Serial: The Case Against Adnan Syed

Stop.

If you haven’t experienced Serial, stop whatever you are doing right now, and go listen to the first podcast. Just give it a chance. I have a feeling you’ll be hooked.

What is Serial? Here’s how they describe it on the website.

Serial is a podcast where we unfold one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season. We’ll stay with each story for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it.

We’ll release new episodes every Thursday morning.

With that said, on to the discussion and the spoilers.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. Time off, family, food, it’s the best. But here’s the problem. These days I live in Washington, D.C. My family is in Alabama. Which means I have to travel. Now, that’s fine normally. Direct, relatively cheap flights and all. But on Thanksgiving, everyone is buying on the same days, and flights are normally $7-800. So to avoid that cost, I drive.

This year, I actually took the Amtrak Crescent line down—18 hours. It was nice; I wrote a lot. I digress. For the return journey, I rented a car and hit the road. But a 12 hour drive is kinda boring, especially when you do it alone. Normally I listen to a book on tape, but this year a friend on Facebook suggested I check out something called Serial. He said it would make the hours melt away.

Never has anyone been so right.

This post is directed at those of you who have listened to Serial and are caught up. After 9 episodes and 6 hours or so, I’ve got some thoughts, and I want to share them. As someone who is both a lawyer and a horror writer, I feel as though I have at least some sort of special insight. Or maybe not. That’s up to you to decide.

The following is based entirely on the podcast up to this point. I haven’t googled the case; I haven’t looked beyond the show. For all I know, there’s new evidence that has come out that will be revealed in the future that totally undermines my view. That’s the fun.

So here goes.

In my view, Adnan Syed did it, and there was plenty of evidence to convict him.

This will probably come as a shock to some of you. While Sarah has done an amazing job maintaining an unbiased approach to the case, it’s hard not to feel as though Adnan was wrongfully convicted. Some of that is as a result of how Sarah initially describes the evidence; “thin” is the word I believe she uses. But far more influential is Adnan himself. He just doesn’t seem like a guy who killed somebody, certainly not in premeditated fashion with his bare hands. I know it irritates Adnan when people tell him that the fact he seems like a “nice guy” makes them think he didn’t do it, but that’s really the strongest factor influencing us. And I also think it keeps us from seeing the evidence squarely.

But let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start with what we know.

There’s one fact that seems to be indisputable. The show has danced around it, but they’ve never said it explicitly. Let’s lay it out now.

One of three things happened in this case. 1. Adnan killed Hae. 2. Jay killed Hae. 3. Jay was intimately involved with Hae’s death, possibly with Adnan’s involvement.

How do we know this? Well, whatever you think about reasonable doubt in Adnan’s case, there is NO doubt that Jay was involved. He simply knows too much. He knew how she was killed. He knew how she was buried. He knew where the shovels were that buried her. And most importantly perhaps, he knew where her car was.

Try and imagine a reasonable scenario where all that is true and Jay isn’t involved. Maybe he saw Hae get kidnapped, and instead of helping her, he followed the killer around as this person murdered Hae, dumped the car, and then buried the body? Then he used this knowledge to frame Adnan, presumably over Adnan’s friendship with Jay’s girlfriend, Stephanie? And he did all that while spending much of the evening with Adnan?

That seems unlikely.

Which begins what will become a reoccurring theme in this post—irritation with the Innocence Project (IP).

Now, IP is a great organization that does great work, but much of what is said in relation to Adnan’s case seems like nonsense. It wasn’t a serial killer. It wasn’t Don. It was Jay or Adnan. Period.

Let’s walk through the triumvirate of a murder case—motive, means, and opportunity—and see what shakes out. Consider Adnan first.

1. Motive—From the very beginning, the prosecutors’ theory of the case—that Adnan killed Hae because he was heartbroken, jealous, and felt betrayed—is presented as unrealistic. Everyone from Sarah to Deirdre with IP acts as if it is absurd. “People break up all the time,” Deirdre says. Now, that’s true. People do break up all the time. They also get caught cheating all the time, get in fights all the time, insult each other all the time, have money troubles all the time. And 99 percent of those times, they don’t kill someone because of it. But those 1 percent… The depressing fact is this—the vast majority of people who are murdered in this world are killed for stupid, selfish, irrational, petty reasons. In fact, if you ever hear a cold blooded killer’s motive and think, “Yeah, that sounds about right,” take a good long look in the mirror.

So yeah, jealousy and the break up seem like perfectly good motives to me. Sure, Adnan didn’t seem like he was all that upset about it. But what do you expect? Do you think someone who was so embarrassed and so jealous about something that they would kill another person would let anyone else know just how badly they were hurt? Or would they bury it deep and then strike?

2. Means—Hae was strangled. No one seems to doubt that Adnan was capable of doing that. But to me, it goes a little deeper than just that. Whoever killed Hae did it with his hands. Think about that. Think about how personal that is, how violent, how much hate and anger it must take to do something like that. And the entire purpose of the crime was the murder. Hae wasn’t raped; this wasn’t someone covering up their crime in the heat of the moment. This was someone who wanted to feel the life fade away, who wanted to look in her eyes when she died. That has ex-boyfriend written all over it.

3. Opportunity—This is the element we really spend most of our time on, from the very first episode. When Sarah is laying out the case, she says it all turns on those 21 minutes after school got out at 2:15. Under the prosecution’s theory of the case, Hae was dead by 2:36. Could Adnan have killed Hae in those 21 minutes? I’m pretty convinced he could not have, and the alibi evidence that Asia provides seems to confirm that, indeed, he didn’t. But let’s consider the possiblities for a second. Why do we think that Hae was killed at 2:36? The prosecution seems to just pull that number out of the air, based on a phone call to Adnan’s phone, supposedly from a pay phone at Best Buy. Yet by this point in the podcast, no one still believes that 2:36 is the right time. Sarah speculates it may have been closer to 3:30.

This, in my view, is devastating to Adnan’s case. If Hae wasn’t killed at 2:36, then Asia’s alibi is worthless. Moreover, Adnan’s assertion that it was impossible to get out of the school quickly enough to kill Hae in 21 minutes also becomes irrelevant. Adnan’s two best arguments fall away.

There’s something else interesting about this question of timing. If Adnan did kill Hae, then he knows that the prosecution is wrong. And if he could prove that without giving away the fact that he knows it because he was killing Hae at a different time, then it might well be his get-out-of-jail-free card.

But if she was killed later, then there is no reason to think he couldn’t have done it.

Motive, means, and opportunity—it’s all there. Then there’s evidence. There’s the cell phone records that seem to put Adnan’s phone in Leakin Park at the time Hae was just happening to be buried there. There’s the 2 minute 30 second call to Nisha, which seems impossible to really explain. And then, there’s Jay.

It’s Jay, more than anything, that I think provides the reasonable doubt for most people. So much of the case hangs on his testimony, and yet, it seems so inconsistent. Jay lies. There is no question about that. And many of those lies are simply inexplicable. And if Jay is lying about one thing, maybe he’s lying about it all. Maybe he’s lying about Adnan. Maybe he killed Hae.

Maybe, but I don’t think so. First of all, if Adnan’s motive is flimsy, Jay’s is almost non-existent. The only suggested motive is that Jay was jealous of Stephanie’s relationship with Adnan. So he killed Hae and then framed Adnan? Seems like a lot of work, right? And framing people isn’t easy. Think about how easily that plan could have fallen apart. If someone just remembered Adnan at track practice, it’s over. Frankly, if I’m just making up motives for Jay, the better one is that Stephanie killed Hae and Jay freaked out and framed Adnan to try and protect her. But come on. That’s the kind of story that might work in a book; not here.

More importantly—and perhaps shockingly to a lay person—it’s not all that surprising that Jay lies. Most criminals are convicted by testimony from terrible people, usually accomplices in exchange for immunity. Those witnesses often lie to minimize their involvement. It’s almost par for the course. The important thing is that Jay is consistent on the important things, and his claims about burying the body fit with the cell phone evidence. In fact, the cell phone evidence really only fits with that part of the timeline. Why is that? I have a theory.

I think Jay was far more involved in the crime than he lets on. I think he might have even been there when Adnan killed Hae. Not sure where it happened. Maybe at the Best Buy. Maybe somewhere else. That would explain why the cell phone evidence doesn’t seem to support the first half of Jay’s story. It would also explain why the timeline doesn’t work after Hae is supposedly killed, and why Jay lies about most of that part of the story. That’s the part he is making up to minimize his own role. Hae was probably killed in the three o’clock hour. Immediately after, Adnan called Nisha. Maybe because he is a sick and twisted individual, maybe because he wanted to establish an alibi. Then Adnan went to track practice, and later on he and Jay reconvened to bury Hae.

See, the fact of the matter is that only Jay and Adnan actually know what happened. If Jay was more involved, Adnan can’t say so without admitting his own crime.

Now you may be saying to yourself, “That would make Adnan a psychopath, and what are the chances that Sarah just happened upon a psychopath?” (Thanks again, Deirdre at IP.) But here’s the thing—Sarah has almost certainly come into contact with a psychopath. Once again, either Adnan killed Hae or Jay did. Everyone pretty much agrees that if Adnan did it, he is a cold-blood monster. But what if Jay did it? What kind of person can kill an innocent girl just to frame a friend?

I could be wrong about all of this. Adnan could be innocent. Maybe that’s what we’ll learn as the story continues. Or maybe we’ll never really know.

To be continued…

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