A Few Thoughts on the Serial Podcast

Serial is a podcast spin-off of This American Life, and this particular version of the series investigates the 15 year old murder conviction of Adnan Syed. He was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, and the podcasts detail Sarah Koenig’s year-long investigation into the case.

I don’t typically read, watch, or listen to true crime stories because they either feel too formulaic (48 Hours Investigates) or too messy (this podcast). I like crime fiction both because it organizes messy stories of crimes and because sometimes it’s clear what really happened. In the eight episodes I’ve listened to so far, the holes in the investigation, the holes in the evidence, and the inconsistencies in witness statements make it seem like the task of finding out what really happened is impossible. Nevertheless, I’m in the Adnan-is-innocent camp despite Koenig’s attempted approach of being impartial. The trial excerpts and other interviews I’ve heard on the podcast make me see all kinds of reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case, but, of course, I’m saying that without having been a witness to the six week trial. There is a lot that this podcast leaves out, but I’ve jotted down a few thought in general about the series:

  1. Re-investigating a crime that happened fifteen years ago is incredibly difficult. It’s hard to track down witnesses, it’s hard for those witnesses to remember back that far, it’s hard to find out what evidence has not been destroyed.
  2. Serial’s investigation must have been quite costly. The collect calls from Adnan in prison alone have to be pricey.
  3. As a long-time fan of Laura Lippman and David Simon, lots of the Baltimore County locations are familiar, including Leakin Park.
  4. I don’t have time to go down the Reddit rabbithole of people trying to solve the case. I do, however, recommend the blog of Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Adnan’s family who brought the case to Sarah Koenig’s attention.
  5. My favorite episode so far included a long conversation with Deirdre Enright of the University of Virginia Innocence Project Clinic. Her years of experience reviewing criminal case files was much more interesting to me than Koenig’s story of her thoughts about the case during the course of her investigation. I wonder what the clinic’s review of the file will yield.
  6. I’m not sure what the ending of the series will be: will it be more about Koenig or more about Syed.

All in all, I recommend this podcast.