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.

Long Night’s Journey Into Day – Grief, Forgiveness, and Motherhood

“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” is a film about the racial and political violence in South Africa during its period of apartheid rule. The film showed a few of the many horrifying cases of murder that occurred during this time. Some cases were later brought forth in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee – which was a way for perpetrators to confess to the families and friends of their victims, and ask for amnesty. One of the main purposes of the TRC was to reveal South Africa’s dark past, rather than bury it. 

The film started off with the case of Amy Biehl, a young American girl, who was studying and reporting on the racial divide and apartheid in South Africa. During her time in Cape Town, she was brutally murdered by a black mob. This case really stuck out to me for many reasons. One being how her parents reacted to this tragedy. I thought it was borderline crazy, yet so inspiring that her parents actually supported and pushed for the TRC to grant the murderers of Amy amnesty. The scene where Amy’s parents visited the homes of one of the perpetrator’s mothers was shocking as well – that they could feel compassion for the mother of a man who killed their daughter, and were able to visit and have a conversation with her. Another aspect of that story that stuck out to me was when one of her murderers was interviewed and felt a great deal of remorse after hearing Amy’s parents speak about their daughter at trial. Hearing about Amy’s personality and passions and her mission in South Africa really humanized her and impacted everyone. Another scene in particular that was extremely upsetting to watch was when one of the mothers of another victim started to scream and cry during the trial of his murderer. It made me so upset to the point of discomfort – like I had no place watching this mother’s raw pain when seeing and hearing about the death of her son. Dr. Gulick truly put it best in today’s class discussion – that the feeling of discomfort is similar to seeing someone naked. It was a very impactful scene, I could see other women sitting in the audience at the trial who were so moved that they too were crying. 

It is clear that one main focal point of the film was on the mothers of the victims. Although they all handled grief in different ways, something that was somewhat common among all of them was their ability to forgive. The mothers were able to sit down with the perpetrators and express their sadness and confusion for the crime, but also forgive them for their actions. One mother was talking to the black police officer who killed her son, and stated that as upset as she is, she must forgive him in order to heal and move forward. “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” was very eye-opening for me and I honestly can’t believe I hadn’t heard more about it before – it was stated that South Africa had the most notorious form of racial domination since Nazi Germany, and I think it is definitely a part of history that needs to be talked about more. 

What the Law Really Is

The Furies deals with the complexity of the law in the context of wondering if the law is meant to truly be steadfast, or to be flexible. In theory, the law is an equalizer. Every citizen approaches the law on the same level, and the law treats each person the same. It is a black-and-white part of society that is neutral and firm. This is the role that the Furies are trying to fulfill. When they approach Orestes and Apollo, accusing them of the murders, they say that “blood must pay for blood”. This is a familiar concept and purpose of the law- that an “eye for an eye”- but the play shows that this concept is more of an ideal than a practical application of the law. Orestes is an example of how the law is a dynamic work- how it cannot be rigid like the Furies wish it to be. Orestes is charged with the murder of his mother and her lover. It’s complex because his mother killed his father who killed his sister as a sacrifice to the gods in order to be back in their favor. The play doesn’t ask the question if murder is justified, but it does ask if the law is not supposed to account for the circumstances of each situation- and here, each murder presents a new set of ambiguous circumstances. The play answers the question with Orestes being given a trial which ends in a tie, and is acquitted in the murder. The answer itself is still unclear because of the tie, and I see it as a balance between the two answers. The Furies stand for the what the law strives to be in theory, because in the most basic sense, murder is not justified. However, Orestes and Apollo show through their situation that taking that stance is not always easy. The law is imperfect and cannot be truly steadfast and equalizing. I have been thinking about this concept because I know that it is still relevant today. When speaking to a former attorney at work, she told me that it isn’t always as easy as getting the most possible jail time for a crime and that prosecutors have to take into account the circumstances of the situation. I found it incredibly interesting that an idea presented in the play still applies. I think it is a dynamic of the law that people often criticize or just ignore, but it is a part of it that is worth thinking about and understanding.