'Making A Murderer'’s Dean Strang was welcomed by a number of universities across Ireland recently.
Mr Strang, best known for his appearance in the Emmy winning series, spoke to law enthusiasts, students and members of the public at University College Cork, the University of Limerick and Trinity College Dublin on his recent visit to Ireland.
Speaking at the University of Limerick this week, Mr Strang opened his speech by inviting the audience to answer a particular question.
“What I want to address is a question that any defence lawyer whether in the United States or in Ireland or almost anywhere else is asked frequently. How can you defend those people?"
“Consider again the question slowly,” he said. “How can you represent those people? It is never my people, it is never even one of us or our people, the question rests on the belief that both the questioner and the lawyer being asked the question are above or superior to the ‘other’ or ‘those’ people.”
Mr Strang went on to explain how the question denies the truth that we are all criminals. He asked the audience if anyone had ever smoked marihuana or ever tried cocaine, if anyone had ever shared any illegal drug with a friend, if anyone had ever shoplifted, if anyone in the audience had groped a fellow student or kissed him or her while he or she was drunk.
“About one in four Americans have a criminal record,” he said.
“Will we eventually get to the point where we are willing to restate the question this way. How can I not defend my people?” Mr Strang asked.
“If and when you restate the question in some way like that you will be a defender, you will be a defender whether you work as a lawyer, you will be a defender whether you work as a corporation employer, you will be a defender if you work as a professor. If you come to think of the question that way, you will be a defender if you are an engineer, a doctor, an astronomer or take up any other calling in life you will be a defender of Irish society and culture, you will be a defender of your countrymen,” he concluded.
In particular interest to the audience was the case of Steven Avery, for whom Mr Strang was the defence lawyer in 'Making A Murderer'.
Professor Shane Kilcommins of the University of Limerick Law School, lead a discussion with Mr Strang about the Irish and American legal systems and about his personal experiences with Steven Avery’s trial.
Speaking on the media coverage of the trial, he said, “In the United States no controls are put on what the media can publish, what becomes available to them.”
Mr Strang said it was clear that the jurors had a broader perception of Steven Avery than they would have acquired from the evidence of the trial itself.
Professor Kilcommins asked Mr Strang about his opinion on how the interviewing of Brendan Dassey, Steven Avery’s nephew, was conducted by police and used in court.
“It is no surprise that the fact that Brendan Dassey’s interviews were wrongfully conducted was not struck down in state court.” Mr Strang said.
He explained that he was not surprised that a state judge would reach a decision far more favourable of the prosecution because in Wisconsin and in the majority of U.S. states, judges are elected.
“What are the qualifications for being a judge? Well, that you have a law degree,” he said. “You simply can be elected and serve as a judge and what that does is it produces for us traditional elections in which the candidates are competing for who's going to be tougher on crime.”
“We do not elect our federal judges. They are and always have been appointed for life by the president with the consent of the U.S. Senate. I think it really is no accident that it was a federal judge who finally held that Brendan Dassey’s statement was involuntary.”
Professor Kilcommins asked what Mr Strang made of Mr Dassey’s defence, which he found “a whole lot frustrating.”
“In terms of behind the scenes stuff on Making A Murderer, we missed by one hour the opportunity for Jerry Buting to defend Brendan Dassey,” he said.
Mr Strang told the audience how he and Jerry Buting were about an hour into a meeting about working together on Mr Avery's case, Mr Strang sharing information about Steven’s case, when the phone rang. It was a member of the Avery family saying Brendan had been arrested.
“I had disclosed all kind of confidential information about Steven’s case to Jerry, he was already conflicted and already had a duty to Steven Avery. Ethically, under the rules of professional conduct for lawyers in the U.S., there was no way now that you can then go and represent an accused accomplice,” he said.
The final question put to Mr Strang was what would be the one thing he would change about the American legal system.
“An easy one would be to abolish the death penalty but that wouldn't make the system more just, it would just make the consequences of injustice less grave,” he said.
“If I had to pick one thing I would say it is time to change how the police in the U.S. are taught to interview people in custody, it is time to move away from the psychological manipulation and the suggestiveness of the techniques that, uniformly, U.S. law enforcement officers are taught,” he said.
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