The Case Against Adnan Syed is focused around the conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. Adnan has spent the last 20 years in prison maintaining his innocence and his childhood friend, Rabia Chaudry, has been fighting for him ever since his incarceration. The first episode of this four-part documentary series provides a really useful background to the case and also discusses how the case rose to prominence through the podcast, Serial. It was on the back of this ten-part podcast that people all around the world learned that there were huge problems in the conviction of Adnan and started to decide for themselves if he was innocent or guilty. With wrongful conviction stories and true crime rising exponentially in popularity thanks in part to Serial and also Making a Murderer this documentary couldn’t have come at a better time.
What do we learn in episode one?
For those who have listened to Serial and also Chaudry’s own podcast Undisclosed this first episode will basically just be a recap for you and also brings the characters and story of the podcast to life. For anyone else, it’s a great starting point for a case that gets extremely complicated the longer it goes on. The first episode spends a lot of time on Adnan and Hae’s relationship, with extracts from her personal diary, photographs and animations we are told a classic high school love story. Hae’s impassioned diary entries show how much of a typical teenage girl she was, falling head of heels in love and writing his name all over her journal. In addition to Hae’s diary, we also hear a voice recording of Adnan recapping their relationship as well, in the present day. He recalls his love for her, how they met, how he invited her to prom and most importantly, how they kept their relationship a secret. Despite Adnan being an incredibly popular student, his strict Muslim parents did not approve of him having a girlfriend and Hae, a Korean, had significant family issues of her own. So their relationship was a secret to their families. Hae broke up with Adnan because she didn’t want a secret relationship anymore and very shortly after entered a new relationship with an older man, Don. Just as she had with Adnan, Hae fell very quickly head over heels. She even mentions in her diary how silly she is for doing this again but that doesn’t stop her from plastering his name all over the pages. It feels like the synopsis for a high school movie with love, loss & friendship but unfortunately without the happy ending.
Why was Adnan arrested?
More of this will become clear in the upcoming episodes, but the first reason given was that Adnan became a person of interest after a phone call from a presumed to be Korean man who told the police to focus on Hae’s ex-boyfriend while she was still missing. Those well versed with the case will already know of the somewhat ‘smoking gun’ yet to be revealed. As one of the detective states they only need a 51% degree of certainty to make an arrest, so Adnan looked like the ideal suspect in the first place and then after the phone call came in that was enough for them to arrest and question him. Little did he or anyone else know that the morning officers came into his house to take him into custody that he would never return home again. Despite there being other persons of interest, Adnan was the one arrested, questioned and convicted and the evidence stacked against him mounts up but as friend Rabia mentioned, in hindsight, there are things that look suspicious but only more so because he has already been arrested. Don, the new boyfriend, was not really focused on much during the investigation despite being unaccounted for until 1 am on the eve of Hae’s disappearance and having his mother as his alibi. Rabia, with the help of independent investigators, considers that there would perhaps have been more to uncover with Don and in an attempt to reach him, documentary makers manage to track him down but are met with a degree of hostility.
“Innocent Until Proven Guilty”
The evidence used to convict Adnan has yet to be revealed to us but we know that a fellow Woodlawn High student, Jay Wilds, plays a part. We also know that evidence used to place Adnan at Leakin Park on the night Hae went missing in the spot where her body found was very unreliable, this evidence was in fact uncovered by Serial and is what lead him to be granted a retrial. The thing that is so striking about this whole case and is what struck me when listening to the podcast is the recollection of events from Adnan himself. His tone and demeanor on the phone is incredibly upbeat and co-operative and the way in which he recalls events surrounding Hae’s disappearance seems so genuine, he says that he doesn’t really remember much because there was nothing too unusual about the two days or so when she was missing because you sometimes do go a couple of days without speaking to your friends. He doesn’t remember what he did those days because who can recall exact events from several weeks previous? Especially if nothing out of the ordinary really happened. Sarah Koenig poses this idea in episode one of Serial asking you to think back to specific days last week, two weeks ago and then a year ago. Adnan says he didn’t think much of his arrest as he said he was innocent until proven guilty and was not aware of the forthcoming events. He doesn’t strike you as the kind of guy who would strangle his ex-girlfriend and this is something echoed by those closest to him. One of the more popular boys in school, a recognized figure in the Muslim community, Prom King, a student with good grades and a promising future. This is where your classic ‘but did he do it?’ line of questioning comes in. Sometimes the most unlikely people are the ones who commit the most heinous crimes (Ted Bundy) but there is so much wrong with this case that it makes you wonder if they have the right guy. As Rabia Chaudry is a big part of this documentary there is certainly going to be a bias, she believes he is innocent and before we are told why he was convicted we are given a background into Don as her biggest suspect.
At the heart of it, we have a young girl who was absolutely adored by her friends and family who was brutally murdered and buried in a shallow grave. With all the speculation of who did this to her, the very sad fact remains that she lost her life in a horrible way and the family is still left wondering who did it and why all these years later. Her last diary entry, the day before she went missing, is so full of life and love. We can feel so much about this girl from the way she writes and the conflict she feels on a daily basis. She going through the trials and tribulations of most teenage girls – boys, school studying, friends, parties, prom. If anything, she deserves justice by having the right person doing time for her murder and whether that is Adnan or not, the case will not rest until the evidence is undeniable. At the moment, with wrongful convictions something of a hot topic and police corruption in Baltimore a legitimate concern, there is enough to bring a sliver of doubt into your mind. Did this straight-A student feel that hard when his girlfriend of only a few months split up with him that he strangled her and buried her in a park? Or did someone else do it and frame him for the murder?
If you’re interested in my two cents on the matter, especially considering that I have spent a lot of time listening to podcasts and reading up on the case, I do think he is innocent but that he does have something to hide. I think the fact that he had to keep a relationship with her a secret doesn’t look good for him and the upcoming evidence provided by Jay Wilds is also very damning but there is still something, in the back of my mind – the sliver of doubt I mentioned before – that really makes me think they’ve put the wrong person behind bars and even more worryingly, the person who actually did do it is known to the police.
We will explore more in the weeks ahead, but for now, what do you think based on this intro into Adnan’s case? Let us know in the comments below.
As an HBO Watch writer since 2013, I have covered a wide variety of shows from Eastbound and Down to Game of Thrones. I am also a huge Stanley Kubrick enthusiast having written my undergraduate thesis on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Outside of the world of film and TV I am an avid baker and teach 16-18 year olds how to use cameras.