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Reflections on Serial

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’s not.

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?

serial_3106729bThis is why alibi isn’t that huge of a deal in the guilt/innocence of Syed. He’s never going to have a complete alibi, so, isn’t it much better attacking/covering these scenarios?

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.

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  1. SpocKirk

    I started _Serial_ when episode 11 came out and now I’m finished. I still don’t know what to think. It all comes down to the convincing power of the lawyers. Without full knowledge, there is no true justice.

  2. Damemeow

    I still think there is something more to “the neighbor boy” who relayed the story of seeing a dead girl in the car trunk as if it had just happened, after Adnan was already jail. I suspect he was involved, and was told to keep his mouth shut, but yammered about it due to a tendency to gossip, or guilty conscience.

    • Graham

      I just kind of figured the neighbor boy was Jay. Or someone Jay told to who related the story as if first hand.

  3. jennybeanses

    I am waiting to hear if they find out anything from the DNA testing. I also think it’s really creepy that evidence came out later about the guy, who had a thing for Asian women, was accidentally released from prison right before she went missing.

    • Graham

      I’ve kind of dismissed that stuff about the guy released from prison. I’m not saying there’s NO SHOT at him being connected, but I am saying I think all of the stuff the Innocence Project is saying is bad theory. Not to hold that against them too much, but I think they come off as publicity seeking and trying to just get lucky.

      • jennybeanses

        I read the interview with Jay last night, and I have to say he sounds like even more of a liar to me than before. I doubt we’ll ever get any solid answers, but listening to the evidence presented in the podcast and then combining it with the first part of Jay’s interview has me leaning toward Adnan’s innocence. The only scenario I could think of, in which Adnan might be dumb enough to actually confide in a guy he occasionally got high with, was that Jay had an almost gangster reputation, and Adnan thought maybe, just maybe, he might know how to discretely get rid of a body.

        • Graham

          Reading Jays interview, he’s obviously a liar, but I’m curious why it pushes you towards Adnan’s innocence. Do you think Jay did this alone?

          I think, for me, the Jay interview took the things that everyone kind of knew were lies/mistruths based on the corroborating evidence and then filled in the blanks. So, for me, I figured Jay to be lying about certain stuff and assumed reasons, now, the interview kind of provides those reasons.

          I mean, really, the only scenarios are Adnan did it, Jay did it, and then Jay and Adnan together. So, even if Jay is lying, not sure how it pushes towards Adnan’s innocence.

          • Jenny Melzer

            I was already pretty firm in my personal belief that Adnan was innocent, based on information presented during the podcast. Listening to Jay change his story, once again, for the recent interview just cemented those beliefs. His reasons for changing the story (again…) are just ridiculous. Point blank: Jay is a liar. So why should I believe the ever-changing strand of lies he keeps putting out there while saying, “No man, you gotta believe me. This is what really happened.”

            He had to know, during the podcast, that Koenig and her team were going to track him down, so if he really had nothing to hide, why deny them the interview? I think because he didn’t have time to clearly think about which version of his story he needed to tell. He knew those women had done a lot of homework, and they came prepared to get to the bottom of the truth. It would be far easier to lie to someone who wasn’t immersed in the case the way they were, so when the other interviewer showed up he could lie more boldly and feel more confident about it because maybe they wouldn’t ask the right questions to put him on the spot.

            So, what does Jay really know? Why would he lie and frame Adnan for something Adnan didn’t do? Is it because Jay is the one who killed Hae? Is it because he saw something else he shouldn’t have seen and the people who did do it are terrifying people?

            I don’t believe Adnan, Jay, or Jay and Adnan together are the only scenarios.

  4. Graham

    Why are you firm in your belief that Adnan is innocent?

    But, more importantly, why are you holding Jay’s lies against him, but, apparently not challenging Adnan on his lack of any kind of information about that day?

    Also, I don’t really think Jay is saying “you gotta believe me.” Quite the opposite, actually. Especially back in 1999. I think his position has mainly been, this is what I’m saying, choose to believe me or not. That’s helped his credibility in my mind just because he’s not trying to force his belief on the audience.

    Look at the e-mail Koenig sent to him, released in part 2 of his interview. Scared about her tracking him down and finding him. It’s not like he’s trying to push himself into the story to get people to believe him.

    Adnan speaks like a fucking criminal. Jay speaks like he is overwhelmed. That’s a big deal to me, especially when the corroboration leans largely in support of Jay.


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