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Serial (podcast) – who(ithink)dunit

If you haven’t heard the hype already, the “Serial” podcast that spun off from “This American Life” this fall has become ridiculously popular.  With the final episode of the season airing this week I thought I’d post a few thoughts about what I think happened.

Background

The Serial podcast team is essentially re-investigating a murder from 1999 in Baltimore.  A young Korean girl goes missing after school one day, and her body buried a month later.  While there’s no physical evidence, an anonymous call kicks the police off on a thread that leads to the girl’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed.  He’s convicted largely on the testimony of an acquaintance/friend named Jay, who also led the police to the location of the girl’s car (which had also been missing since the day she disappeared).

Needless to say, there’s a lot more to the case… that’s why there’s been over 10 hours of a podcast to listen to!  But it’s the biggest brush strokes.

My thoughts

There are a few major points that I think are true:

1) It’s 100% clear that Jay was involved in the murder somehow.  (He did plead guilty to “accessory after the fact” in return for testifying against Adnan.)  After all, the only physical clue that ties any of the people involved to the crime was Jay leading police to the victim’s car.  The open question is exactly how much was Jay involved?

The crazy thing about Jay’s testimony was that it changed so substantially between his 1st and 2nd interviews, and his 2nd police interview and the actual trial.  Oh, and key pieces of it were essentially impossible.  (Key events could not have happened like he said they did.)  I understand that in real crime details don’t always wrap up neatly with a bow, but when major details don’t match key events and testimony, that’s a problem.

2) The case should not have been prosecuted.  The evidence was incredibly weak to begin with, and I have to believe some of the lawyers and detectives that the Serial team consulted with, who universally said that there wasn’t enough to make a case.  Adnan’s lawyer wasn’t particularly good however, and was disbarred within about a year of Adnan’s trial.  I have to believe with better counsel the case was easily beatable.

3) I don’t believe that Adnan had a strong motive to kill the victim.  Yes, they had been dating and intimate, but they both seemed fine and had moved on since.  Neither of them seemed hung up on the other, and I just can’t figure out the motive for Adnan to commit anything like a murder.  The police really played up the stereotyped conservative Muslim attitudes toward dishonour, but these were just high school kids living in a far more real/modern America than their parents would have liked to believe.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else that had a motive to kill the victim.  Jay (who was involved somehow) didn’t seem to have one, and there didn’t seem to be anyone else who could have.  This strikes me as the biggest missing piece of the puzzle.

So….

I don’t think Adnan committed the murder.  But there’s nothing pointing to a) any evidence that he didn’t do it, or b) any evidence that someone else did it.  So unfortunately I think he’s going to be stuck in prison.

It’ll be interesting where the Serial team finishes this podcast… I strongly suspect they’re going to come down like I did.  The balance of evidence should say Adnan did not commit the crime, there’s no evidence to date of anyone else doing it, but since Adnan has already been convicted there’s really nothing anyone can do.  The bar is set so high for appeals that the status quo prevails.