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Wednesday March 22nd

Former UNC law student gains fan base after starring in Netflix’s 'Making a Murderer'

<p>Courtesy of Jerry Buting</p>
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Courtesy of Jerry Buting

The documentary follows the trial of Steven Avery, who was accused, and eventually convicted, of murdering Teresa Halbach. This accusation came just two years after Avery spent 18 years in prison for sexual assault he didn’t commit.

“It’s a worldwide phenomenon. I’ve been contacted from South Africa to the U.K. to Australia and New Zealand and almost everything in between,” he said.

Luckily, the show wasn’t as popular in Italy, which is where Buting was when it started receiving major attention from the media. He was able to walk around with relative anonymity.

That all changed when he got back.

“As soon as I got off the plane, immediately people started approaching me and introducing themselves and asking for selfies,” he said.

Buting has received thousands of emails and countless tweets since the documentary aired, many of them giving suggestions for potential new leads or evidence for the case. His favorite ones, he said, are the ones from young law students who have become inspired by his and partner Dean Strang’s work.

He said the reactions he’s received since the documentary aired are different than what he and Strang got from Wisconsin citizens during the trial.

“We were on TV all the time, and Dean and I were sort of the bad guys,” he said.

Now, celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Alec Baldwin are praising them.

While UNC may not have prepared him to deal with being in the public eye, Buting said the law school did a great job in preparing him to become a lawyer.

“That was where I had the opportunity to do some court work as a law student, and I think that’s an invaluable opportunity for students,” he said.

This experience clearly paid off. Buting’s courtroom work in the series has convinced many viewers of Avery’s innocence. Amongst those impressed with his work is Martin Brinkley, the Dean of UNC’s School of Law.

“Training law students for public and private service by instilling ethical values and dedication to justice is part of our mission and Jerry is proof that our mission is strong,” Brinkley said in an email.

Buting said he found this particular case hard to leave behind after the final verdict declared Avery guilty of murder.

“This has always been a difficult case to live with, especially with the understanding that Mr. Avery has now suffered two tragedies,” he said.

Buting said he hopes the documentary makes people aware of issues in the criminal justice system that transcend Avery’s trial, such as illegal juvenile interrogations and lack of funding for criminal defense.

“There are a lot of reforms we need,” he said. “There’s chronic underfunding of people who defend the poor people — people should be outraged at that.”

Although attorney Kathleen Zellner is now representing Avery, Buting said he would be interested in helping his former client again in the future.

“I’m supportive. I’m providing whatever knowledge I have about the case, and I’m willing to assist in any way they think is appropriate.”



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