Court trials are a long, gruelling yet important process in search of justice for victims and fairness for the defendants in cases ranging from burglary, to kidnapping and even murder. It’s a time for prosecutors to present evidence to support the guilt of the defendant and for defence lawyers to cast doubt on those evidence. For the defendant, the final verdict will be a profound life changing event. Will they be free to go back home to their loved ones, or will they spend any time or the rest of their lives behind bars? Guilt and Innocence may seem like a black and white concept, but in some instances, such as the case for Adnan Syed, the verdict is shrouded in uncertainty.
Thirty-seven year old Adnan Syed has spent the last eighteen years of his life in prison after being convicted of murdering his ex-girfriend Hae Min Lee (Johnson). Once the verdict was reached and Adnan was found guilty, the case was closed until Rabia Chaudry, a close family friend of Adnan, came to his defence. Rabia just didn’t believe that Adnan was capable of murder. Never quite convinced that Adnan was guilty, Rabia continued to review his case and trial when she came across an article on Adnan’s lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, written by Sarah Koenig (Larson). It turns out, Cristina was allegedly mishandling client money, resulting in a disbarment (Koenig). Concerned that Cristina may have purposely botched Adnan’s case, Rabia asked Sarah Koenig to further investigate. This created the famous, award winning podcast Serial. With Sarah’s help, Rabia brought attention to Adnan’s case again, questioning whether he was rightfully convicted. After listening to the evidence brought forth in Sarah’s podcast, along with some secondary sources, I myself also have doubts regarding Adnan’s guilt.
The first piece of evidence I would like to bring forth is the timeline of the events on January 13 1999 that Jay Wilds gave to authorities compared to the timeline that the autopsies show. Jay is now a former friend of Adnan who confessed to police that he supposedly helped Adnan bury Hae’s body after Adnan had killed her (Chaudry). Although there are some inconsistencies throughout his multiple recountings of the story, his timeline remains fairly similar. According to Jay, he and Adnan buried Hae’s body at Leakin Park around 7:00PM on January 13 1999, and Jay was back home at around 11:00PM on that same night. This would seem highly incriminating, but the timeline of events suggested by the autopsy contradicts Jay’s testimony. According to the autopsy performed on Hae, she was murdered on January 13 1999 from around 2:15-2:36PM. But what’s interesting is that she had fixed anterior lividity (Simpson). For those of you who don’t have a medical degree, in simple terms it is a discolouration of the skin that is next to the ground from the blood pooling (Gale). In this case the discolouration was found on the anterior part of the body, which is the front side. What’s strange about this is that her body was buried on her right side. By reasoning, the lividity should have been on the right side, not anteriorly. The conclusion that the autopsy drew was that she had to have been left face down on a flat surface for a period of at least ten hours after she was murdered (Simpson). It wasn’t until after that ten hours that Hae’s body was moved to Leakin Park and left buried on her right side. Now if this is true, that means the findings in the autopsy completely contradict Jay’s story by around five hours. This raises a lot of suspicion about Jay’s involvement and his version of the story. Since Jay’s testimony was the key piece of evidence that led to Adnan’s conviction, such seeming contradiction between his story and the autopsy findings should have cast doubt on Adnan’s guilt. This whole case was based on Jay’s testimony, but was it reliable and consistent enough to send Adnan to prison?
The second misgiving I have with Adnan’s conviction is the thoroughness of defence that Adnan’s lawyers provided for him. There were many possible leads and opportunities that may have helped exonerate Adnan yet they never pursued them. The first one I would like to bring forth is the possibility that Hae was sexually assaulted. The positioning of Hae’s clothes when she was found left some of her body exposed, which is a possible indication of sexual assault. Despite there being DNA swabs performed, they were never tested (Herbst). If Adnan was truly innocent he would have no issue getting a DNA test, but his lawyers never pursued this possibility. A DNA test could have been very important evidence in this case yet Adnan’s lawyers never looked into this. This raises a lot of suspicion that there was not actually any DNA evidence that links Adnan to Hae’s murder (Smith). By not following up and exploring the possibility that Hae was sexually assaulted, Adnan’s lawyers did not live up to their duty to defend Adnan. Their inadequacy in defence raises further doubt in Adnan’s guilt. To read the full autopsy report click here.
Another key piece of evidence that Adnan’s lawyers overlooked was a possible alibi. Asia McClain, classmate to Adnan, wrote multiple letters stating she remembered seeing him during the time of Hae’s murder, providing an alibi for Adnan (Herbst). Adnan’s lawyers never followed up on this possible alibi which could have been a powerful defence. Whether or not the alibi would have been used in court, it should have been pursued by Adnan’s lawyers. To me it seems pretty obvious that a possible alibi could be Adnan’s ticket to freedom. For whatever reason, Adnan’s lawyers did not think so. We may never know the true intentions of Cristina because she passed away a few years ago from a heart attack (Dachille). But nonetheless, Asia distinctly remembers seeing Adnan on January 13 1999 during the supposed time of Hae’s murder. Asia mentions that she did not know Adnan very well but knew him from school. Why would Asia lie just to help some random classmate? This again supports Adnan’s innocence with the alibi provided by Asia.
Adnan’s conviction for Hae’s murder seems quite troubling and controversial now. The conviction was based on a witness with faulty memory whose testimony contradicts physical evidence and defence lawyers with faulty and questionable conduct. Adnan was convicted solely based on one witness’ story. Even this story was full of inconsistencies, and seemingly missing key pieces of information. Based on the supposed events on the night of January 13 1999, there is not a lot of factual evidence that links Adnan to Hae’s murder. However, there is quite a substantial amount of evidence that points to Adnan’s innocence. If Adnan truly is innocent, I am saddened that he has spent the majority of his life wasting away in prison, while Hae’s killer may still be roaming free. I hope that this case can be fully reviewed with existing evidence reexamined and new leads followed up. By doing so, hopefully a clearer picture can emerge as to whether the evidence supports Adnan’s guilt without a doubt or whether the true killer is still out there.
Dachille, Arielle. “Adnan Syed’s Lawyer Cristina Gutierrez Has a History of Tough Cases.” Bustle. 5 December 2014. <https://www.bustle.com/articles/52323-adnan-syeds-lawyer-cristina-gutierrez-has-a-history-of-tough-cases>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Gale, Thomson. “Lividity.” World of Forensic Science. 2005.<http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/law/crime-and-law-enforcement/lividity>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Herbst, Diane. “Adnan Syed is Innocent and I Can Prove It: Lawyer Rabia Chaudry.” People. 3 August 2016. <http://people.com/crime/adnan-syed-is-innocent-and-i-can-prove-it-lawyer-rabia-chaudry/>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Herbst, Diane. “Adnan Syed: Asia McClain, Alleged Alibi Witness, Reacts to New Trial.” People. 1 July 2016. <http://people.com/crime/adnan-syed-asia-mcclain-alleged-alibi-witness-reacts-to-new-trial/>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Johnson, Lacey. “Maryland prosecutors ask court to deny new trial in ‘Serial’ murder case.” Reuters. 8 June 2017. <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-maryland-murder-serial-idUSKBN18Z1AH>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Koenig, Sarah. “Lawyer Gutierrez agrees to disbarment.” The Baltimore Sun. 2 June 2001. <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2001-06-02/news/0106020237_1_lawyer-gutierrez-clients>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Larson, Sarah. ““Serial”: The Podcast We’ve Been Waiting For.” The New Yorker. 9 October 2014. <http://www.newyorker.com/culture/sarah-larson/serial-podcast-weve-waiting>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Simpson, Susan. “What the Crime Scene Photographs Show.” The View From LL2. 30 September 2015. <https://viewfromll2.com/2015/09/30/what-the-crime-scene-photographs-show/comment-page-2/>. Accessed 28 July 2017.
Smith, Thomas. “Serial: Adnan Syed’s Post-Conviction Hearing Is Underway.” NME. 5 February 2016. <http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/serials-adnan-syed-new-evidence-761088>. Accessed 28 July 2017.