After spending greater than twenty years in jail, Adnan Syed was launched on Monday after new proof was uncovered within the 1999 homicide of Hae Min Lee, a highschool scholar and Syed’s ex-girlfriend.
The case turned identified internationally by way of the podcast Serial, which explored the homicide and inconsistencies in Syed’s conviction, within the course of inventing a brand new style of journalism – and leisure.
The group behind Serial was lauded for its work, which sparked a slew of copycat podcasts, although it additionally raised moral questions on whether or not true crime podcasts do noble work or exploit human struggling.
Hae Min Lee was final seen at about 3pm on 13 January 1999. Her household reported the 18-year-old highschool scholar lacking after she failed to choose up her niece. Lee’s physique was discovered, partially buried, 4 weeks later in Leakin Park, west Baltimore. She had been strangled.
Police arrested Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend, on 1 March. The pair each attended Woodlawn highschool, and had dated the earlier 12 months. Based on court docket information, Lee had ended the connection in December that 12 months. Syed was 17 when he was arrested, however was charged as an grownup with first-degree homicide.
Prosecutors mentioned Syed had killed Lee after changing into upset when she began relationship another person. Syed pled not responsible and his first trial led to a mistrial, however in February 2000 he was convicted of first-degree homicide and kidnapping, and sentenced to life plus 30 years in jail.
He has all the time maintained his innocence, and 14 years later the podcast Serial introduced renewed give attention to Lee’s homicide.
“The case towards [Syed] was largely primarily based on the story of 1 witness, Adnan’s buddy Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae’s physique,” the podcast description reads.
“However Adnan has all the time maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s demise. Some folks consider he’s telling the reality. Many others don’t.”
Throughout 12 episodes, the presenter and journalist behind the podcast, Sarah Koenig, a former reporter for the Baltimore Solar who additionally labored on the podcast This American Life, trawled by way of 1000’s of paperwork and talked to everybody she may discover who knew Syed and Lee on the time of Lee’s demise.
Koenig discovered that there was scant forensic proof linking Syed to Lee’s homicide, and that witnesses had modified their statements to the police.
Questions had been additionally raised in regards to the competence of Syed’s lawyer, and the veracity of the proof supplied by Jay Wilds, the prosecution’s key witness. Based on Wilds’ testimony, Syed informed him he had killed Lee, and requested Wilds to assist bury her physique; however Wilds’ story modified throughout his interviews with police, and his timeline didn’t match name logs and cellular phone tower ‘pings’.
The podcast didn’t come to a agency conclusion as to Syed’s innocence or guilt, however Koenig felt there was not sufficient proof to have convicted him.
“You, me, the State of Maryland, primarily based on the knowledge we’ve earlier than us, I don’t consider any of us can say what actually occurred to Hae. As a juror I vote to acquit Adnan Syed. I’ve to acquit,” she mentioned in the ultimate episode, which was launched in December 2014.
Koenig won’t have come to a agency conclusion about Syed, however the podcast introduced beforehand unimaginable consideration to his case. Serial was an enormous hit, and by February 2015 had been downloaded greater than 68m occasions.
“It’s by far the largest hit within the comparatively transient historical past of podcasts, a medium that has surged in reputation as folks more and more flip to smartphones for information and leisure,” the New York Instances wrote on the time.
Serial gained a number of awards, together with a Peabody award, however not everybody was comfortable.
Serial had begun after Rabia Chaudry, whose youthful brother Saad is shut pals with Syed, had written to Koenig asking her to look into the case. Chaudry, a lawyer, had spent years investigating Syed’s conviction, and has since criticized Serial for allegedly omitting data regarding the investigation into Lee’s demise.
“Serial set fireplace to Adnan’s story, to some extent intentionally, and has by no means apologized or made amends,” Chaudry tweeted on 16 September this 12 months. “Ought to I be grateful? I discover it onerous to be. However I’m grateful to the 1000’s that responded to the fireplace to assist rebuild.”
Within the years since Serial ran, true-crime has develop into one of the listened-to podcast genres. Bear Brook, which focuses on 4 murders in New Hampshire, adopted an analogous format, as did Within the Darkish, which adopted the case and eventual launch of an harmless Mississippi man convicted of homicide.
Different podcasts have had much less of an affect. Exhibits like My Favourite Homicide, Crime Junkie and Morbid fall right into a subgenre of true crime the place hosts learn cursory accounts about ugly murders, interjecting jokes and commentary.
“The ethics of true crime podcasts are questionable. They seem to advertise social justice however could make the most of media techniques that might be exploitative and sensationalist,” wrote Ezri Noe for a examine at Northwest College. “True crime podcasts bear moral accountability to advertise social justice and advocacy, as they revenue off actual tales of homicide, kidnapping, and crime.”
As for Syed, he’s lastly a free man – for now. In overturning Syed’s conviction, the choose mentioned the state should determine whether or not to hunt a brand new trial date or dismiss the case towards him inside 30 days, so Syed faces an anxious wait.
For Lee’s household, the query of who killed Hae Min lingers on, a two-decade saga that’s unimaginably painful.
“This isn’t a podcast for me,” Younger Lee, Hae Min’s brother, informed the court docket on Monday. “It’s actual life that may by no means finish. It’s been 20-plus years. It’s a nightmare. That is killing us.”