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My thoughts on the podcast, “Serial”

***spoilers for “Serial” below****

As a criminal justice major and aspiring criminal defense attorney, I am obsessed with investigative podcasts. I got into them about 2 years ago, when I listened to Payne Lindsey’s “Up and Vanished” for the first time. Payne Lindsey, as an amateur podcaster, cracked a cold case murder by investigating and telling the story in his podcast’s first season. It was the coolest, most interesting thing and I was 100% hooked on podcasts from there on out.  Now, I know I’m rambling a little bit, but basically what I am trying to get at is the decision as to what option I should pick for the purpose of this assignment was a no brainer for me – it had to be the podcast “Serial.”

This first season of “Serial,” hosted by Sarah Koenig, told the story of a murder that happened in Baltimore in 1999. An 18 year old girl named Hae went missing after school one day, and a few weeks later was found dead in Leakin Park (a forest/park area in Baltimore, Maryland). Her cause of death was manual strangulation. Investigators started looking at potential suspects and different people in her life. Eventually they decided to move forward with charging Hae’s ex boyfriend, Adnan, with her murder. He was convicted and is currently serving a life sentence in prison. However, the host of this podcast believes that there may be more to the story, and maybe Adnan is innocent. This podcast explores different aspects of the story, and tries to understand what really happened, and who is truly responsible for Hae‘s death. 

Sarah Koenig unpacks a lot of the evidence (or lack thereof) that the state was basing their case on throughout the podcast. One aspect that almost all of the state’s case was dependent on was a boy named Jay, who was friends with Adnan. He told the police that Adnan planned, killed and disposed of Hae’s body, and that he confided in Jay with all of this information. He even gave police Adnan’s exact timeline. However, there is a potential witness who saw and spoke with Adnan during the time frame that Jay claims he was killing and burying Hae. This alibi, however, was never explored or introduced by Adnan’s defense attorney at trial. What baffles me is that his defense attorney didn’t even reach out to the witness once. Later, to not much surprise, Adnan’s defense attorney was disbarred for a different case for doing an insufficient job. 

One aspect of this whole case that scares me the most is the fact that it is so easy to blame someone for a crime. Although there were statements from Jay that makes it seem like Adnan did it, there was really no other concrete evidence that proved that he killed her. A quote that stuck out at me in the podcast was when Adnan was being interviewed by the host from prison, and asked “what was it about me that would allow someone to even entertain the possibility that I could do this?” (episode 6). This idea made me really question everything I know about the legal system, sometimes people are convicted without any evidence directly linking them to the crime. There were no fingerprints or DNA matching Adnan’s at the crime scene, he was convicted based on the fact that he was Hae’s ex-boyfriend, and statements that Jay gave to the police. Sarah Koenig raised many questions throughout the podcast, that maybe Jay was lying and was instead protecting someone else for the crime and framing Adnan. What scares me is you can be living a normal life, and then one day be at the forefront of a murder case (hopefully that happens to none of us). I know that out of any suspects or people looked into, Adnan looked the most guilty for the crime. But does that mean he did it?

On the flip side, it’s also just as scary to think that someone as normal and convincing as Adnan could’ve actually done it. He was a normal high school student: running track, homecoming King, studying and doing well in school, having a lot of friends, etc. Listening to his interviews throughout this podcast is very convincing that he did not kill Hae. I kept thinking, this guy? There’s just no way. But, what’s scary is the thought that Adnan, someone who reminds me of every other high school boy I went to school with, could’ve actually done it.  Don, Hae’s boyfriend at the time of her death, even said that Adnan “was someone that I would’ve hung out with if I knew him in school” (episode 12).

Aspects within this podcast reminded of some of the things we’ve discussed in class. In many of the works we have read for class, there were themes of believability, innocence and guilt within them. Especially in texts that discuss the court system and how they handle different crimes. This podcast told the story, not of a murder, but of a teenage boy who went to prison for it, and whether he is innocent or guilty. Sadly, the ending of this podcast wasn’t like Payne Lindsey’s “Up and Vanished” where he cracked the case. Adnan was later granted a retrial but the same conclusion came from it. He is still in jail for Hae’s murder, and I can’t help but feel unsettled with that ending.

12 Angry Men

I chose to watch 12 Angry Men for this blog post. Besides reading the synopsis, I had no idea what I was about to watch. However, I am very happy with my decision to watch this. I was able to draw two connections from this movie to readings from class. One is to Death and the Maiden and the other is To Kill A Mockingbird.

The first connections I made happened right after the preliminary vote of whether the boy was guilty or not. I made this connection to Death and the Maiden. When the jurors were asked if the boy was guilty, 11 of the men raised their hands before moving to the not guilty vote. But, not all 11 men immediately raised their hands. A few of them were hesitant, as if they were looking to see how many other people voted guilty, or like they didn’t believe he was guilty, before they decided to vote. This reminded me of the scene in Death and the Maiden when the Gerardo was asking Paulina if Roberto is really the person, she thinks he is. Was he really the person responsible or was he just someone that she could place the blame on, that just so happened to fit the description she remembered?

This is the same question that juror 8 was asking, especially when it came to the witness that was an old man. The witness said he heard the boy yelling at his father right before the father’s body dropped to the ground, dead. Then after a few moments, he saw the boy running down the stairs. This is when juror 8 began to question the man’s recount of events. As I mentioned earlier the witness is an old man, who also happens to have a limp that makes it hard for him to walk. After a quick recreation of the man’s account to get to his door to see the boy run down, he questions whether the witness saw the boy run down the stairs or, at this point, if he even saw anyone run down the stairs. Which goes back to the question Gerardo has. Did the boy do it or is he someone that the blame has fallen on? As the men began to change their votes, this possibility gets stronger.

I found a couple connections between this movie and To Kill A Mockingbird. The first is the idea that one group of people is worse than another. In To Kill A Mockingbird, the trial was between a white family and a black man. In the book, the Tom Robinson, the black man, had a white man to vouch for him and say that he was not like what people thought of black men, even though he was not on trial or called as a witness. In 12 Angry Men, the trial was between two people in the slums. While deliberating, one of the jurors was trying to say that because he was from the slums, killing was something “those people” always did. However, one of the jurors also lived in the slums at one point in time, and he vouched for the boy saying that just because he was from the slums doesn’t necessarily mean he is a bad child and a killer. This juror was explaining that even though most of the time it was usually someone from the slums committing similar crimes, it is not always someone from the slums. It could very well be someone from what society would call “good people”, and that he should look at the facts of the case and base his vote on that and not on where the boy is from.

The second connection between these two happens during the cross-examination by Atticus of Mayella in To Kill A Mockingbird and during the discussion of the old male witness between juror 8 and juror 3. During the cross-examination of Mayella, Atticus started asking her questions that evoked answers that pointed away from Tom Robinson, and more towards her father as the real perpetrator. In other words, she almost let the truth out, that Tom was not guilty of raping her, but her father was guilty of it. The same thing happened right after juror 8 made is point about the old witness being an unreliable when it comes to him having seen the boy running down the stairs. Even though no question was asked, and I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it caused juror 3 to respond, “half the time, the old man was confused” or something of that nature. Juror 3 almost let his true feelings out, that he didn’t believe the boy was guilty.

Determining guilt is very important when someone’s life is on the line. All three of these works shows different ways guilt could be determined. One by witness, one by prejudice, and one by refusing to be truthful. All of which could lead to a false verdict of guilt. Luckily, in the end of this film, one juror was able to convince the other 11 that the boy was not guilty.

Roberto’s Inconsistencies

            Ariel Dorfman certainly gives her play “Death and the Maiden” an ambiguous ending, and it leaves the reader wondering two things: if Paulina killed Roberto and if Roberto was guilty or innocent. Since the time interval of events is so short, the reader is never able to get a good judgment on Roberto’s character. When reading the play, I noticed some inconsistencies in Roberto’s character that would make me believe that he is guilty.

            One inconsistency begins in act one scene two when Roberto shows up at Paulina and Gerardo’s home. Roberto and Gerardo discuss how serious the punishment should be for the past dictatorship and they share their opinions on the amnesty of the past regime. Surprisingly, Roberto takes an extreme stance and says that the people of the past dictatorship should all die. He says, “I’m for killing the whole bunch of them” as well as “there are people who simply don’t deserve to be alive.” This merciless and violent stance is expressed quite casually and calmly as well, and these statements would indirectly characterize him as a violent man. Now later in the play in act two scene two, Roberto is pleading to Gerardo to free him and says, “I’m a quiet man. Anyone can see that I’m incapable of violence- violence of any sort sickens me.” This statement is a complete contradiction to his violent stance on the past regime. How could Roberto advocate for the death penalty to all involved in the dictatorship when “violence of any sort sickens” him? I would argue that at the beginning of the play is best way to judge his character because he is not tied up and in his most natural state. This state would show his true personality because he does not know that Paulina is Gerardo’s wife. Also, the violent nature without a doubt line up to what he is accused for.

            The next inconsistency is brought to light by Paulina. Roberto successfully manipulates Gerardo into getting the story from Paulina in order to forge the false confession. However, Paulina gives Gerardo false information in which Roberto corrects in fear of not getting the confession correct. This provides further proof that Roberto is lying and trying to manipulate Paulina into thinking that she has the wrong guy. The corrections that Roberto makes are so unique to the story that in order to know that information he had to have been involved in Paulina’s torture..