Brookfield attorney Jerome Buting’s “Illusion of Justice: Inside ‘Making a Murderer’ and America’s Broken System” uses examples from the Teresa Halbach killing and other high-profile cases from around Wisconsin to construct a compelling, yet readable, argument that the deck in the American justice system is often stacked against criminal defendants.
“Illusion of Justice” is one of a number of books written about the Halbach slaying and related issues. But unlike those from Michael Griesbach and former Avery prosecutor Ken Kratz, it tells the story from the perspective of the defendants. Buting says Halbach was a victim, but he argues that Avery and Dassey also are victims because they were convicted of a murder despite what Buting insists was a lack of proof.
A great deal of “Illusion of Justice” focuses on the Avery matter, in which he and Dassey, his then-16-year-old nephew, were convicted of Halbach’s murder, in part because of a Dassey confession that Buting argues was false. The case, which followed Avery’s release from prison after serving 18 years for a brutal rape committed by another man, that became the blockbuster Netflix documentary, “Making a Murderer.”
Though the book weaves in details of high-profile false convictions such as that of Ralph Dale Armstrong with anecdotes from Buting’s life and career, casual readers in this part of the country are most likely to be interested in his take on State of Wisconsin vs. Avery. Buting doesn’t disappoint, constructing a linear argument that takes the reader through the case in a way that’s easier to follow than the documentary, which sometimes focuses on characters at the expense of the issues.
Specifically, “Illusion of Justice” clearly explains the defense’s efforts to punch holes in the prosecution’s case that Avery had lured Halbach to his family’s salvage yard under the pretext of selling a car, then brutalized and killed her, involving Dassey in the killing. Instead, it argues that the Avery prosecution was a frame job by Manitowoc County sheriff’s officials angered by the fact that Avery had sued the county for $36 million because he spent 18 years in prison for a 1985 rape that DNA evidence ultimately proved was committed by a man named Gregory Allen.
“He would not walk free a second time if they could help it.”
Buting clearly believes that authorities probably planted Halbach’s SUV on Avery’s property, Avery’s blood inside the SUV, and the SUV key inside Avery’s bedroom (where it was found the seventh time police searched the room). And while he acknowledges that several pieces of physical evidence potentially implicated Avery — the presence of her remains, and SUV, on his property, and his blood in the car — Buting argues that Avery had no motive to kill the young photographer, but rather had incentive not to commit a crime.
He also argues that as many as 10 other people could have killed Halbach. The defense was not allowed to argue that someone else killed her, a setback that Buting and Strang found devastating.
“Illusion of Justice,’ though, is about more than Avery. Buting draws parallels between Avery and Ralph Dale Armstrong, a client of his who was released after spending almost 30 years in Wisconsin prisons for a 1980 rape and murder he did not commit.
Buting uses the Armstrong case, which involved 19-year-old University of Wisconsin student Charise Camps, to show that the legal deck is stacked against defendants, twice citing Strang’s declaration that “the State is supposed to start every case swimming upstream against … the presumption of innocence.”
Even when Armstrong’s lawyers were able to prove evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, Buting shows, appellate courts were reluctant to overturn his conviction or grant a new trial. Armstrong’s conviction was overturned, but the effort took years.
Perhaps best of all, Buting ends with a suggested blueprint for how ordinary people can improve the system, from voting and embracing jury service to working to ensure that low-income people charged with crimes have access to decent legal representation.
The book also offers a glimpse into Buting’s human side — something “Making a Murderer” viewers didn’t get to see — beginning with elements of his childhood near Indianapolis. We learn about Buting’s devastating diagnosis — on Sept. 11, 2001 — of a rare cancer that could have killed him and the effects it had on him and his lengthy recovery had on his law career.
He also demonstrates empathy for Dassey, who he clearly understands is “chronologically a teenager, emotionally and intellectually a child, (but) was treated as if he were an adult.” And he displays sharp wit when he discusses Kratz, who early in the case had staged a grandstanding news conference in which he released a number of inaccurate details about the killing but later complained that the defense might do something similar.
“If unintended irony were a felony,” Buting wrote, “Kratz would be serving 25 years without parole.”
“Illusion of Justice” is on sale Tuesday from publisher Harper Collins, Barnes & Noble and other outlets.
Source: Dan Schneider: greenbaypressgazette.com