Serial is like the ultimate cozy detective fiction to which you listen from the comfort of your own home. At its conclusion, though, there is no final reveal of the ultimate question. There is no answer to “who done it?” Instead, listeners are left with the question of “what do you believe?” And it is impossible to know for sure.
The man convicted of murder admits himself in a phone call with Sarah Koenig, the narrator, that the only person who really knows what happened is himself, along with possibly the murderer if you believe it wasn’t him. Some twenty years after the fact, far too much time has passed to come to a conclusive resolution, and it is impossible to search for evidence twenty-one years later.
From a legal standpoint, it is very difficult to get a murder conviction overturned. The burden of proof, which is on the prosecution in the original trial, shifts to the defence who must prove that there is a reason for a retrial, or that someone else did commit the crime, not simply that someone else could have committed the crime. While in the criminal trial, the defense need only establish reasonable doubt, the appeals process is very different in that the appellant must establish belief.
In considering the question of whether I believe Adnan Syed is guilty, I have a difficult time saying that I believe he didn’t do it. I believe he probably didn’t do it, but I also believe there is a chance he could have done it. It is a strange situation, and so I choose to look at it – as Sarah Koenig does – though the same prism of burden of proof that the original jurors should have, with the evidence they should have been able to see.
The first point of evidence that the jury did not get to hear that should have been presented was the alibi for Adnan provided by Asia McClain. The alibi put Adnan in the library with Asia at the time that the state claimed he was murdering Hae Min Lee. Asia was not a friend of Adnan’s, so unlike the alibi provided by Syed’s father or youth pastor, it should have been taken more seriously. Her letter of March 1st and March 2nd 1999 were not followed up by Adnan’s lawyer. Her statement would have provided strong evidence against the state’s case and even possibility eliminated Adnan as a suspect for that day. Instead there was no sworn testimony taken until March 25th 2000 after Adnan had already been convicted
Jay the State’s “Star Witness”
Jay Wilds was the marijuana-smoking pot-dealer casual friend of Adnan Syed who testified for the prosecution that Adnan strangled Hae and that he (Jay) assisted Adnan in disposing of the body. The problem with his testimony was that every time Jay told his story, it changed. It changed each time he told one of his friends with each person receiving a slightly different version. Even simple details like where his friend Jen (who also testified for the state) picked him up on the night of the murder differed. He told multiple versions to the police, who spent hours interviewing him until he had all the details “just right.”
Eye-witness testimony is only good testimony if it comes from a reliable source. Jay was anything but reliable. He got confused repeatedly about the details, and in his interrogation the police corrected him and seemingly provided prompts, directing his confessions which is highly improper procedure. His testimony was full of inconsistencies that should have rendered it inadmissible or at least ruined his credibility. His timeline was convoluted and full of holes. Without Jay’s testimony being considered, it is likely that Adnan would have walked free.
Before the case of the Maryland v. Adnan Syed even went to trial, the prosecutor was guilty of prosecutorial dishonesty. From his withholding of evidence from the defence to his attempt to block the motion for a continuance by the defence, Kevin Urick behaved dishonestly and in bad faith. The police also did not conduct all the tests that they should have. Jay stated that Hae had been stored in the trunk of her car laying on her side, but the trunk was never tested forensically. No shovels were ever found even though Jay said they had used his shovels. Urick put Hae’s boyfriend Don on the stand as a witness and tried to get him to testify that Adnan had intimidated him and when Don testified that he had liked Adnan and that Adnan had seemed like the type of person he could be friends with, Urick screamed at him once they were away from court. Such behaviour from a prosecutor is completely unacceptable. Evidence is not the prosecutor’s but the people’s and is intended to be used to see that justice is done, not that the suspect is convicted.
Worst of all is that Adnan’s original lawyer did a seemingly terrible job of defending him. She missed the opportunity to present an alibi from a key witness. She did not even interview Asia McClain whose testimony would have meant the state’s timeline was ruined. She missed the opportunity to have the car tested for evidence. She missed the fact that critical DNA evidence that was collected had never been tested. She failed to take Jay’s testimony apart and failed to call many things into question that are glaringly obvious when one examines the case. All of this is, for me, inexcusable. It seems she may have been ill, but her lack of a reasonable defence has left a man behind bars.
All in all, it appears the trial boiled down to a case of a jury who appeared to say to themselves “he probably did it, so we’ll vote guilty.” Adnan’s legal defence was inept and though holes could have been poked throughout the prosecution’s case, his lawyer failed to do so. We will never get an explanation. The prosecution was corrupt and did not disclose pertinent information in a timely manner, withholding evidence until it was presented at trial. DNA was not tested and fingerprints that did not much Jay or Adnan that were found on Hae’s vehicle were not investigated further, giving the appearance that they felt they had their guy and that looking into all of the evidence could only have complicated things or provided reasonable doubt. Investigating officers did not seek any other suspects.
Much like Koenig I think saying that Adnan didn’t kill Lee is further out on the limb than I am willing to go. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know him – didn’t know him at the time for that matter since he’s a different person today from who he was then. The list of issues with the case, though, create in my mind enough reasonable doubt that overturning the conviction is the only proper result. The supreme Court has refused to review the case, but I feel this is wrong as Adnan’s first day in court was rife with issues, and if he is guilty, granting a retrial should yield the same guilty verdict they received the first time if he is guilty. For me, I think he should go free.
Review of the Blog Medium
A blog post allows for a casual review or exposition of information. The conversational tone you can write with is more fun to write and to read than a formal essay would be. You are also free to use headings to organize information and make it easier to follow. The fact that you can also use hyperlinks inline with the text, linking to sources directly from your text without needing to jump too deeply into citations in a particular style is also a plus. A podcast or video wouldn’t allow me to do this. A webpage would but would require more knowledge of how to write in HTML and create those links wherein the blog post they are much simpler to make.