The guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed is about to be determined, again, by the Baltimore judicial system. Syed’s original conviction and life sentence that he has been living the last 17 years has recently been overturned . He has been granted a new trial but still remains charged with the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. So, the question of the day is, is Adnan Syed guilty of the crime he is accused of? Many believe him incapable of committing such a heinous act because of the person they know him to be. Rabia Chaudry, an immigration lawyer and friend of Syed’s, states in the podcast Serial that, “He was an honor roll student, volunteer EMT. He was on the football team. He was a star runner on the track team. He was the homecoming king. He led prayers at the mosque. Everybody knew Adnan to be somebody who was going to do something really big.” With such high praise, is there any doubt as to why she thinks him to be innocent?
Syed was portrayed as the all-American teenager despite being a conservative Muslim. But that is only what was seen on the surface. Syed kept his relationship with Lee a secret, drank, smoked, had sex, and even did weed with his friend Jay. His story bears a shocking resemblance to that of the Preppy Killer of 1986 . Robert Chambers at age 19 was found guilty of killing the woman he dated, Jennifer Levin, in New York City’s Central Park. Chambers was dubbed the Preppy Killer because of his model looks and the button down shirts he wore. The prosecutor in the case, Linda Fairstein said, “He looked like a male model, people treated him like a — like he was a graduate of — an Ivy League college and had this prep school background. And yet, in fact, his days were really spent with the underbelly of New York drug life.” No one could believe that Chambers was guilty of killing Levin based on the person he showed to society, but underneath he was someone completely different, just like Syed. Syed hid his true life from his conservative Muslim family because he was a teen and all teens lie according to Chaudry. But it makes me think, what else could he be hiding?
Now that Syed’s conviction has been overturned and he is technically innocent until his new trial, his supporters want investigators to look for other possible suspects who could have murdered Hae Min Lee. However, police know that the most likely perpetrators of crimes against female victims are the ones closest to them. Syed’s supporters want nothing more than for investigators to turn their attention away from Syed, but it’s usually a husband, boyfriend, or someone the female victim knows who is most likely to hurt them. According to a National Institute of Justice study, two-thirds of violent attacks against women ages 18-29 had a prior relationship with the offender . Syed and Lee’s relationship ended at her instigation which could have created feelings of rage for Syed. After all, he was still a conservative Muslim and most likely exposed to the teachings of the Koran where women are considered subordinate to men. In “The Woman of Islam” article by Time, it states, “Women’s rights are compromised further by a section in the Koran, sura 4:34, that has been interpreted to say that men have “pre-eminence” over women or that they are “overseers” of women”. In light of these facts, Lee’s ending of the relationship may have been the tipping point for Syed giving him the motive he needed to commit murder.
Through all of this circumstantial evidence, there is what we know, or more accurately don’t know, from Syed’s own accounting of the events that day. In his interviews with Sarah Koenig for the Serial Podcast, Syed’s inability to recall any details about the day his ex-girlfriend was murdered suggests that he is covering up his involvement as people tend to remember what they did on the day a significant event occurred. This phenomenon is called Flashbulb Memory which is defined as “the clear recollections that a person may have of the circumstances associated with a dramatic event [and] are a type of long-term memory”. These memories are focused around upsetting, emotional events, such as hearing that a loved one has died unexpectedly. In Syed’s case, hearing about the murder of his ex-girlfriend would surely qualify as an upsetting, emotional event. Typically, flashbulb memories are “high in details such as location, emotion, and surroundings”, yet Syed is unable to recall specific details of that day, including who he was speaking to at the library.
Syed and Asia McLean apparently had a 15-20 minute conversation during the time Lee was murdered, but Syed only remembers the conversation after receiving letters from McLean, “Adnan says now that he does in fact remember seeing Asia in the library”. It seems highly suspect that Syed would not recall a lengthy conversation he had with the girl who could prove to be his alibi until her letters arrived after he was arrested. The timing of the letters and McLean’s refusal to speak to the private investigator that came to her house suggests that maybe McLean didn’t really write the letters. Maybe it was someone else who wanted to provide Syed with the alibi he needed and McLean was just a pawn in the plan. It was interesting to hear how clearly McLean remembered the events of January 13, 1999, but Syed can’t even remember talking to her on that dramatic day his ex-girlfriend was murdered.
Perhaps even more telling is Syed’s calm acceptance. In his recorded calls with Koenig, Syed is not the least bit outraged that his friend Jay would lie about what happened the day Lee was murdered resulting in his conviction. If Syed is innocent, then Jay is lying yet Syed fails to direct anger, or any emotion for that matter, towards Jay. Syed’s demeanor during his calls with Koenig is also not reflective of someone who has been wrongly accused of a crime indicating that he’s resigned himself to the punishment he deserves. When Syed says, “I definitely understand that someone could look at this and say, oh, man, he must be lying”, he seems to acknowledge that the facts of the case point to his guilt. A man who is innocent would loudly defend themselves against such accusations, but a guilty man quietly accepts his fate.