Attorney Dean Strang tells PEOPLE he’s still consumed by Steven Avery’s murder trial nearly a decade later.
“It’s a case that still keeps me up,” he says. “At some selfish level, I’d love to forget a lot about it. But you can’t and of course I don’t really want to.”
As one of Avery’s defense attorneys, Strang is a key player in Netflix’s Making a Murderer, a 10-part documentary series that examines the twist-filled case of Avery, whose wrongful 1985 conviction for sexual assault was overturned but who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life for the 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
To this day, Avery vigorously maintains his innocence and believes he was framed in retribution for filing a $36 million lawsuit against the county and authorities, which he ultimately settled for $400,000.
“There are just enduring questions about whether Steven committed this murder,” says Strang, adding that no other suspects ever presented themselves. “I’ve thought about it a lot because if there was really any compelling evidence that Person A or Person B did it, we would have pursued that. But I never felt like I had a prosecutable case against anyone else.”
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In Strang’s opinion, prosecutors earnestly believe Avery is guilty: “You convince yourself that you’ve got the right person,” he says. “It’s natural as a human being to be so repelled by the idea that you might be seeking life in prison of somebody who’s innocent that your own cognitive defense mechanisms would have you believing that you’ve got the right person. And you might!”
Defense Lawyer Regrets Not Preparing Better for Prosecution’s Blood Test Results
When asked what he believes the defense’s failures were, Strang points specifically to an old vial of Avery’s blood that was found inside an unsecured area of the Manitowoc County Clerk of Courts office. The vial was not sealed and the documentary implies it had been tampered with.
Avery’s blood, which was found inside Halbach’s car, was a crucial piece of evidence in the case against Avery. But Avery’s lawyers alleged that the blood had been planted, taken from the 11-year-old, unsecured vial.
What Avery’s attorneys didn’t predict, however, was that the state would test the blood for EDTA, a preservative that prevents blood from coagulating. “We didn’t necessarily anticipate as well as we should have that the prosecution would scramble to get some of testing on the blood vial and that the judge would let them put in whatever they would get,” sats Strang. “We didn’t anticipate that well enough in advance and prepare for that eventuality.”
The blood tested from Halbach’s car ultimately showed no EDTA – but the defense believes that the prosecution’s methods were shaky and might have been refutable by defense experts had the defense known ahead of time. In June 2007, Avery was convicted of Halbach’s murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He’s still fighting that conviction.
Strang hopes that new evidence could come to light now that the case has been thrust back into the spotlight. “If it’s real and helps the justice system get closer to the right result in this case, you hope that people will speak up,” he says.