I’ve been reading Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry. I found it after I’d discovered a true crime podcast SERIAL that looked at the conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore, Maryland.
The SERIAL podcast raised some interesting questions about the case, and while the presenter Sarah Koenig didn’t come to any conclusion about Syed’s guilt or innocence, she thought there was sufficient room for reasonable doubt that he should not have been found guilty based on the evidence presented in court.
After listening to SERIAL, I moved on to another podcast, one that takes a much more in depth look at the legalities of the case. Undisclosed is presented by Rabia Chaudry (author of Adnan’s Story) Susan Simpson and Colin Miller, attorneys who have studied Syed’s case in depth.
At the beginning of Undisclosed, Chaudry advises listeners to hear SERIAL before tackling her own podcast. Doing so gives the basic background to the case and introduces all of the main players, allowing the presenters of Undisclosed to tackle the case in more depth without having to cover introductory material already handled in the older podcast.
SERIAL left the story with a state of ambiguity. Did Adnan Syed kill Hae Min Lee or not? Maybe, maybe not!
Undisclosed has no time for ambiguity. It isn’t using the case as the basis for an entertaining listening experience. It digs deeply into the evidence and presents it in a very accessible way. It wants to find the truth and present it to a wider audience. The bonus for the listener is that it still manages to ‘entertain”.
Rabia Chaudry is a friend of Syed and his family, so its not surprising that she should take up his cause and try to present a case for his innocence, so I started my listening and reading journey into this murder case with a degree of caution. However, the people she gathered around her didn’t have that personal connection and their help was sought after they had already been investigating the case for themselves.
The further I got into the podcasts and the book, it became clear that any bias held by Chaudry was not only due to her family connection to Syed. There is more than enough evidence available to indicate that several very untoward things had happened leading to Syed’s conviction and imprisonment. From very dodgy policing through to the equally questionable tactics of the prosecution.
Here are two examples relating to the prosecution case.
- They used phone records to “prove” Syed was at the site where the body was found, around the time her burial allegedly took place. Apart from the circular argument that set the burial time according to the phone record, and then used that phone record to say Syed was there at the time of the burial, the phone documents themselves specifically stated that they should not be used to determine a phone’s (and by extension it’s owner’s) location. (1)
- The primary evidence against Syed was the testimony of Jay Wilds who claimed that Syed had killed Hae Min Lee and then recruited Wilds to help him bury the body. Apart from the fact that Wilds’ story changed significantly every time he told it, the following information came out a few years ago from the defence attorney representing Wilds in the plea deal he made to escape prosecution for his own alleged part as an accessory after the fact of the murder: “Urick [the prosecutor in Syed’s case] said that Jay had two choices: either accept a plea deal as accessory after the fact in exchange for testifying against Adnan, or Urick would charge him with the murder of Hae Min Lee and prosecute the case in Baltimore County, where a majority white jury would be much more likely to find a black man guilty, and he could end up facing the death penalty”.
Regarding the policing, evidence given suggests that witnesses were actually coached by police regarding the testimony they gave, and that witness evidence shifted and changed several times to make it fit a “flexible” timeline. That might seem like an extreme claim to make against hard working detectives, keen on seeing justice within their city (Baltimore, Maryland), however, the very same detectives have later had at least four of their cases overturned and the alleged perpetrators released due to questions raised about the cases they’d built against their suspects. Undisclosed provides information about the way the police used similar tactics to that attributed to Urick, the prosecutor, where vulnerable “witnesses” were scared into testifying on their behalf to avoid threatened charges against them, such as blaming them for the crime.
Susan Simpson, Chaudry’s fellow podcaster explains on her blog:
The murder of Hae Min Lee was investigated by Detectives William Ritz and Gregory MacGillivary. To date,
threefour* defendants who were convicted of murder pursuant to investigations by either Ritz or MacGillivary have been found to have been wrongfully convicted and released from prison. (see here)
This subject is discussed in depth in the Undisclosed podcast – episode 9 – “Charm City”
This was all compounded by a defence attorney’s weak performance. She not only overlooked the above mentioned statement regarding the phone records, she also avoided contacting an eye witness who could account for Syed’s actions elsewhere at the very time he was allegedly committing the murder. The defence even lied to her client, telling him the alibi witness wasn’t valid because she realised she’d remembered a different day. That was not the case. Not long after Syed’s trial, his defence attorney was disbarred.
I could write more an more about this case, but I’d only be retelling details that can already be found in the podcasts and the books. The podcasts are easily and freely available to anyone willing to take the time. It’s probably not the kind of thing that most people are interested enough to follow up. They might not be interested in the plight of one young man who has spent almost 20 years of his life (starting age 17) at a crime he most likely didn’t commit. But one thing seems clear to me – how safe can anyone be if the legal system that is supposed to protect them actually targets them for its own convenience? When achieving results (any result) is more important than achieving justice.
A few days ago Adnan Syed was granted a new trial, giving him the opportunity to have the case reheard, hopefully resulting in a verdict fitting to the facts, not manipulated and distorted to suit any agenda, but a verdict that serves justice.
Here are two YouTube videos addressing the science of the case.
Caution, some of the details spoken about in the following video can be disturbing.