This article was up to date to replicate new developments.
Hae. Adnan. Jay. For months starting in late 2014, a lot of America was on first-name foundation with the central figures in Season 1 of “Serial,” the true-crime podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig that turned a popular culture obsession. Downloaded greater than 100 million occasions, the sequence helped to carry podcasting into the mainstream and, together with TV sequence like “The Jinx” and “Making a Murderer,” kick-started a wave of serialized true-crime whodunits that reveals no indicators of ebbing.
Revelations in “Serial” additionally helped advance the real-life case itself: the 1999 homicide of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore County highschool senior, for which her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted. “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” a four-part documentary sequence debuting Sunday on HBO, revisits that case, which has advanced significantly previously a number of years.
If you don’t keep in mind who Asia McClain is, or why she is essential, you in all probability aren’t alone — the small print of this case have been fuzzy from the beginning. Here’s a refresher on the fundamentals, together with updates on what has occurred since “Serial.”
On Jan. 13, 1999, Hae Min Lee left Woodlawn High School and by no means got here residence. About a month later, her physique was discovered partially buried in close by Leakin Park, at Baltimore’s western edge. The reason for loss of life was strangulation. A police investigation led to Lee’s ex-boyfriend and classmate Adnan Syed. Syed pleaded not responsible and was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison and has maintained his innocence ever since.
[Maryland’s highest court said there would be no retrial for Adnan Syed. Details are here.]
Lee and Syed came from conservative immigrant families — Lee Korean, Syed Pakistani — and felt compelled to keep their romance a secret. Not long before Lee disappeared, she had broken up with Syed and begun dating a co-worker named Don. Part of what seems to have driven her and Syed apart was her frustration over not being able to bring their relationship into the open.
Lee and Syed were well liked at school. Lee played lacrosse and field hockey and was described by a teacher as “one of those rare people you meet in life who is always happy, always joyful and full of love,” The Baltimore Sun reported. Syed played on the football team and was, by most accounts, a happy, charismatic young man who got excellent grades. He talked in “Serial” of smoking weed, but there was no indication he was into anything more extreme.
The Basics of the Prosecution
Prosecutors relied heavily on a few main pieces of evidence, none of it physical. The most important was testimony by a friend of Adnan’s named Jay Wilds, who told the police he had helped Syed to bury Lee’s body after Syed confessed to killing her, on Jan. 13. According to Wilds’s court testimony, Syed had told him earlier that day that he intended to kill Lee. Wilds then borrowed Syed’s car for the day.
Later, Wilds said, Syed called him and asked to meet in a Best Buy parking lot. Wilds said that Syed had showed up driving Lee’s car, with her body in the trunk, asking for help. They eventually abandoned Lee’s car in a residential lot, he said.
Prosecutors presented cellphone tower records, which they said helped confirm Wilds’s final version of events. (His testimony had changed on several important points over time.) Another witness, Jennifer Pusateri, also helped confirm parts of Wilds’s testimony; she told the court that Wilds told her that Syed had shown him Lee’s body and had confessed to the murder.
The Potential Holes
Perhaps the biggest revelation in “Serial” was the existence of an alibi witness for Syed, a young woman named Asia McClain, who has said she was with him at the Woodlawn Public Library. If true, it would match Syed’s version of events. She was never called to testify.
Wilds gave two recorded police interviews and testimony in court. Inconsistencies on several major details have been pointed out among the three accounts. The credibility of the cellphone records — their technical reliability and their harmony with the prosecution’s timeline — has also been called into question. (Here’s a helpful comparison between the phone records and some key testimonies.)
Physical evidence gathered in 1999 was never tested for Syed’s DNA. The reasons for that aren’t clear, but Syed has reportedly said that his lawyer, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, never told him about the evidence. She was later disbarred by consent, in 2001, after a series of client complaints emerged. At the time of her disbarment, she told The Baltimore Sun she had been struggling with multiple sclerosis. She died in 2004.
The Season 1 finale of “Serial” revealed that the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia Law School was looking at the case, and hoped to persuade the courts to finally initiate DNA tests on the physical evidence.
What Has Happened Since?
By March 2018, “Serial” had been downloaded more than 175 million times. Koenig’s investigations had offered no clear opinion on Syed’s guilt, but they had brought to light the potential holes in the prosecution’s case and intensified public pressure to re-examine it. For many “Serial” listeners, the revelations made Syed something of a cause celebre. (The court has said that public pressure was not a factor in its decision.)
That month, an appeals court vacated Syed’s conviction, recommending a new trial. The judges cited ineffective legal counsel by Gutierrez for, among other things, failing to call McClain, the potential alibi witness. McClain stated in an affidavit that she had sent Syed two letters after his arrest, which Syed has said prompted him to ask Gutierrez to contact her. Gutierrez later told him she had, and that nothing had come of it. That entire statement was later discovered to be untrue.
In June, a judge granted Syed a new trial, specifically citing the unreliability of the cellphone evidence. But on Friday afternoon, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the lower appellate court’s decision and reinstated Syed’s conviction. In its opinion, the panel agreed that Syed’s counsel had been “deficient” but did not believe it had resulted in prejudice, “given the totality of the evidence against” Syed.
HBO has said that its new series, directed by Amy Berg, contains “new discoveries as well as groundbreaking revelations that challenge the state’s case.”
Lee’s family has always maintained that Syed’s conviction was just.
“We do not speak as often or as loudly as those who support Adnan Syed, but we care just as much about this case,” the Lee family said in a statement shortly after the new trial was granted. “We continue to grieve. We continue to believe justice was done when Mr. Syed was convicted of killing Hae.”
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