WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!
Like many other armchair detectives, I’ve recently become engrossed in the widely popular podcast Serial. I’ve always been a fan of murder mystery-detective-type stories. From Agatha Christie’s famous whodunits to the BBC’s Sherlock to watching way too much Criminal Minds with my roommates, I’ve always enjoyed piecing together the various clues of a case — determining motive, analyzing evidence, and ultimately solving the cases. Maybe it’s the problem-solving aspect of mysteries, but I love hearing every detail and angle of these cases, trying to beat the clock and solve them before the answer is revealed. I can’t say I’m good at it, but it’s still fun.
So when a friend mentioned the Serial podcast to me about a week ago, I figured I’d check it out. A 1999 case of a high school girl murdered by her ex-boyfriend (or so they think). Sounds pretty interesting, right? For those of you who haven’t listened to this series yet, a little background: The podcast reviews the 15-year-old murder case of Hae Min Lee, a high school senior, murdered by her then-recent ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Adnan became a suspect when his accomplice Jay Wilds testified against him, explaining Adnan and his own (Jay’s) role in the murder and burial of Hae. However, Adnan stands by his innocence and as the narrator begins to open up the old case, the messiness of the trial tumbles out and giant questions about the murder case arise.
As many critics have said, Serial is extremely addictive in nature. The podcast is structured so that a different angle is viewed each week, slowly building up a case as the police might. First, motives and alibis, then witnesses, then evidence, and so on. It keeps you on the edge, wanting to keep listening so you can hear more clues and keep trying to piece it together. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy the narrator injecting her own thoughts and opinions every so often, she raised a large number of hard hitting questions that made me continue to re-look at the case in more and more different lights. By the end I wanted to take all the testimonies, suspicions, he-said-she-said’s, and toss them away to look at the case from the ground up, facts and hard evidence only.
Why do I say this? Well, after listening the first few episodes you’ll know that there are an extraordinary amount of inconsistencies, lies, conflicting facts, and confusions within the case itself that it’s hard to figure out how the case even came to a conclusion in the first place. With who knows how many maddeningly different timelines along with straight-out poor handling of the case facts, the whole situation could not be more confusing. Constantly, there a pieces of evidence that are brought up only to be pushed aside later and forgotten. The whole case, in my eyes, was handled terribly. Instead of analyzing all different possibly explanations on how the murder could have occurred and who could have been involved, police and prosecutors jumped straight to one conclusion and forced evidence to fit the timeline.
My biggest problem with the case is the lack of focus on DNA evidence. As someone who is science-minded, hard facts like DNA should be the basis of any investigation. Skin samples under the victim’s nails, strands of hair, any DNA evidence left on things at the scene of the crime should all take priority, matching DNA to suspects or those involved rather than just assuming they must match. In the case with Hae’s murder, almost no DNA evidence was every actually examined, and for what reason, I have no idea. If the skin under Hae’s nail doesn’t match Adnan’s but matches someone else, shouldn’t we examine this other person rather than pointing the finger solely at Adnan because he was the ex-boyfriend?
Similarly, the lack of actual hard evidence makes the whole case extremely hard for me to digest. Now, I haven’t read the case files or gone through the records with a fine tooth comb, but from the brief mentions during the podcast, it sounds like hard evidence like rope and empty alcohol bottles from the crime scene were largely ignored. The conviction was turned out solely based on witness testimonies, many of which conflicted or changed throughout the course of the trial, without any basis in hard factual evidence. It blows my mind.
Coming down to it all, you’re probably wondering, ‘Well, who do you think did it?’ Honestly, I really don’t know. I haven’t done all my research on the case to make a firm judgement. But from the podcast, I heard enough to determine that the whole case seems fishy. I can’t say if Adnan is lying or telling the truth, but my brain keeps going back to episode one, where the narrator points out that people tend to forget the details of the days that are completely ordinary — a point that tells me that Adnan probably wasn’t involved. I also can’t pin down Jay, who’s constantly changing testimony, timeline, and involvement in the crime makes me really question him as a reliable source, even if he claims he was just trying to protect friends and family by keeping them uninvolved. His whole story sounds extremely wrong to me. If I were to make a conclusion, I would say a third person was involved — someone who maybe had a grudge against Adnan for some reason and used Jay as an accomplice (like Jay says) but threatens Jay enough to get him to frame Adnan as the murderer instead of the third party. Or maybe it simply was a random murder.
Unfortunately, Serial season 2 won’t be covering the continuation of this case, despite me eagerly awaiting to hear more about the development of the DNA evidence. In any case, Serial gave me a new perspective on murder mystery cases and I encourage anyone who enjoys on-edge whodunits to check out this podcast. But be forewarned, you might lose about 12 hours of your coming week gripped by this addictive series!