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'Making a Murderer' attorney in MN: Ask 'bigger questions' about justice system

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Dean Strang says it's been a "strange ride" for him since the hit Netflix series "Making a Murderer" debuted in December.

That ride brought Strang – Steven Avery's defense attorney – into the national spotlight, and on Wednesday he paid a visit to Minnesota.

State Rep. Dan Schoen, a Democrat, and State Rep. Nick Zerwas, a Republican, invited Strang to discuss what legislators can do to make sure our criminal justice system is as fair as possible.

Wednesday's conversation comes after Avery's story was highlighted in the 10-episode "Making a Murderer" documentary. The series raised a lot of questions about the Wisconsin man's guilt in the 2005 murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach, and how law enforcement officials handled the investigation. (For more background on the case, click here.)

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Strang stressed the importance of not focusing on the outcome of the case, but on the big picture.

“The value to me of the documentary or any book about the case ought to be asking bigger questions about the system and the reality of the outcomes we achieve in our criminal justice system," he said.

Strang did note having additional perspectives on a case – like the "armchair sleuths" who are doing their own research on Avery's case – is beneficial, but people shouldn't get too caught up in it.

Instead, he offered suggestions for legislators (and some for the public) on ways to improve the justice system.

To avoid any conflict of interest issues – even those not as blatant as what happened in Manitowoc County – Strang suggests policy makers anticipate potential issues and come up with a way to handle them if they do arise.

Increasing funding for public defense attorneys will also help give people fair trials. Strang says upwards of 90 percent of people in Minnesota (or any other state) can't afford to hire a lawyer, so they're given a public defender.

But that public defender is bogged down with as many as 200 cases at a time, which doesn't let them dedicate much time to their clients – no matter how good the lawyer's intentions are, Strang explains.

“If, at the end of the day, you want to have confidence that we’re getting it right, the fact of the matter is that we’ve got to fund [the defense]," Strang said.

He also said lawmakers should consider reducing penalties altogether, noting the justice system will always make mistakes. But if you're mistakenly convicted, it's better to do five years in prison than a mandatory minimum of 10 years, Strang noted. 

After Strang's stop in St. Paul, he attended a sold-out forum at Sisyphus Brewing in Minneapolis, where he discussed the broader implications of the "Making a Murderer" documentary. Watch video from that event here.

The forum raised $1,700 for the Wisconsin Innocence Project, Sisyphus Brewing tweeted.

https://twitter.com/SisyphusBrewing/status/692523815176425473

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