A case that has been sweeping the United States is the Adnan Syed Case. This case reached groundbreaking news, as many people from all over the state have tuned into the podcast “Serial” to listen to this particular case that went to trial. This case was very popular and gained a lot of attention from audiences. Serial is a podcast Sarah Koenig, an American Journalist co-created and hosts. She was a writer for the Baltimore Sun Newspapers and did an article about an attorney named Cristina Gutierrez. She was the defense attorney who represented Adnan Syed, unbeknownst to the American Journalist Sarah Koenig, who covered attorney Cristina Gutierrez’s disbarment and misconduct as an attorney. After her big story about attorney Cristina Gutierrez, Sarah was contacted by Rabia Chaudry, who was a family friend of the defendant, Adnan Syed. In Sarah’s first season, she talks about the Adnan Syed case and ends up following the case intensively. In this article, I will explain how someone can be convicted of murder even though they are innocent.
The Main Characters: Who Is Adnan Syed?
The defendant, Adnan Syed at the time the crime was committed, was a 17-year-old senior who attended Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland. He is a son of a Pakistani immigrant and a devoted Muslim who, according to the recordings, would lead the prayers at the mosque on occasion. Adan Syed was a well-liked kid in school and was an honor roll student who was also an athlete who participated on the football team and track and field teams. He was the ex-boyfriend of Hae Min Lee.
The Main Characters: Who Is Hae Min Lee?
Hae Min Lee was reported missing on January 13, 1999; she was an 18-year senior at Woodlawn High School. Hae Min Lee was of South Korean descent and had emigrated to the states in 1992 along with her mother and brother, who all came to the states to live with her grandparents. Hae Min Lee was considered a popular student who was active in school clubs and was an athlete as well. She played field hockey and lacrosse and was considered a responsible individual as a young adult. She worked part-time at Len Crafters in the Owings Mills Mall, where she ended up meeting her current boyfriend Donald Clinedinst, known as Don, who at the time was 22 years old.
The Main Characters: Who Is Jay Wilds?
Not much is known about Jay Wilds character other than he worked at an adult video store and was a petty drug dealer. He was a year older than Adnan Syed and so they were acquaintances at best, with their friend group slightly intermixing. Jay Wilds met Adnan through his girlfriend, Stephanie, who had been the prom queen at Woodlawn High School prom and Adnan was the prom king. Jay was the state key witness in the Adnan Syed Case and his testimonies are what helped the prosecution convict Adnan.
What Were the Charges?
Adnan Syed was charged with first-degree murder on February 28, 2000; later on, additional charges were added, including kidnapping and robbery and then later, during the case, false imprisonment was added to his charges and he was sentenced to life in prison.
What Went Wrong?
If you go on to listen to the podcast, you will slowly start to realize the terrible procedures that were taking place in interviewing suspects and even the key witness. Specifically, the fact-checking and inconsistency with Jay Wilds’ statement to the police and the subpoena of cell phone records. The leading interview questions were asked in hopes one of the suspects would incriminate themselves like Mr. S. The lack of DNA evidence could have been beneficial in ruling out Adnan a long time ago, but a DNA test was never done.
These are all real things that can happen in your case, this is why it is stressed to always ask for a lawyer in order to make sure police follow proper procedures when they interview you. Having a lawyer present can help discourage leading questions and gives you a sense of safety that you are not in the interview alone.
Tunnel vision for police is a real thing in psychology, it is called confirmation bias. It is when you look for answers to confirm your beliefs or suspicion about ideas or topics. In this case, the confirmation bias was that Adnan Syed was presumed guilty before he could even stand trial. So the police, with a colored perspective, looked for evidence that would tie him to the crime scene. Even when Jay’s testimonies kept changing or all of a sudden, his best friend Jenn is confirming his story by spinning one that matches the one he has been giving to the police. The suppression of looking into the alibi Asia, not only by the police but also by the attorney at the time.
The entire case hinged only on Jay’s testimonies and cell phone records, testimonies that never stayed consistent, not even when it was only within a week or two between the police statements. And cell phone records that did not at first match up to Jay Wilds statement made to the police. One of the inconsistencies Sarah Koenig points out is the location where Jay first sees Hae Lee’s deceased body. It changes from Edmondson Ave all of a sudden to Best Buy to corroborate his friend Jenn’s testimony. And he does this plenty of times throughout the interview and instead of the police digging more into Jay Wilds’ story and reasoning for the inconsistency in the statements, they instead use them to convict Adnan Syed.
Another inconsistency in Jay Wilds’ testimony was that Adnan Syed waved him down when he entered the Best Buy parking lot from a phone booth outside of it. Sarah Koenig goes on to note the phone booth’s existence was never confirmed and maybe there was not really a phone booth there at all. The police never fact-checked this crucial inconsistency in Jay’s testimony and it proves the point that the whole testimony was faulty at best. Especially since this piece of testimony was used against Adnan Syed in the courtroom to help prove his guilt. The cell phone records used in court were presented in such a way that every time Jay Wilds would say something that lined up with the phone call unidentified, the prosecutor would label it. As if Jay was filling in the missing information that only he had, the prosecutor’s closing argument was that Jay’s testimonies were corroborated because his story matched up to the unidentified phone calls on the phone record list. They combined the testimony and phone record to fabricate what looked like solid evidence, but in reality, it was faulty. And there was no real hard evidence that Adnan Syed killed Hae Min Lee.
Cell phone records are known to be unreliable as evidence and cell phone records should only be used as supporting evidence at best. In this case, AT&T stated on their cover sheet for the records outgoing calls were only reliable for location status and included any incoming calls were not to be considered reliable information for the location. However, this is exactly what the state prosecutors did: they pin the cell phone records as the key evidence and allowed for Jay Wilds's testimony to further prove the accuracy of it to the jury.
Adnan Syed’s original defense attorney Cristina Gutierrez was brought up and questioned if she provided ineffective assistance of counsel. This was hinted at in the podcast where the questionable cell phone calls happened at the Best Buy parking lot matched Jay Wilds’ description of the call log but did not match the location he possibly had them at which was most likely at the park and ride when the calls happened. Although Cristina Gutierrez did bring up the discrepancy in court, she was weak in delivering the discrepancy of it, so it was never thoroughly questioned again. Another thing to note about Adnan Syed’s original attorney is that she did not interview a potential witness that could have cleared Adnan Syed of the murder charges as she was with him. Alibis are important to this type of case, as they have the possibility of clearing a defendant’s name and providing a better stance for them in court. It later came out that attorney Cristina Gutierrez was mishandling clients’ funds and was being sued after Adnan Syed’s second trial.
Later on, after Adnan Syed was convicted, it became known that defense prosecutors knew at least two alternative suspects who were connected to Hae Min Lee’s murder, and this information was kept from the defense attorneys. This is an example of misconduct by the state prosecutors, as it lacks transparency with the court, jury and the conviction. This conduct violation is called the Brady Rule. The Brady Rule is a rule which requires prosecutors to give any evidence that could help exonerate a person who is the defendant in a criminal case. So, if Adnan Syed’s attorney had known about the other suspects who were deemed to have maybe committed the crime, his attorney could have been better prepared for a defense case. The two Brady violations that were cited were the failure of the prosecution to disclose evidence of the alternative suspects and that one of the suspects in the original investigation had threatened to kill Hae Min Lee. Unfortunately, this type of misconduct happens more often than attorneys like to admit and the lack of transparency and accountability has made it easy for prosecutors to get away with misconduct.
Other Witnesses Who Messed Up The States Case
Deborah Warren was a witness for the prosecution side and when she was cross-examined the first time, she said she saw Adnan Syed at school at 2:45 pm. Her statement contradicts the States prosecution timeline. However, during the second trial, Deborah Warren testified she did not remember when she saw Adnan Syed. Deborah Warren blatantly lied on the stand to help out the prosecution and the defense lawyer did not catch that, nor did the defense lawyer object to it. This is a perfect example of why it is important for a lawyer to record notes of key facts and information like this so they can object to the discrepancy made on the stand.
Abraham Waranowitz was an employee at AT&T company and was considered an expert witness in the Adnan Syed Case. The State had given Cristina Gutierrez a report of Abraham Waranowitz’s findings, but during the cross-examination, Abraham Waranowitz claimed he did not prepare the report, but only produced the numbers for the cell towers. Abraham Waranowitz later stated if he had known what the cover letter of the cell phone records had said, then he would not have testified that they were accurate.
The Take Away From This Case
It is important for you to know not only your right to stay silent but also to know the police procedure for how they handle evidence. Most importantly and in your best interest, it is always best to seek an attorney who can represent and fight for your case. If possible, make a mental timeline in which you can talk to your attorney about it and try to remember alibis you might have had that day. It is important to maintain your innocence and not to agree to a plea bargain that subjects you from making an appeal later on.
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