Steven Avery's lawyers in the hit series Making a Murderer became well-known authorities on criminal justice after much of the nation binge-watched the show, largely siding with Avery's team. Dean Strang and Jerry Buting are taking advantage of the spotlight, both starting major projects linked to the documentary series that made them famous — Buting is writing a book about dysfunction in the criminal justice system, and Strang is developing his own docuseries investigating other legal cases. Strang may have chosen a different path because he's already written a book — been there, done that. What's Strang's book about, you ask?
In Worse than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror, the Wisconsin lawyer examines the possible corruption in a 1917 trial surrounding the bombing of a Milwaukee police station that killed nine officers and one civilian. The trial discussed was only indirectly related to the bombing though, as the perpetrators were never actually found.
After the tragedy, the police, press, and public all assumed that the bomb was set off by Italians, says Strang, as there was a deep fear of radical immigrants. Days after the bombing, 11 alleged Italian anarchists were tried for different crimes that took place two months prior, and Strang argues that they were given an unfair trial and the public outcry around the bombing ensured their convictions.
Most of the 11 men were eventually released, but even the appeals trial was shrouded in suspicious behavior. Darrow, the appeals lawyer, was accused of bribing jurors in multiple cases throughout his career, but his actions in this case were never analyzed until Strang decided to do so. The Wisconsin lawyer explains that there isn't conclusive evidence that Darrow acted unlawfully in the appeal, but there is enough to raise questions.
You've probably never heard of this case, because it went largely overlooked for decades. Strang, however, felt it perfectly exemplifies the corruption that can take place in the criminal justice system when a heated political issue and fear of foreign criminals sway decisions and trials. In the book's introduction, the lawyer says, "Now, more than ten years after the September 11 attacks and the sometimes repressive or lawless responses of our institutions of criminal justice to those events, the parable is worth telling and remembering."
Strang uses this specific case to highlight major problems with America's criminal justice system, noting that things have changed sine 1917, but not nearly enough. He writes:
Improvement, when it comes at all, comes in the teeth of resistance by thousands upon thousands of police officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges across the country, most of whom are deeply habituated to institutional inertia and suspicious of change. Their resistance often is fiercest when it is utterly silent. Progress does not come; it must overcome. And not uncommonly, the battle is unheard.
Strang's book follows the same themes he touts throughout Making a Murder and offers hints about what kinds of cases his new show will delve into — namely systemic criminal justice problems and unfair trials of those accused of crimes.
Images: Netflix/Making a Murderer (1); University of Wisconsin Press (1)