On May 18th, Laurentian University welcomed famed defense attorney Dean Strang, who appears on the wildly popular Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, and Laurentian University’s Forensic Science chair Dr. Scott Fairgrieve to the Fraser Auditorium to discuss the broader implications of the infamous Steven Avery case, as well as the systematic failures of the American criminal justice system.
This incredible event was made possible thanks to the generous support of Lacroix Lawyers\Avocats. Hundreds of attendees were captivated as Dr. Fairgrieve and Mr. Strang discussed details of the sensational trial and answered questions from the packed audience.
Making a Murderer is a 10-part documentary series that tells the incredible story of Wisconsin resident Steven Avery. Avery was wrongfully convicted in a 1988 rape case and served 18 years in prison. DNA evidence exonerated him in 2003, and upon his release he sued law officials involved in the case for roughly US$36 million. However, before the case could go to courts, Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach, a young woman whose burnt remains were found on Avery’s property.
The series raises questions as to Avery’s and Dassey’s guilt, and whether or not they were given fair trials.
In 2007, Dr. Fairgrieve, was asked by Avery’s defense team, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, to examine Ms. Halbach’s charred remains.
With over 25 years of experience, Dr. Fairgrieve is one of the country’s most respected and sought after forensic experts. In the lead up to the trial, he examined photographs and reports from the crime scene where Halbach’s remains were discovered. One of the major questions raised by the defence was whether the body was burned in a pit near Avery’s trailer or whether it was burned at another location and then moved.
Despite Dr. Fairgrieve agreeing that there was a fire in the pit at some point, he criticized the documentation of the original forensic anthropologist on the scene.
“You couldn’t tell that she was only burned in the pit location,” Dr. Fairgrieve said. “A conclusion was rendered because the majority of her remains were found there, but it wasn’t a reasonable fact from this case. There were several investigative missteps.”
Dr. Fairgrieve believes this case is one that his students can learn from to gain investigative insight and a better understanding of the disparity that exists between the Canadian and American legal system.
“This wasn’t a slam dunk case on Avery,” Dr. Fairgrieve said. “It was ideal to have Dean Strang come talk because this case hinges so much on forensic and defensive evidence. Based on what was presented to the jury, there needs to be a higher standard for evidence that is amicable in court. There were many forms of evidence that wouldn’t have made it in a courtroom in Canada but did in Wisconsin. There were big problems.”
Dr. Fairgrieve said “mysteries” like the Avery case capture the public’s imagination and become forever etched in people’s minds. There is no doubt that this event, too, is one that members of the Laurentian community won’t soon forget.
Thank you to Claude and Andree Lacroix and the Lacroix Lawyers team for their support in making Dean Strang’s visit to Laurentian University possible.
For more information regarding Dean Strang’s and Dr. Scott Fairgrieve’s work on Making a Murderer, please see the following:
Making a Murderer: Sudbury forensics expert reflects on his testimony at Steven Avery trial
Making a Murderer lawyer in Sudbury to talk about justice
Click here to learn more about the Forensice Science program at Laurentian University.