Since the podcast “Serial” debuted in 2014, true-crime aficionados and fans of Adnan Syed’s case have debated whether he is guilty or innocent of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee — and with his conviction reinstated on Friday and the new docuseries “The Case of Adnan Syed” hitting HBO on Sunday, his public advocate and friend Rabia Chaudry is laying out her theory on what really happened.
“I don’t have all the evidence, but from what I have and from what we know, I think Hae left the school intending to meet somebody she knew and she ended up being hurt and killed,” Chaudry said. “There were no signs of struggle, so I think she was knocked out before she was strangled. Her body was not moved to the park for about 10 to 12 hours, if not later, so for 10 hours, she was somewhere else.
“I think she was in a private place where someone was comfortable leaving her there for 12 hours, where nobody would find her. There was no robbery, no sexual assault (though her body was found so much later, any sperm would’ve died by then), and her fingernail clippings were taken where there were no signs of struggle.”
She added, “It could’ve been someone random, but usually when there’s a random act of violence, there is sexual assault involved. This person took great pains to park her car in a different place — everything had to be moved so that nothing would signal where the killer lived or worked.”
Chaudry, who also wrote the book “Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial,” spoke to TheWrap about the current state of Syed’s case. She was the person who took the case to “Serial” producer and host Sarah Koenig in the hopes that journalism could help free Syed.
The 1999 murder of 18-year-old Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, were brought to global attention in 2014 by the hugely popular “Serial” podcast.
Director Amy Berg’s four-part HBO series, “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” brings a fresh eye to the case and offers interviews with key players, many of whom were not featured in the original podcast. Bringing the story to life visually, Berg revisits the crime and follows unfolding developments from 2014 to today. The series presents new information that questions the state’s case against Syed, and draws on exclusive access to essential characters, including new audio recordings of Syed from prison, the defense team, the Syed family, friends and teachers of Hae Min Lee, private investigators and members of Baltimore City law enforcement, examining how Syed’s trial and subsequent conviction in 2000 raised as many questions as they answered.
On Friday, just two days before the documentary was set to premiere, Maryland’s Court of Appeals reinstated Syed’s conviction and ruled against a new trial. Last year, a Maryland appeals court had granted Syed a new trial, but the state appealed. In 2016, a lower court judge vacated the conviction and ruled that Syed deserved a new trial because his original attorney failed to cross-examine a key witness. Maryland prosecutors appealed the ruling, but a three-judge panel upheld the grant for a retrial.
Syed’s attorney Justin Brown wrote, “We are devastated by the Court of Appeals’ decision but we will not give up on Adnan Syed. Unfortunately we live in a binary criminal justice system in which you either win or you lose. Today we lost by a 4-3 vote. Our criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. The obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great. There was a credible alibi witness who was with Adnan at the precise time of the murder and now the Court of Appeals has said that witness would not have affected the outcome of the proceeding. We think just the opposite is true. From the perspective of the defendant, there is no stronger evidence than an alibi witness.”
But Syed’s team isn’t giving up hope. The key evidence in the case, said Chaudry, remains Lee’s autopsy, as well as her car that was found in an abandoned lot near some rowhouses. Though authorities suggested it had been there for six weeks, the grass underneath the car was lush and green and no one in the surrounding neighborhood had ever reported it.
After all, said Chaudry, the only thing the prosecution ever had to convict Syed of the crime was Jay Wilds’ testimony. Wilds has been an interesting part of the case for years given he was the only alleged witness of the 1999 murder. He told prosecutors he helped Syed bury Lee’s body, but his story kept changing through the years. However, Chaudry said that Wilds is not to blame for his sketchy testimony and that he was coerced by law enforcement to conform to what they believed happened to Lee.
“[Jay’s behavior] is so easy to understand if you understand patterns of behaviors from detectives,” Chaudry explained. “They had a method — they would coerce the witnesses. In one case, they told a woman, you have to say you saw him committing this murder, or we’re taking away your children. The prosecutor told Jay, I will charge you as the murderer with the death penalty. He had nothing to do with it — he was backed into a corner by these dirty cops and he had to change his story every time the detectives did.”
She added,” they went after him for weeks and it was so clear Jay didn’t know what he was talking about. The cops really believed Adnan did it and I think even Jay was convinced by these cops. They didn’t have the evidence so they had to find a ‘witness’ to corroborate their story. Jay is also under a lot of pressure right now… There’s only only person that’s implicated himself in this crime and it’s not Adnan — it’s Jay. They can come after him.”
Chaudry said she talks to Syed, who is in prison since February 28, 1999, every week. He will turn 38 this year.
“I don’t know if he’s going to see [the new docuseries] until he’s out,” she said. “His lawyer has previewed it, I have as well, as we think this is only going to strengthen his case. He’s doing as well as he can do. He’s a very measured person and years ago he mentally came to the realization and to terms that he was never going to get out of prison. Before that, there was a period of time when he was depressed and angry as the appeals were failing. When he came to terms, he changed his mindset — he works, he has friends, he has recreational activities, and he does what he can do to care for his family from inside. Out of all of us, he is the most positive person.”