Reflections on Serial
At some point along the way when listening to Sarah Koenig’s podcast, Serial, you realize that the conclusion isn’t exactly going to be clean. The serialized podcast is based on a real-life murder with “DID HE DO IT?” subject matter concerning someone currently still in jail. Which, in many ways is beneficial to the show. The audience does not know how it is going to end. This wouldn’t be the same if Koenig were simply doing superb investigation on the story of someone exonerated for a crime they did not commit.
Serial is ripe for debate and opinion. The show likely collected most of the audience in that manner, and, is now the world’s most popular podcast. Is that a big deal? Who knows, are podcasts big yet? I know it’s popular than any podcast Acadia has been on, but, that’s about it. (editor's note: shut up! -- Acadia) Hopefully they’re big enough to bounce that MailChimp advertisement for the second season.
Also, to read this, you’ll likely want to have listened to the podcast. All of it. Serial is a 6-week murder trial broken down into less than 9 hours. I’ve decided to break this write-up into two parts. Actual guilt/innocence and then Reasonable doubt. There is certainly overlap between the two concepts, but, I think this is a good way to go about it.
The overwhelming thought that I’m left with after listening to Serial is that Adnan got a pretty fair shake of things all told. As a criminal defense attorney, I feel like I go out of my way quite a bit to say the Justice System is f***ed up. As I listened to Serial, I started to think that was the case here. This was especially so in the first episode, titled “The Alibi.”
Ultimately, this episode was a clever bit of storytelling that pushed the listener forward and established an undercurrent of the possibility that the Justice System did Adnan Syed wrong. The Alibi isn’t such. It becomes clear rather quickly after that first episode that there isn’t really such a thing as an alibi in this case. Alibi is something way more central to Serial as a storytelling device than it is this murder case.
There are some issues that Adnan still has for appeal, one of which being the failure to investigate the alibi witness. And, if that pans out and results in a new trial, it’s not a statement of guilt or innocence. Same with the other issue getting looked at, whether Adnan’s attorney pursued a plea deal. I’ll put those to the side, because, what I’m most interested in is not whether there’s a technicality that will result in positive gains for Adnan Syed, but, moreso, why this case is intriguing, why people think he might be innocent, and concepts of reasonable doubt.
It’s always intriguing to listen to a story of someone in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Sucks for the dude in prison that we love this stuff, but, we do. That’s on Andy Dufresne and Shawshank Redemption, we’ve been hooked ever since.
Serial immediately hooks the listener because the opening episode says there is an alibi witness out there. Alibi witnesses are kind of a big deal. Such a big deal that if you have an alibi defense, you have to disclose it before trial so that the cops can investigate it and such. The way this was presented on the podcast was to come across as a major point towards the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed.
It still might wind up as a big deal in Syed’s Ineffective Assistance of Counsel appeal, but, again, whatever, I just care about if this dude did it.
As you go through the podcasts, you realize that this case doesn’t exactly hinge on alibi. Even if the witness had been interviewed, it’s plainly obvious to everyone that there still is not an air-tight alibi here. It might shift the state’s timeline presented at trial, but, then again, the unfortunate part of that for Adnan is that it widens the timeline from 21 minutes to a much larger swath of time that afternoon.
So, did the dude do it?
There have been many trials with tons more “physical evidence” than this trial that are not nearly as strong of cases. There’s certainly a myth of evidence and physical evidence presented in Serial. Like, this idea that Jay’s word, if you believe it to be corroborated by other testimony and believe the major points of it, is not strong enough evidence for a conviction. I’ll talk at length about that in the next piece about Serial. For now, fuck it, let’s solve the damn thing, you know?
I’ll refer to Jay here as a limiting witness. No matter what you think about Jay’s testimony, when he gives the police Hae’s car, that narrows your options to four: 1. Adnan killed Hae and Jay helped move the body; 2. Jay and Adnan killed Hae; 3. Jay killed Hae without Adnan’s knowledge; 4. Jay had some involvement with Hae’s death, but the killing was done by a third party. It’s pretty damn unlikely to not be a 5th option of some other dude doing it without Jay’s assistance, right?
I think it’s rather farfetched to believe that Jay is essentially covering for a third party who killed Hae.
But, yeah, Jay was involved with this s***, right?
For myself personally, I eliminate the fourth option. I guess there’s some chance of it happening, but, nothing really leads to it in the police questioning of Jay. And, the idea that Jay holds tight completely in terms of not implicating another party and also implicating Adnan just seems hard to do, but, that’s also because...
...I tend to believe Jay...for the most part, and, ultimately, that’s why I think Adnan is guilty.
Also, Adnan just f**kin’ sounds guilty to me, man.
There’s a trick the podcast pulls, I believe in the first episode, which, again, is a good storytelling hook, but, not exactly compelling when it comes to guilt/innocence. They talk about trying to remember something from six weeks ago. Why? Because Adnan Syed struggles to remember what he was doing the day Hae Lin went missing.
Except, this is silly, right? Adnan was informed sometime around 6pm that Hae was missing. He was apparently stoned at the time, but, still, the 6 weeks thing is crap. Someone you know is missing is a trigger to remember stuff...especially when you’re going to be the most obvious suspect in their murder.
That his memory is foggy is a point of deflection that to me is worse than Jay’s inconsistencies and lies. See, the thing is, not acting like you know something you should know is worse than completely blanking or guessing. Jay might get some things wrong, but, his answers seem like he’s doing this based off of memory, his memory is just wrong or trying to alter events slightly. More on that later. But, Adnan’s drifting into nothingness just hurts. Even if he said he was at the library, then went to grab a gatorade at Rite Aid before track practice and it turns out he never got the gatorade, it at least shows he was trying to remember that day, you know?
The other thing with this, is that Adnan’s memory of the day before school lets out seems pretty good. He speaks in detail about Jay and this thing with Stephanie and the present, and the mall. Jay is consistently inconsistent about the entire day. Which isn’t weird.
There’s also a point where Adnan either says, or it’s just a friend saying Adnan told him, that he didn’t know where Leakin Park was. A park that’s larger than Central Park in New York City and is a ten minute drive from your home, yet, you claim to not know it? The f***?
So, if you believe, as you should, that Jay had some involvement in the murder, either being there, doing it, or helping after the fact, but if you also feel as if Jay did it alone or with some other dude other than Adnan, you then also believe that Jay was able to invite police to interview him and then was able to manipulate the police into putting a case on Adnan. The next statement isn’t wholly conclusive of anything, but, if you believe all this, you’re believing that a black man was able to manipulate the police into believing a nice kid who was still in High School, prom king, honor student, killed Hae instead.
That’s pretty rare.
So, let’s talk about Jay. Jay is the state’s case against Adnan. We’ll talk more in a moment about why that is enough for a jury, but, for now, I want to look at why I believe Jay credible.
Jay does a lot of lying. A lot of times he is trying to cover tracks for just f***ing selling weed. Or buying weed. Or, doing whatever for drugs. Or, whatever he’s doing with Jenn in the time period before Adnan and him meet up after school.
Jay being worried about these other things is why he’s credible, to me, on the issue of the murder itself. Because, if you believe Jay is lying about the murder itself, then you are saying, essentially, that it’s so easy to talk your way out of murder that you can do so while also clearly attempting to minimize his role in whatever drugs he was into, and also minimize his role with Jenn in a way where he won’t run into drama with his girlfriend Stephanie.
Jay ultimately gives the police the location of the car, he’s involved. There isn’t a way around that
Here’s what I think, Adnan killed Hae. There aren’t many options. Was Jay involved? I think there’s a possibility of that, we’ll talk more about that next time when speaking about Reasonable Doubt and whether the state proved their case against Adnan.