By Anika Ahmed
Has anyone ever incorrectly accused you of doing something wrong, like misplacing the car keys or cheating on your math homework?
Now imagine being accused of something much more serious, like the murder of your ex-girlfriend. This is the case involving Adnan Syed in the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore High School student, on January 13, 1999. A month later, her body was discovered in a park, dug in a grave. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted for her murder, though he has always proclaimed his innocence.
Adnan received the model minority treatment as he was an honor roll student and a volunteer EMT. He was on the football team. He was a star runner on the track team, was the homecoming king, and led prayers at the mosque. Everybody knew Adnan to be somebody who was going to do something really big. Could you believe or even fathom a charming, handsome and popular high school boy with so much potential, killing his ex-girlfriend?
Adnan is the subject of Sarah Koenig’s internationally famous podcast series, Serial, where she describes Adnan as a kid. Not a man, not as an adult. That’s because, at the age of 17, Adnan was a kid, legally and fundamentally. That kid was sentenced to life imprisonment. At the age of 17, Adnan was charged with an adult crime, tried in an adult court, and given an adult life sentence. Adnan Syed is innocent under the circumstances that he was found guilty based on reasonable doubt, had been exploited by his defense lawyer and was provided with ineffective counseling by Christina Gutierrez.
The case against Adnan was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who by himself was not a credible informant. Jay’s testimony is saturated with inconsistencies and falsified information. Jay is a remarkable liar. He lies about little, inconsequential things. He lies about substantial, critical things. What’s more, he lies about why he lies. And then he lies about why he lied about lying. He lies for attention, and he lies to divert attention. He lies, and then he lies some more. Jay’s side of the story changed each time he was interviewed. First, he stated that Adnan showed him Hae’s body in the trunk of her car at the “strip” off Edmondson Avenue. Then he changed his story to Adnan presenting Hae’s body at the Best Buy parking lot after Adnan called him from a payphone in the parking lot. In the episode “Route Talk,” it was confirmed that there was never a payphone on Best Buy’s property: “the Best Buy employees… dug up a photo of the store, from 2001, no phone booth or payphone, though lots of public phones did come down between ‘99 and 2001. They looked up the blueprints of when the store was built in 1995, nothing. The manager also said there is no record of a service agreement between Best Buy and any payphone company at that store,” (Syed, Route Talk: Serial, 2014, 8:23).
Koenig and her producer began to look into all of the possible payphone records and ultimately didn’t find any match. It is hard to believe that Adnan could strangle Hae in three minutes and run to a payphone that was never there.
The prosecutors who found Adnan guilty perceived him as “having a dual personality”. When informed about this, Adnan’s response was “People come in expecting a monster and they don’t find that. Well, next they come expecting a victim. And when they don’t find that either they don’t know what to think. The reality of it is that I’m just a normal person,” (Rumors: Serial, 2014, 34:48).
Adnan behaved one way to live up to his family’s religious expectations, and another way to meet the desires in his personal life. I believe that it is normal for you to have multiple masks that represent your different identities because one’s self cannot be fully represented by just one mask.
When you are around certain people, such as family, then it is expected of you to act the way they want you to, which is exactly what Adnan did. When you are with friends, you can let loose and be a little more relaxed, because you don’t have to worry about being punished for the language you use or the way you are behaving. His intentions were to appeal to the people around him wherever he went.
I believe that Adnan is innocent despite many unresolved issues throughout the case. The whole case isn’t just about the murder of an eighteen-year-old Woodlawn student. However, it also touches on the major issues of our society as culture and racism and how those elements are threatened by our justice system. T
he endemic racism is plaguing the criminal justice system. Adnan is American but the prosecution repeatedly calls him Pakistani. They used his Pakistani ethnicity to justify that he was possessive over women. When Hae left him, it not only hurt his pride, but it also left him feeling betrayed. The prosecutors painted a picture of Adnan as jealous and possessive. Adnan claims that his relationship with Hae was a “high school love, where he was upset when they had broken up, but he was never obsessed,” (Koenig, The Breakup: Serial, 2014, 18:15).
Not to mention, Adnan’s religion and ethnicity were used against him 270 times in court. The prosecution argued that “there was a pattern in the United States of American where young Pakistani males have been jilter, have committed murder and fled to Pakistan and we have been unable to extradite them back,” (United States Circuit Court).
They were scared to release Adnan on bail because they thought he would escape to Pakistan, allegedly with the help of his shady uncle who knows how to “make people disappear”. Law enforcement does not have enough to go forward, but they do anyway. There is not enough evidence to put Adnan away.
Adnan Syed was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Hae Min Lee because of the lack of evidence beyond reasonable doubt, the manipulation by Cristina Gutierrez, and a failure to pursue information that could have acquitted Adnan or diminished his punishment. He should be both exonerated and be provided with compensation for half of his life that he spent in jail. Adnan was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Hae Min Lee because the standard evidence required to validate a criminal conviction must exceed a reasonable doubt. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment state to “[protect] the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.” By convicting Adnan of Hae Min Lee’s murder based on the little evidence they have, the prosecutors, judge, and jury have acted against the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment.
This trial has made me realize that criminal justice is never truly about justice. It’s about how you can manipulate the audience with your storytelling skills.
Justice was never served.
Submitted by Anika Ahmed. Edited for formatting and structural purposes.