Serial is a podcast from Serial Productions, a New York Times company, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial unfolds one story - a true story - over the course of a whole season. The show follows the plot and characters wherever they lead, through many surprising twists and turns. Sarah won't know what happens at the end of the story until she gets there, not long before you get there with her. Each week she'll bring you the latest chapter, so it's important to listen in, starting with Episode 1. New episodes are released on Thursday mornings.
On January 13, 1999, Adnan Syed was a hurt and vengeful ex-boyfriend who carried out a premeditated murder. Or he was a bewildered bystander, framed for a crime he could never have committed. After 15 months of reporting, we take out everything we’ve got - interviews and documents and police reports - we shake it all out, and we see what sticks.
Almost everyone describes the 17-year-old Adnan the same way: good kid, helpful at the mosque, respectful to his elders. But a couple of months ago, Sarah started getting phone calls from people who knew Adnan back then, and told her stories of a different kind of boy.
Adnan’s trial lawyer was M. Cristina Gutierrez, a renowned defense attorney in Maryland – tough and savvy and smart. Other lawyers said she was exactly the kind of person you’d want defending you on a first-degree murder charge. But Adnan was convicted, and a year later, Gutierrez was disbarred. What happened?
New information is coming in about what maybe didn’t happen on January 13, 1999. And while Adnan’s memory of that day is foggy at best, he does remember what happened next: being questioned, being arrested and, a little more than a year later, being sentenced to life in prison.
The state’s case against Adnan Syed hinged on Jay’s credibility; he was their star witness and also, because of his changing statements to police, their chief liability. Naturally, Adnan’s lawyer tried hard to make Jay look untrustworthy at trial. So, how did the jurors make sense of Jay? For that matter, how did the cops make sense of Jay? How are we supposed to make sense of Jay?
Adnan told Sarah about a case in Virginia that had striking similarities to his own: one key witness, incriminating cell phone records, young people, drugs - and a defendant who has always maintained his innocence. Sarah called up one of the defense attorneys on that case to see if she could offer any insight into Adnan’s case, and got much more than she bargained for.
The physical evidence against Adnan Syed was scant - a few underwhelming fingerprints. So aside from cell records, what did the prosecutors bring to the jury, to shore up Jay's testimony? Sarah weighs all the other circumstantial evidence they had against Adnan, including curious behavior, a disconcerting note, and an unexplained mid-afternoon phone call.
Adnan once issued a challenge to Sarah. He told her to test the state’s timeline of the murder by driving from Woodlawn High School to Best Buy in 21 minutes. It can’t be done, he said. So Sarah and Dana take up the challenge, and raise him one: They try to recreate the entire route that Jay said he and Adnan took on January 13th, 1999.
A few days after Hae’s body is found, the detectives get a lead that opens the case up for them. They find Jay at work late one night and bring him down to Homicide. At first, he insists he doesn’t know anything about the murder. But eventually he comes clean. He tells them what happened on January 13th. A few weeks later, he’s back at Homicide and his story has changed. In some ways, these changes are small and understandable. In other ways, they’re big and confounding.
It’s February 9, 1999. Hae has been missing for three weeks. A man on his lunch break pulls off a road to pee, and stumbles on her body in a city forest. His odd recounting of the discovery makes Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary suspicious. For instance, why did he walk so far into the woods - 127 feet - to relieve himself? And that’s just the start. A look into the man’s past reveals some bizarre behavior.