INTERVIEW: Dean Strang & Jerry Buting (Making A Murderer)

Published in The Music (NSW, VIC) and on, Nov 2016


“Everybody wants to know who we think did it; who we think the real killer is,” Making A Murderer attorneys Jerry Buting and Dean Strang tell Daniel Cribb.

There’s a bizarre disconnect when a true-crime documentary becomes a worldwide phenomenon and its subjects are thrown into celebrity status overnight.

People often become so engrossed in the story and how it’s told they can forget the real magnitude of the crime and conviction, which is why Making A Murderer attorneys Dean Strang and Jerry Buting have been in a unique and interesting situation following the Netflix series on Steven Avery blowing up. “We’ve been doing a lot of travel and a lot of interviews,” Buting begins, commenting on their A Conversation On Making A Murderer world tour.

Normally entertainment sites doing interviews with TV talent will probe for clues on what to expect next or push for more insight into what’s aired already, but it’s a completely different story when talking to two lawyers about a murder case. “Everybody wants to know who we think did it; who we think the real killer is,” Buting tells. “We’re not in a position where we can publicly state that, beyond what we’ve already said in the real case and in court or in pre-trial proceedings.”

“Nope, we’re just not doing it,” Strang says with a chuckle after a cheeky off-the-record attempt is made. “It got lost in court and court was the place to do it.”

The rise in true-crime series such as Making A Murderer and podcast Serial is partly to do with social media allowing viewers to engage with one another and start their own dialogue. “The lack of a tidy resolution, the frustrating uncertainty in which the audience is left may appeal; especially to a millennial demographic,” Strang says.

Avery was convicted of first-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm in 2007 and is still in prison today. While there are countless questions and theories floating around (some of the best directed at Buting on Twitter), the pair uses the documentary as a platform to discuss justice on a larger scale. “We’re really looking to engage audiences in a conversation about the systemic weaknesses that you find in the administration of criminal justice,” Strang explains. “Jerry and I are not so much interested in lecturing people as we are simply trying to foster and enhance a public dialogue in the hopes that if people were really engaged in Making A Murderer we can spread that engagement to other cases and the broader problems in the criminal justice system, wherever they may be.”

With the announcement of more episodes on the horizon and Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, having his conviction overturned in recent months, there’ll be plenty for Buting and Strang to talk about in Australia. “My hunch is that it’s going to be more focused on the post-conviction process, and how difficult it is once somebody is convicted to try and right that wrong,” Buting says on the next season, an angle that would tie in nicely with the direction of their dialogue on stage.

“Australia has a lot of problems in that regard as well – it’s more difficult to even get back into court once your initial appeal is done, even with newly discovered evidence like DNA,” he explains. “A lot of people think if a jury got it wrong, it’ll be fixed on appeal, and justice will be done – that’s just not the way it works.”

They hope the dialogue they assist during these tours will be the start of real change around the world. “I think a groundswell of public opinion is the starting point; people willing to take small steps that can make big differences,” Strang says. “It does have to start from the bottom up,” Buting adds. “I think this documentary has had such an impact because it really gives a window into a world that the public doesn’t see very often, and when people say, ‘Look, this isn’t the way we expect our justice system to work, we want better,’ that’s the way you get real reform.”