Last year, Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” enraptured and enraged millions with its in-depth exploration of Steven Avery, the Wisconsin man who was exonerated after serving 18 years in prison on a wrongful sexual assault conviction, only to find himself on trial again, accused of first-degree murder in a subsequent case. Avery is now back in prison and pursuing appeals. Unfolding as an indictment of the American justice system, the series examined allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct while raising questions about what constitutes a fair trial.
At its heart were defense attorneys Dean Strang and Jerry Buting. Capitalizing on their unexpected fame, the duo will anchor a nationwide speaking tour, “A Conversation on Justice,” which kicks off at the Berklee Performance Center Saturday. Aiming to further the discussion ignited by “Making a Murderer,” the tour will give Strang and Buting a platform from which to discuss the series and its broader implications. Over the phone, Buting spoke about the motivations for the tour, the current state of the Avery case, and why he’s optimistic about meaningful reform of the justice system.
Q. How did the decision to do this tour come about?
A. The idea for the tour grew out of some frustration Dean and I had with the way these issues can be dealt with in other types of forums, like television news. We noticed, before and during the trial, the same thing that was evident there was also being repeated after the series came out. We were being flooded with media calls, and ultimately there are some big, serious issues raised by this documentary: They just can’t be dealt with in a two- or three-minute piece on your nightly news. So we said, “Boy, it would be good if we could have a forum where we could talk about this, unedited by the media, answering people’s questions, and getting people talking about these issues.”
Q. The success of “Making a Murderer” and other true-crime media projects, like “Serial,” would seem to indicate a heightened public interest in the justice system. Is that exciting to see?
A. It’s very encouraging, and it coincides with an awakening of Americans on a whole host of other things. There’s the ubiquitous presence of cellphones that now document police-civilian encounters, and through that we’re starting to learn things are quite a bit different than what most Americans thought, particularly with African-Americans and people of color, and their police encounters.
Q. Where do you think reformation of the existing, flawed justice system is going to come from?
A. It’s going to start with the grassroots. Police and prosecutors can only get away with these sorts of things when people aren’t watching or they’re confident people won’t watch and won’t fight back, for instance, at the ballot box. When people start to take ownership of their criminal justice system and pay more attention to what’s going on in their local courthouse, that’s the way things are going to start to change.
Q. Kathleen Zellner has taken over the Avery case and is looking for evidence to reopen it. What have been your impressions of her performance thus far?
A. She’s got an excellent reputation of having championed, successfully, a number of other exonerations, and so Dean and I are hopeful that she’ll be able to do the same for Steven Avery, that she’ll succeed where we were not able to. The one thing about the climate now that we’re more hopeful about is that the public is more attuned to his potential innocence. People are watching it and saying, “I don’t know whether he’s guilty or innocent, but he didn’t get a fair trial.” We didn’t have that. Everyone was very heavily biased against us when we tried that case.
Q. Is there a sensation of passing the torch?
A. That’s what you hope happens whenever a different attorney takes over a case. You turn over your file and cooperate as much as possible, even to the extent of allowing them to look at your own performance, and examine what mistakes the first attorney may have done. I’ve been on both ends of that, where I’ve been the trial attorney and someone else has taken over, and I’ve been on post-conviction, and I’m dealing with some other trial attorneys. You do need a fresh set of eyes, I think, which is why we didn’t do the appeal of Steven Avery’s case. We knew even at that point that he’d be better off having a different set of attorneys that could take it from there. Even though we remained in contact with him over the years, we haven’t represented him directly since the trial.
A CONVERSATION ON JUSTICE
With Jerry Buting and Dean Strang. At the Berklee Performance Center, April 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $49.50-$95, 617-747-2261, www.berklee.edu