Digging Deeper: Adnan Syed—Guilty or Innocent?

To this day, Adnan Syed is serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of Hae Min Lee. However, the hit podcast Serial revisits this potentially wrongful conviction. Do they prove his innocence?

Samuel L
5 min readJul 7, 2021

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Upon listening to the first and last episodes from Season 1 of the true crime podcast Serial, my opinion was subconsciously veering towards the belief that Adnan was innocent. Sarah Koenig did a fantastic job in revealing a more human side to the story, while simultaneously dispelling many of the circumstantial evidence and presenting her own findings. I admittedly—along with many other of Serial’s listeners, was drawn in by the high production value, Sarah’s passion towards the subject, and the general narrative that was presented on the show. It was easy to accept that Adnan was an exemplar kid with a personality incapable of hurting Hae, based on Sarah’s conversations with Adnan himself, and others who believed in him. It was easy to take the evidence presented on the show and regard it as fact, because who else was there to tell me otherwise? The prosecutors? They certainly weren’t on the show. The engaging podcast format allows Adnan’s story to be presented in a manner that encourages us as listeners to believe in him and his innocence.

However, as I began to further investigate into external sources that contradict Adnan’s claim to innocence, my pre-mature opinion regarding the truth behind this story began to shift the other way. Turns out, Serial was only the catalyst towards the public media’s preferred narrative of Adnan’s story—that he was wrongfully convicted and deserves justice. When Intercept reporters Natasha Vargas-Cooper and Ken Silverstein suggested that the process behind Adnan’s conviction was fair, the company’s executives and staff were outraged, causing the pair to resign shortly after. But despite this one-sided narrative, the courts certainly must’ve had their own perspective on the matter, convicting Adnan in 2000 and having his appeal denied by the Supreme Court in 2019. I decided to dig deeper into the evidence against Adnan, and found some interesting aspects that might point towards his guilt.

Firstly, on the podcast Adnan claims to have maintained an overall healthy relationship with his ex-girlfriend Hae before and after their breakup, with the show enforcing the fact that he had no motive at all to commit the crime.

However, Serial largely ignores a key piece of evidence that presents the quality of their relationship in a completely different manner. Hae had actually written a breakup note to Adnan, expressing her discontentment with his possessive personality before and after their breakup. She described their relationship to have ended “hostile + cold” and told him to “hate me if you will”. Adnan’s reaction to this note was to compose a note of his own, with the words clearly displayed at the top of the page: “I’m going to kill”.

His motive is further established through the readings of Hae’s diary during the testimony of her friend Debbie, painting Adnan as jealous and possessive. In Hae’s own words, the abusive nature of the relationship is revealed, and contradicts Adnan’s more positive claims regarding his relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

The second thing is the possessiveness. Independence (indiscernible). I’m a very independent person. I rarely rely on my parents. Although I love him, it’s not like I need him. I know I’ll be just fine without him, and I need some time for myself and (indiscernible) other than him. How dare he get mad at me for planning to hang with Aisha? The third thing is the mind play. I’m sure it’s out of jealousy. Shit, I don’t get jealous. And I think whoever trying [sic] to get me jealous is a fool because you’ll definitely lose me. I prefer a straight relationship that don’t get people mixed in just [sic] he wanted to play mind games.

Another aspect that I found to be detrimental towards Adnan’s claim to innocence is the credibility of his star alibi, Asia McClain. Just like Adnan, she makes contradictory statements on Serial, claiming “I would not have remembered if not for the snow”, and that “It was the first snow of the year.” Turns out, it didn’t snow on January 13th, only an ice storm in the early morning hours of the 14th. The first snow of the year was on January 8th, the week before.

To urge the judge to order a retrial, Adnan’s new lawyer Justin Brown criticized the previous lawyer Cristina Gutierrez’s inability to contact Asia. “At the time of the Syed case (Gutierrez) was unable to handle her cases,” he said. This contradicts Adnan himself, who previously claimed that her

“hard work, determination and belief in my innocence assures me I’m in the best hands.”

It can be argued that Gutierrez in fact made the right decision to exclude Asia as a witness in the first place. Her testimony would have been conditional, and she even made it known several times that she would only testify for Adnan if she knew he was not guilty. The truth doesn’t work that way, if she was a reliable witness, then she would know for certain that Adnan was innocent.

Finally, many who believe in Adnan’s innocence often address the fact that none of the DNA found in and around Hae’s body matched Adnan’s. However, Adnan’s fingerprints were on a map in the backseat of Hae’s car, with a page ripped out that led to Leakin Park. There were also no other fingerprints in Hae’s car except for Adnan’s, and it is believed that she was murdered while she was in the passenger’s seat. There were signs of struggle, with evidence supporting Hae to have kicked the windshield wiper loose. Her bruises on the right side of her head also align with her struggle to escape, knocking her head against the passenger’s side door.

All in all, while public media such as Serial have been able to drive the narrative of Adnan’s innocence, a deeper dive into the evidence against him has led me to believe that Adnan is indeed guilty. No one will ever know the absolute truth, perhaps not even Adnan himself, with his inability to retell the events that occurred during the time of the murder. It is up to Hae’s family to come to peace on whether or not justice has been served, and the justice system to keep it so.

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