BUTING FOR THE DEFENSE
Cancer survivor Jerome Buting on fallibility,
prejudgment and the deterioration of criminal law
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED AND EDITED BY ERIK LUNDEGAARD
Q: You’ve represented several clients in
high-profile cases: Ralph Armstrong,
Steven Avery, Ted Oswald. Any cases
that didn’t get the media attention you
felt they deserved?
A: There are. Although usually that’s
good. From the defense perspective,
you don’t normally get good publicity—
particularly at the outset of a case—
because the information is one-sided
and limited. It’s coming from the criminal
complaint or the press release from the
police or something like that, and ethically
defense attorneys are limited as to what
we can say. So I don’t seek out publicity
for the cases that I have. Usually my
clients much prefer, you know, not to be
the No. 1 news story.
Q: So is there anything you do to try to
tamp down media attention?
A: Some defense lawyers prefer to make
the response of “No comment,” or not to
return media calls. But my philosophy is:
They’re gonna do a story one way or the
other. I know, particularly from working on
some long cases like the Avery trial, that
[reporters] have a job to do, too. They have
deadlines, and expectations from their
editors; so I’m generally willing to comment
but obviously in a limited way. If there’s
something that, ethically, can be presented
that gives a little bit of the other side of the
story, then I think the public is better served,
and my clients are better served.
Q: Do you have an example?
A: The Avery case. The prosecutor, who’s
now got troubles of his own, had a very
inflammatory and prejudicial press
conference that presented a story: “Now
we know why Teresa Halbach was killed…”
We were not even on the case at that
point, my co-counsel and I.
During the trial itself, we didn’t intend
on doing press conferences. But the media
was set up in a room in the basement of
the courthouse, and the prosecutor said he
was intending to speak to them every other
day, and the victim’s brother was going to
speak on the other days, so we said, “Wait
a minute, that’s not fair.” So we agreed to
do a summary-of-the-day press conference,
and I think the media balance was much
better. In fact, at the beginning of the trial,
even though it was still the prosecution’s
case, our cross-examinations were bringing
out so much information that was not yet in
the public domain. [The media was] really
surprised and thought, “Hey, this is going to
be a closer case than we thought.”
Q: How did you get involved in the
A: I was called by the other attorney,
Dean Strang. He and I had worked on
other cases, where we’d represented codefendants, and so we were familiar with
each other’s style. He thought we would
complement each other well, and I think
we did as the case went on.
Q: How did your personalities
complement one another?
A: Dean has a very bright, gentlemanly,
scholarly approach, and he was able to work
with the prosecutors a little better than I
was. It just developed where I had a little bit
of the harder edge as the case proceeded.
Q: You were the bad cop.
A: There’s some truth to that. We weren’t
intending to do good cop/bad cop, but it
developed that way as the case went on.
Q: In the Ralph Armstrong case, the
prosecution withheld evidence. In the
Steve Avery case, Avery, exonerated