Podcast casts closed murder case in new light
By Sadef A. Kully
It can be said that when the Serial podcast debuted last year featuring Adnan Syed it became more than viral, it evolved into a digital movement of sorts.
Last year, Sarah Koenig, one of the creators of the public radio show “This American Life”, dropped Syed and the mysteries surrounding him into our lives, and not quietly. Adnan Masud Syed, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Hae Min Lee in Maryland, came into Sarah Koenig’s life from a lawyer and family friend to Syed’s family, Rabia Chaudry. Chaudry’s argument and firm belief of his innocence led her onto a road where she carried 15-year old case files and sought different ways to prove his innocence through the criminal justice system. For Chaudry, Syed’s innocence has become a mission.
Last week, the South Asian Journalist Association brought Rabia Chaudry to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism to speak with journalists and avid listeners about what Syed’s story means, how it developed, what is Syed’s future, and what does his story mean for digital storytelling in the future.
The event was co moderated by Arun Venugopal, a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City, and Asim Rehman, General Counsel for the Office of the Inspector General for the New York City Police Department, an independent office charged with investigating, reviewing, studying, auditing and making recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs and practices of the NYPD.
“Our families live in the same sub-division. And my brother became best friends with Syed. We grew up around each other,” started Chaudry. Once Syed was arrested, Chaudry and her family have stood by Syed’s family since his murder conviction; Chaudry became his advocate.
“During the trial the prosecutor framed Syed in this way – where he was leading a double life. … This got planted in the public’s psyche, because it meant he is a liar, it means he is a manipulator, it means he can manipulate his family,” said Chaudry. “It was difficult to hear that during the weeks of his trial.”
Since the podcast broadcasted, Deirdre Enright, the head of the Innocence Project Clinic at University of Virginia Law School, has opened an investigation into Syed’s murder conviction. Chaudry has gathered legal representation for Adnan and raised thousands to help with his legal fees.
“I thought, what’s one radio show going to do for us?” said Rabia Chaudry.
Syed’s case has hit people from across the world – Muslims, Pakistanis, Indians, law enthusiasts, Reddit fans, and podcast listeners – like a ton of bricks. On Reddit, there are groups & fandoms dedicated to figuring out whether Syed is innocent and if he is then who murdered Hae Lee.
Chaudry mentioned that they are working on post-conviction where after the defendant has been convicted he or she can challenge the conviction or sentence.