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Making a Murderer: How much did it really cost to defend Steven Avery?

Making A Murderer

Nearly seven weeks after its premiere, the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer continues to attract attention from passionate viewers, legal figures, and the news media at large. If you haven’t seen the 10-part documentary yet, you’ve certainly heard people buzzing about it; and I can assure you, it’s as riveting, addictive and thought-provoking as any program that has aired in recent memory.

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Now assuming that you’ve already seen the documentary, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Dean Strang and Jerome Buting, the two high-end defense attorneys who defended Steven Avery in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. In one of the earlier episodes, the documentary notes that Avery used a large cash settlement of $400,000 (received after a wrongful conviction) to help pay for Strang and Buting’s expert defense services. While the documentary unassumingly made it seem as if both Strang and Buting made off well financially from their involvement in the case, it turns out that the pair of now semi-famous attorneys actually made very little. In fact, the real cost to defend Steve Avery turned out to be not much less than the money Strang and Buting received.

As part of an interesting interview with Forbes, Strang recently explained the unique economic circumstances that surfaced in their defense of Avery.

For starters, Avery may have received a $400,000 settlement, but $160,000 right off the top was earmarked for Avery’s civil lawyers for the work involved in securing the settlement in the first place. That left Avery with $240,000 to give to Strang and Buting.

“Of that $240,000, Jerry and I split that,” Strang explains. “Some to his firm, some to mine. And all of the out-of-pocket expenses had to come from that. It’s not all legal fees. Private investigators, subpoenas, transcripts, scientific testing, lodging during a seven-week trial.”

And that can all add up extraordinarily quickly. Interestingly, Strang relays that both he and Buting were aware that defending Avery was not going to be an economically prudent decision for either of them.

Strang estimates that both he and Buting put in around 2,000 hours while working the case over a 16 month period, or about 125 hours a month. That’s all well and good until you consider the out-of-pocket expenses involved.

Strang explains:

For the expert we flew in from New Mexico, for the experts we didn’t end up using. For a private investigator, Pete Bates, who appears in the film. We had to move to Appleton,Wisconsin for two months because the trial was too far to commute. So we rented a furnished apartment.

Interestingly enough, once these expenses are added into the equation, Forbes estimates that both Strang and Buting were working for about $9/hour.

Of course, Strang and Buting weren’t in it for the money, but nonetheless an interesting glimpse into some of the legal backstory involved in the handling of Avery’s top-notch defense.

Make sure to hit the source link below to read the entire interview with Strang. Also, if you haven’t yet seen it, we’ve put together an updated “Where are they now?” piece detailing what all of the documentary’s major players are up to today, a good 9 years after his conviction.

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.