I just finished listening to Serial, the podcast from the creators of This American Life. I found the entire series riveting. The production quality is excellent and the host Sarah Koenig is charming and engaging. When they finally arrived at the last episode without a more concrete explanation of what happened in the murder of Hae Min Lee, I felt truly saddened that Adnan Syed, a young man of 17, could be put in prison for the rest of his life for what amounted to an obscure jumble of circumstantial evidence.
There were 2 aspects of the case against Adnan Syed that really bothered me. The first was the defendant’s attorney Cristina Gutierrez. Every time they played a clip from Adnan’s trial where she was speaking I wanted to jam a pencil through my ear drums. Her voice was shrill and her overall demeanor was bombastic and condescending. If I had been on the jury during the trial I might have decided that Adnan had done it just because she was so annoying to listen to – guilt by association.
On top of that, Gutierrez really seemed to do a very poor job of defending her client. She ignored or overlooked aspects of the investigation that now seem pivotal to making a case for Adnan’s innocence. She never bothered pursuing the witness Asia, a classmate who claims to have seen the defendant at the time of the murder at the library – his only alibi. She also didn’t push to have the DNA from the crime scene submitted for further testing and included as evidence in the trial. And the stories of Gutierrez shaking down clients for money and ultimately getting disbarred are shocking and more then a little depressing.
It makes me wonder why Adnan and his family chose to use Cristina Gutierrez as an attorney. Even more so, why they continued to use her after the first trial ended in mis-trial because the judge accused her of “lying.” Yes she was renowned but there must have been a point where they all began to suspect she was not fit to defend Adnan and was actually detrimental to his case. Or maybe not. I do not know enough about law to say anything definitive on the subject. Adnan insisted in the phone interviews from prison that she was a good lawyer.
The second really bothersome aspect of the case was Jay’s relationship with the detectives investigating the murder. On numerous occasions during the podcast, Koneig either directly mentions or alludes to situations where the detectives were giving Jay what seemed like preferential treatment. They even went so far as to refer him to a lawyer, which is apparently improper conduct towards a suspect on the part of an investigator in a criminal trial.
The podcast also talks about how on a few occasions the detectives spent several hours interviewing Jay “off the record”. There are no recordings or written evidence of these meetings but it appears that they ended up having a lot of effect on Jay’s final testimony. One thing seems very clear from the podcast: Jay’s version of events changed, at times drastically, over the course of the investigation and trial. It’s as if the detectives were helping Jay to shape the narrative that would finally be used by the prosecution against Adnan Syed. I believe that whatever was discussed in those closed meetings between Jay and the detectives holds they key to unravelling the mystery of what actually happened on January 13, 1999.
If there was one over arching message that I took from the Serial podcast it was this: When all is said and done there was not enough evidence to prove that Adnan Syed murdered Hae Min Lee. While there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions regarding Adnan’s whereabouts and actions on the day of her death, taken all together they are not enough to convict him of the crime. Adnan Syed’s opportunity to appeal the conviction is currently in the works in the state of Maryland. He may have one last chance to prove his innocence. With so much mystery still surrounding the events of that day and witness recollections growing even more hazy with the passing of time, Adnan’s attorneys will have their work cut out for them. With any luck Koneig and her team will do a follow up episode or two to let us know how it all goes down!
PS. How did Jay know where the car was!?!?