Elizabeth Medlevow, executive director of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy, introduced lawyers Dean Strang and Walt Kelly, Boston College Law ’68, to a packed audience in Stuart House on Newton Campus on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Famous for representing convicted murderer Steven Avery, Strang and Kelly visited BC Law to talk about the Netflix series Making a Murderer, their collaboration with the media, and to offer inspiring words of advice to the law students.
Avery, a native of Manitowoc County, Wis., served 18 years in prison for a wrongful sexual assault conviction. After new methods of DNA testing proved his innocence, he was exonerated with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
Released from prison in 2003, Avery filed a lawsuit against Manitowoc County, its sheriff, and its district attorney, with Kelly as his lawyer. The lawsuit was pending until 2005, when Avery was arrested for the murder of a female photographer, Teresa Halbach. Kelly explained that the team made a conscious decision not to file the suit right away.
“The gift of the movie is to show the system in a real way to real people.”
-Walt Kelly, Boston College Law ’68
Kelly, a civil rights and liberties lawyer, became involved with Avery’s case through a friend on the staff of the Innocence Project who told him that Avery was about to be exonerated after DNA testing proved his innocence.
“A reporter called up and said, ‘Walt, your client is being followed up in the case of a missing woman,’” Kelly said.
Kelly had to reconfigure the case immediately after hearing that Steven was charged for the disappearance of Halbach. She said that they quickly switched gears when they realized Steven was in peril.
Avery, who maintains his innocence, was shocked at his arrest. Steven sat through almost all of the depositions of the civil case, Kelly said.
“He would ask, ‘How could they do this to me?’” Kelly said.
Public favor of Avery immediately declined after Ken Kratz, special prosecutor on Avery’s case, gave a press conference that was picked up by all seven of Wisconsin’s media markets.
“The damage was done before the trial started,” Strang said.
Strang said that if he could have changed one aspect of Avery’s trial, it would have been the press conference given 10 months earlier.
“We could’ve had an even shot had that horrific story not been put out,” Strang said.
Strang is unsure, however, if a change of setting for the Avery case would have resulted in a different outcome.
“That’s the question I will live with until I am not living,” Strang said.
Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos contacted the Avery family, thinking that they would be documenting a post-exoneration civil suit.
“The collaboration with the filmmakers would not have happened without Steven Avery saying, ‘This is what I want,’” Strang said.
Ricciardi and Demos won the trust of Strang and worked hard to honor the wishes of both the family and lawyers. They respected the lawyers’ boundaries throughout the process.
There is no conversation between Steven Avery and his lawyers, Strang said. Strang explained that there is no such recording, but rather that Steven Avery’s voice recordings are recordings from conversations he had in jail with his family and his girlfriend.
When asked about Avery’s innocence, Strang and Kelly cannot come to a definitive conclusion but allege that he is innocent.
“I’ve never known, I personally suspect that he is,” Strang said. “There is, honestly, evidence suggesting guilt.”
The lawyers not only focused on the Avery case, but also offered advice to the students in attendance. Kelly encouraged students to remember the importance of and hang on to mentors.
Strang agreed and credits the mentors that he has acquired throughout his law career with helping him find a path to success. He assumed that many students are probably too focused and too directed. By taking every opportunity and being prepared, students can feel fulfilled by their law careers. Strang encouraged students to be available for when serendipity arises.
In regards to the future of the Avery case, Strang is unsure if Avery will ever be freed.
“At this point, it would be newly discovered evidence,” Strang said. “He has exhausted an appeal and opportunities in federal court.”
Both Kelly and Strang appreciate the positive response that the show has elicited, especially in explaining the criminal justice system to viewers in the hopes of later reformation.
“The gift of the movie is to show the system in a real way to real people,” Kelly said.
Featured Image by Isabelle Lumb / Heights Staff