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.