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Adnan’s Story’ Goes Beyond ‘Serial’

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Rabia Chaudry / Macmillan

Rabia Chaudry, left, and the book cover for "Adnan's Story."

'Adnan's Story' Goes Beyond 'Serial'


Rabia Chaudry, author, "Adnan's Story"


The name Adnan Syed became familiar to millions in 2014 when the hit podcast "Serial" told his story.

In 2000, Syed was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore.

But not everyone believed Syed was guilty.

As a last resort, a friend of the Syed family, Rabia Chaudry, brought his story to "This American Life" producer Sara Koenig, who created "Serial."

Now Chaudry has written a book, "Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice after 'Serial'," which she says paints a fuller picture of Syed's case.

Chaudry joined KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday.


On Syed's new trial 17 years after his conviction

"That is how the law works. When people say what's gonna happen next, we say, 'Well, it might take another two to three years to get anywhere.' People are shocked. But that is exactly how slow our system is."

On "Serial"

"'Serial' was seminal. Sarah and her work and the podcast made all the difference in this case. I'm convinced, even if we presented the exact, same evidence that we eventually did, that it still, without that public interest in the case, I don't know if we would've gotten the same result."

What "Serial" missed

"I think what I do (in "Adnan's Story") is lay out a timeline of the actual investigation, which was not necessarily done by 'Serial,' to show how they decided that Adnan was going to be their suspect first and then they began gathering evidence before their case sticks.

Even before Hae Min Lee's body was found, even before they knew she had been killed, they had began pulling records about him. Even before, as far as we know, they had in contact with Jay, they had decided on Adnan. And these are deeply troubling investigative tactics. You don't decide on a suspect first and then look for evidence. It should be the other way around. But also things like the autopsy report and medical examination of her body, I don't think 'Serial' touched that at all. I don't think 'Serial' looked at her current boyfriend at the time, his whereabouts and considered him seriously as an alternate suspect. 'Serial' did not look at the patterns of misconduct by the same detective who investigated Adnan's case and other cases. There were a lot of things like them.

Having said that, again, without 'Serial' we would be nowhere. To me, I would do it all over again; it doesn't matter. I think Sarah did an amazing job in a way that made people want to know more. And that's really what happened in 'Serial.'

People were like, 'It's not enough. I need to know more.' And that's what (Koenig was) good at. She says in the very first episode, 'I'm not a criminal investigator, I'm not an investigative reporter.' To say that her reporting wasn't a hundred percent, always accurate, she didn't cover every single little thing, I think it's just nitpicking. It wasn't her role to do that."

On approaching a journalist with Syed's story instead of an investigator

"To me, the media is much more effective sometimes, oftentimes, in being able to access information that other people can't. A journalist, their job is to get people to talk. They know how to get people to talk. ... When we wanted to get Asia McClain, the witness at the first hearing, we had a private investigation out there and she was like, 'No, thank you. I'm not interested.'

But when you have a journalist contact people, it's different. And journalists are not bound by certain kinds of ethics and rules that attorneys are bound by, even private investigators who are licensed are bound by. So I really felt strongly, and I've felt like this for years, that a journalistic lens at this case would do much more benefit than any of the legal stuff we were trying..."

On popular culture's impact on criminal justice cases

"I think it's very similar to citizen journalism, where you have social media and all these other factors that play into major international events like the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter and all these other things. ... It is obvious that they are having, making a difference in these cases, otherwise we wouldn't see the results we're seeing.

So I think lawyers and courts and the judiciary have to think about why this has to happen outside of the system. Why it's not happening effectively inside the criminal justice system, which is leading to so many issues in our system. So I think it's very important. And I hope it continues. I hope that this is a trend that continues until we can fix things inside the system itself."

On changing the system

"I feel really strongly that starts with accountability. You cannot flush people out immediately and just start a new training. But what you'll have is state actors, whether they're police officers, whether they're prosecutors and sometimes even attorney generals, deputy attorney generals who commit misconduct.

A court will find them having, for example, withheld evidence in case after case, and they maintain their jobs. That has to be stopped. And that has to be stopped on a state-by-state level.

So I would encourage people on a local legislative level because that is where the change is going to happen. To encourage their representatives to draft legislation holding people accountable.

In California, just a couple of weeks ago, a state representative has done just that. She's introduced a bill to make withholding evidence by a state prosecutor, when it's willful, a felony. And that's what we need. Because that will prevent that kind of thing happening again.

We also need transparency. In states like Pennsylvania, defendants and their attorneys cannot get access to criminal files. If you have a defendant in post conviction who is maybe facing a death penalty or life in prison, and he needs to reopen his case, guess what, his lawyers cannot get access to the autopsy reports in the criminal file. It's unconscionable.

This will happen through state legislation, that is where the change is going to happen. So we have to elect the kind of people who are reform-minded, who look at criminal justice not as retributive, not as punitive, but as rehabilitation, and think about ways to reduce incarceration rates versus locking people up and being tough on crime. We have to rethink how we encounter crime in our society."


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