Several months ago, a reader brought to my attention a new PBS series called Serial, an exploration of an old Baltimore murder case. In 1999, a high school girl was violently killed. A low-level drug dealer fingered her secret teenage boyfriend who was convicted of her homicide and sentenced to life plus thirty years.
The boy’s aunt, Rabia Chaudry, asked NPR journalist Sarah Koenig to take another look at the case. Koenig has shared with readers the results of her research as she compiled it, often editing until the moment of broadcast. In a voice that combines both girlishness and maturity, she bared her uncertainty in this confusing case. The Guardian called the journey “slow-drip storytelling.”
While Jay’s multiple stories contained a number of inconsistencies and the timeline was thinner than a jailhouse sandwich, police felt his accusation was plausible. No one has accused the original investigators of incompetence, only Syed’s lawyer. At least one witness placed Syed elsewhere, but that person wasn’t allowed to testify.
While several suspects have surfaced, one thing strikes me. If Jay took part in burying the body and if we posit Adnan Syed is innocent, then my attention turns to Jay himself, the one person who admits to being at the scene of the crime… at least where the body was found. And the journalists turned up a connection with jewelry.
It’s a national shame, but the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act cuts short appeals and prevents evidence of actual innocence being considered for appeals. Maryland places an especially high burden upon the wrongly convicted. Thus it’s often journalists and the clamoring of private organizations that give a little hope to the wrongly convicted. In other words, justice is often in the hands of believing individuals, not that we have any certainty Syed didn’t kill Hae– we simply don’t know. What we do understand is that a teen probably didn’t receive a fair trial.
If you haven’t heard the original broadcast and Serial podcasts, now is a good time to catch up with this obsession. Thanks to Koenig, NPR, and the public, it appears Adnan Syed will finally get another trial. Time affects evidence, memories, and the number of witnesses that can still be found, so it’s unlikely we’ll learn of a smoking gun. The Syed family simply wants a fair trial for that long-ago boy accused of killing that long-ago girl.
Note: You can listen to podcasts through your browser, but you can also subscribe to podcasts through iTunes and other dedicated players for your tablet, iPod, smart phone, and ordinary computers. Look for a button or menu item regarding podcasts and subscribing. This article about iTunes and Juice is dated, but might help you get started.