In de­fence of the dad-crush

Metro Magazine NZ - - City Life - CATHER­INE McGRE­GOR

Dean Strang and Jerry But­ing Lawyers

Dean Strang and Jerry But­ing come to Auck­land near to a year af­ter the re­lease of Mak­ing a Mur­derer, the ad­dic­tive Amer­i­can true-crime TV doc­u­men­tary in which the two de­fence lawyers ap­peared. Since then, it could be ar­gued, not much has changed. Steven Avery, the mur­der ac­cused the duo rep­re­sented in court, con­tin­ues to serve a life sen­tence with­out pa­role. Bren­dan Dassey, Avery’s nephew and his co-ac­cused, also re­mains in jail, nine years into his own life sen­tence. He’s just turned 27.

But in other ways, events are mov­ing fast. Avery has a new lawyer with a new plan to prove his in­no­cence. Dassey’s con­vic­tion was over­turned in Au­gust; he’s set to be re­leased by mid-Novem­ber un­less the state of Wis­con­sin de­cides to retry him. And Strang and But­ing have swapped of­fice-bound anonymity for global fame as norm­core fash­ion icons, swoon-wor­thy dad-crushes and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem at its most doggedly no­ble.

It’s in this lat­ter guise that they’re ap­pear­ing on stage here, part of a speak­ing tour that fo­cuses on the le­gal and ju­di­cial is­sues the Avery and Dassey cases ex­posed. “The film has given us an op­por­tu­nity to use their specifics to il­lus­trate broader problems in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” says Strang, on the phone to Metro from his Wis­con­sin base. “The fact that peo­ple are very fo­cused on what hap­pened nine years ago in one county in one state is a great start. What we’re chal­leng­ing peo­ple to do is to take the next step and con­sider what might hap­pen next week, in the court­houses near them.”

There’s much that’s re­mark­able about Mak­ing a Mur­derer, from Avery’s back­story — prior to his ar­rest for Teresa Hal­bach’s killing, he’d served 18 years on a wrong­ful con­vic­tion for rape and at­tempted mur­der — to its com­pelling cast of char­ac­ters, such as Avery’s in­domitable mother, Dolores, and Ken Kratz, the baby-voiced pros­e­cu­tion lawyer. Per­haps most strik­ing is how this one case touched on mul­ti­ple in­grained is­sues in the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem — eco­nomic and class dis­par­i­ties, the dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects of pre-trial pub­lic­ity, and the treat­ment of those, like Dassey, with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties or low func­tion­al­ity.

“Po­lice sta­tions and court­houses are to some ex­tent black boxes that the pub­lic doesn’t of­ten get a chance to look in­side, and that’s at least as true in New Zealand as it is in the United States,” says Strang. “I thought the film did a good job of lift­ing the lid, let­ting peo­ple peer in and see that de­fen­dants and their fam­i­lies are of­ten im­pov­er­ished, or at least hold lower sta­tus in the com­mu­nity. They’re very of­ten vic­tims them­selves, and their fam­i­lies are, too.”

But­ing says lawyers “have known about these flaws in our sys­tem for years, if not decades. And Dean and I have been talk­ing about them for a long time, too. I still be­lieve there was a mis­car­riage of jus­tice in Steven Avery’s case. But it gives us hope that if there’s in­ter­est like this from one film, then maybe it can be sus­tained and peo­ple will be en­cour­aged to take own­er­ship of the jus­tice sys­tem ad­min­is­tered in all our names.” A CON­VER­SA­TION ON MAK­ING A MUR­DERER: ASB THEATRE, NOVEM­BER 9. WWW.AUCKLANDLIVE.CO.NZ

DEAN STRANG (LEFT) AND JERRY BUT­ING

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