Welp, This Might Be The Most Insane And Damaging “Serial” Update Yet
NPR’s “Serial” podcast ended back in December, but if you were a rabid fan of Sarah Koenig’s deep dive into the case of Adnan Syed, convicted in 1999 in the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, your obsession probably didn’t end with Koenig’s mealy-mouthed conclusion. A lot has happened since then, after all. Jay Wilds, Syed’s supposed accomplice in burying Lee’s body and the primary witness in the prosecution’s case, finally gave a three-part interview to The Intercept and changed his story for what seems like the millionth time, offering up a whole other timeline for the day of the murder. The prosecutor, Kevin Urick, also spoke to The Intercept, mostly to maintain that his office did a flawless job and to refute the suggestion that Jay’s ever-changing story might be, you know, problematic. There have been legal developments too — in February, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed to hear arguments for why Syed should get a new trial, based on the contention he had ineffective counsel. And should he be granted an appeal and a new trial, his third (the first, which was going in his favor, was declared a mistrial), the defense’s strategy is likely going to be very different from what Cristina Guttierez and her team attempted in 1999. But I’m genuinely starting to wonder if the entire case against Adnan Syed may end up being thrown out after listening to episode three of Rabia Chaudry’s Undisclosed podcast.
Rabia Chaudry, as Serial-o-philes will remember, is a longtime friend of Adnan’s who first brought the case to Koenig’s attention and has continued to blog about and fight for Syed’s release. With the many developments in the case, and the popularity of Serial, Chaudry, who is herself a lawyer, decided to start her own podcast, totally unaffiliated with NPR and decisively pro-Adnan. Chaudry is joined by two unbiased — in that they have no personal relationship with anyone involved — and legally well-versed co-hosts, though it’s safe to say both Susan Simpson and Colin Miller are in the “Adnan is innocent” camp. Simpson, a lawyer, and Miller, a law professor, both became familiar with and invested in Syed’s case via “Serial,” each blogging about the minute details of what was and wasn’t revealed on the podcast, pouring though the available documents and unearthing some of the more damaging evidence against the State’s case.
Simpson’s work on her blog has been especially compelling — she was the first to uncover information about the cellphone records that called into question some of the more damning points made by the prosecution, including the importance of the Nisha call. But her biggest revelation yet came earlier this week during the last half of Undisclosed’s third episode, titled “Jay’s Day” (the episode is below; skip to the relevant portion — though the whole podcast is great — at minute 31). Simpson presents, for the first time, the actual audio from Jay’s sworn statements to police about what occurred on January 13, 1999, the day Hae Min Lee went missing and was presumed murdered. The transcripts of those interviews have been available for some time, but the actual audio, as you might imagine, gives a much fuller picture of what Jay told police because now we can actually hear how he said it and the inflections in his voice, and, most importantly, how often and for how long he paused as he told his version of the events. What Simpson discovered is a straight up mic drop. The audio recordings pretty solidly indicate why Jay’s story has varied so much, including in his police statements, and how he eventually ended up telling the version presented at trial: Jay Wilds was coached and fed information about the case by the Baltimore police department detectives.
The evidence is this: Jay pauses a lot while giving his statements. During those pauses, Simpson heard a mysterious tapping, and that tapping had a pattern — it was always followed up by Jay suddenly remembering a new detail or what came next. The taps preclude moments when Jay suddenly changes details of his story, and at a certain point, Jay even apologizes, like he’s said the wrong thing. Some of the long pauses and/or taps occur when Jay is giving specific details, like the exact street corner where he and Adnan supposedly tried to score weed, which he previously couldn’t remember. The audio also indicates that the police would covertly stop Jay when they didn’t like something he would say, pushing him to move things along, and sometimes Jay straight up sounds like he is reading something to remind him of what to say next. All along the taps are there in the background, seemingly communicating to Jay what he should do and say — there are even police documents in evidence, like maps with important locations marked on them, that, combined with Jay’s statements, lead Simpson to suggest might have actually been put in front of Jay and tapped so that he would corroborate the police’s version of events. At times, it is almost blatant, the detectives sounding more and more exasperated with Jay as he makes mistakes or gives details that would throw off their chronology. After Simpson is done, Chaudry concludes that the Baltimore Police Department coached Jay and fed him information and they did so by tapping so that it would never end up on the transcripts.
These are serious allegations, but, uh, we’re talking about the Baltimore Police Department, and as Miller notes, there’s a precedent. So why would Jay go along with the police and do what they said, including implicating himself in getting rid of Lee’s body? Jay gave as good a reason as any at trial — he said police threatened to charge him with the murder. So did Jay have anything to do with disposing of Hae Min Lee’s body or her murder? That remains unclear, but what does seem obvious is that the state’s entire case followed a timeline that was based on Jay’s statements to police — a story that changed multiple times, even as recently as the interview he gave to the Intercept. Putting aside the fact that that timeline has now been essentially proven inaccurate, based on these audio tapes, Jay’s statements and story were seemingly manipulated and crafted by the Baltimore P.D. and as a result, Syed has been sitting in jail for a crime he maintains he did not commit.
Even if you still think Adnan Syed had something to do with Hae Min Lee’s murder (though why you would, at this point, I’m not sure), it’s clear the entire case against him was built on bad police work, witness tampering and evidence (cellphone towers pings and call logs!) that simply does not make sense. Fifteen years has passed — if there is evidence that actually proves Syed killed Lee, could it even be found? Now, I’m no lawyer, let me make that clear. But if this case is successfully appealed and granted a new trial, will the prosecutor charged with taking on this case look at the evidence presented the first time around, see the gaping holes that will no doubt be illuminated by Syed’s defense team, and really want to proceed? Especially with Jay Wilds, who still doesn’t seem to know what the fuck happened on January 13, 1999, on the stand? Somehow, I doubt it.