before. Strang argued he may have asked for her simply because she'd been there before and done a good job.
The docu-series also took issue with the fact that none of Halbach's DNA was found anywhere in Avery's trailer or garage. Her DNA was only found in the back of her own car. Kratz said during his interview on Fox News that bleach stains on the jean's of Brendan Dassey (Avery's nephew) indicated the pair cleaned up the site of the murder. Strang takes the stance that it's hard to believe the pair could have stabbed and shot someone and cleaned up every speck of her DNA.
Strang also defended the part where Halbach's bones were found at a burn site near Avery's trailer. Strang said that he believes the Halbach's bones were moved. "An open fire would not have generated enough heat to destroy a human body in the way those bones were destroyed," he told Kelly. He mentioned that other bones were found in a quarry, and that it was clear that bones were moved to the burn pit.
Strang said he was also troubled by the interrogation of Avery's nephew, Dassey, which Strang found out more about via the docu-series. Dassey has an IQ that hovers around 70 and was 16 at the time of Halbach's death. He told investigators in a highly controversial interrogation that he had helped his uncle with the murder. The docu-series indicates that Dassey's confession may have been coerced, that Dassey may have just guessed at what happened until his answers satisfied investigators. Dassey also indicated at one point that he may have drawn on the book or film Kiss the Girls for inspiration, and Strang said he thinks there's a "good chance" that happened, saying the similarities between the film and Dassey's meandering, fluctuating account of Halbach's death are "eerie."
"That's a movie I think would have made a pretty graphic impression on somebody his age. He probably shouldn't have been watching it," Strang said.
The film, adapted from the James Pattison novel of the same name, is about a serial killer who kidnaps young women and keeps them in a horrific harem. In the film, the killer restrains a young woman to a bed and cuts her hair as punishment. Dassey at one point in his questioning tells investigators that he cut Halbach's hair after they push him to tell him what he and Avery did to her head, but fluctuates on whether that happened or not. Dassey was convicted of Halbach's murder in his own trial. He was not defended by Strang or Buting.
Strang said he and Buting also wanted to introduce four other possible suspects during Avery's trial, but the law in Wisconsin demanded they also produce a motive. Therefore, Strang and Buting were only able to argue that there was some sort of conspiracy at work. Those four suspects—which likely include members of Avery's family and can be found here—didn't have a motive, but, Strang said, neither did Avery. The state's motive seemed to be that Avery killed Halbach because he was obsessed with her.
Strang has not confirmed the identity of the alternate suspects, but Avery did, and recently suggested his own brothers—Earl and Chuck Avery—as more likely culprits. Earl and Chuck Avery both have documented instances of violence against women. Strang said he unplugged after the trial and hasn't commented on Avery's thoughts about four other men.
A petition on Change.org asking for President Barack Obama to pardon Avery has amassed over 340,000 signatures. However, Obama can't pardon Avery, nor Dassey, as their convictions were not federal ones. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker could pardon Avery, but he won't. He's never pardoned anyone and has no plans to do so, according to the Washington Post.
While what really happened is something we may never know, there is one thing that's for certain. The Internet loves Strang and Buting, and hates disgraced prosecutor Kratz. It doesn't help that Kratz was found to have been sending creepy, sexual messages to the female victim of domestic violence while he was prosecuting her boyfriend. Kratz admits his behavior was "deplorable" in his interview with Fox News and blamed it on prescription pills. Here's a tumblr dedicated to the "the early-mid 2000s norm core style of Dean Strang," and here are some creepy Kratz-themed holiday cards.