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Serial: Both Sides Now

Serial fans are now the topic of New Yorker cartoons.

Yep, I do this.


Episode 10 of Serial dropped on Thursday. This episode, titled The Best Defense Is A Good Defense, was about Adnan’s trial and the performance of his lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez. Sarah Koenig reviewed the tapes of the trial, transcripts and motions, and came to some rather surprising conclusions.

Koenig says that while there was some pretrial misinformation that was prejudicial to Adnan, especially with respect to anti-Muslim sentiment, she doesn’t feel that he lost his trial specifically because of it. Some of the excerpts of this section were painful to listen to. Adnan is an American but he was portrayed as a flight risk fleeing an honor killing. In actuality, Adnan’s upbringing was similar to my own, which just goes to show that a smart kid in a house with two extremely strict and religious parents will find a way to be a normal teenager no matter what the religious affiliation. And when I say “normal” I don’t mean “bad”. Adnan did some things I didn’t do in high school but I don’t consider any of it outside the norms. In short, Adnan had fully adapted to western culture in a way his parents probably had not.  In the end, that’s primarily the way the jury saw it too even though there was some residual cultural biases. So, no, the jury didn’t convict Adnan simply because he was a Muslim from Pakistan but we can’t rule out the notion that there was some association that affected the way they perceived the motive the prosecution presented.

Then there is Cristina Gutierrez, Adnan’s lawyer. Koenig’s take on her varies quite a bit from Rabia Chaudry’s memory to the extent that Rabia wrote a more extensive rebuttal on her blog Splitthemoon. Rabia and Koenig are on the same side but I expect that Koenig knew she would be ruffling some feathers. In the end, I think they roughly reach the same conclusion but Koenig’s is more objective because she wasn’t in the courtroom at the time and didn’t get the feedback that Adnan’s community provided, nor was Koenig able to gauge the juror’s reactions at the time of the trial.

As to whether Gutierrez deliberately threw the trial as Rabia asserts, Koenig says she doesn’t think so. But both Koenig and Rabia conclude that Gutierrez was not in peak form, and her illness and distraction probably lead to a less effective presentation for the jury. One frustrating finding was that the first trial ended in a mistrial when an alternate juror overheard the judge calling Gutierrez a liar. At that point, the jury had heard Jay’s testimony and when polled afterwards, would have acquitted Adnan at the time the trial abruptly ended. During the second trial, the prosecution cleaned Jay up and coached him better and Cristina seemed to have lost her edge.

But the segment of this podcast that affected katiebird and myself most was when Adnan tells us that he advises new inmates to “take the deal”. He tells them that even if they are innocent, they are better off pleading guilty to something for a reduced sentence. Maintaining your innocence and not showing remorse (for something you haven’t done) is a sure fire way to remain in prison for the rest of your life. The takeaway message that we both got was that the system is stacked against the innocent because if you were totally innocent, you wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place. You wouldn’t be sitting in a courtroom. No one gets accused of murder if they are completely innocent. Therefore, your best bet of living a life outside of prison someday is to give the justice system what it wants: closure and repentance. Then you can serve out your 20 years and be out just in time for the rest of your middle age.

This is scary for Americans who were brought up thinking that you are innocent until proven guilty. The system definitely doesn’t work that way, especially for those who are not wealthy. But even for Adnan, whose community was able to help him pay for an attorney with a stellar reputation, getting convicted of first degree murder based almost exclusively on the wildly inconsistent testimony of a prosecution witness with a sweet deal and no physical evidence, was incredibly easy. And it shouldn’t have been.

In the end, I think this is what Serial is about. It’s not about the nature of truth, although that is important. It’s not about culture, ethnicity or race, though I don’t think we’ve heard the end of that portion of the case. I do think race might have been a factor as far as how Jay was perceived by the jury. It’s about the borglike authority of the investigation, prosecution and penal system. The unidirectional nature of a system with plea deal check valves is very frightening. You enter it presumed guilty and never truly exit from it. The system is allowed to buy witnesses and fabricate a narrative without physical evidence in order to reach a predetermined outcome. Your whole life may hinge on whether your lawyer is feeling well enough to put on a good defense. Every American should pay attention to how a life can be completely unravelled when getting to the truth is less important than getting a conviction at any cost. If it could happen to Adnan, if could happen to anyone.

Koenig says that Adnan’s future freedom hangs by a thread at this point. There is one appeal motion pending in January to address some final issues about whether Gutierrez did all she could to reduce Adnan’s sentence. After that? Who knows. It could be back to prison for the rest of his life with no possibility of parole.


As you may have guessed by now, I am firmly team Adnan. I’ve been pretty convinced that he was not guilty since about episode 4 on Inconsistencies of Jay’s testimony. More and more, I am leaning towards the idea that Jay might not have been involved in the crime at all. Susan Simpson, the lawyer blogging at TheViewFromLL2, is also leaning towards a not guilty conclusion for Adnan based on Jay’s testimony as well but she does feel that Jay was involved because Jay was spinning tall tales all over Baltimore before the body was found that Adnan killed Hae. Yeah, imagine that. You are hanging out with this guy, blithely unaware that behind your back he is telling his friends that you killed your ex-girlfriend.

But I remember a couple of episodes ago that Jay’s friends said that he was a habitual liar. Oh sure, he would never lie about something big but he did have a habit of telling lies just for fun. Some of these lies later turned out to be partially true. But I’m beginning to think that Jay has an overactive imagination. Maybe he should be writing crime fiction. Or maybe he really did have something to do with it. With an almost complete absence of physical evidence tying either Jay or Adnan to the crime, it’s difficult to say but I’m throwing Adnan’s involvement out. I don’t think he had any clue what happened to Hae. More and more, it looks like he was condemned by bad luck, loose lips and a corrupt judicial system.

3 Responses

  1. It’s so depressing. It’s not that we’re learning anything we didn’t know about but, hearing the intimate details of Adnan’s story makes it clear that our legal system is a maze that isn’t easily escaped. Maybe for anyone.

    Unless a person happens to be a participant in a crime that is barely acknowledged like the bankers. (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself – I mean that the best escape is not getting caught-up in it at all)

    My problem with mysteries and true crime is that I don’t believe anyone could deliberately kill anyone. There’s a dead body saying that I’m wrong but, my heart denies it. So as long as Jay is off camera, I can point over there and say, “maybe him.” but as soon as he’s an actual person, I can’t believe it of him either. Or I think of tragic excuses.

    For example, at some point in one of the police interviews or his court testimony, Jay refers to Adnan as his “best friend.” Adnan is pretty consistent in his references to Jay as just a casual friend. Thinking of the “close friendships” between Adnan, Hae & Stephanie (Jay’s girlfriend) I wonder if Outsider, “casual friend” Jay could have snapped and done something to Hae to deliberately sabotage Adnan’s life. Pathetic, isn’t it. He’s not guilty but, if he did it’s because he wasn’t the best friend of his best friends.

    In other news, I finished my sweater!!! Photos will come if the weather ever clears. I can’t seem to get a good photo inside.

  2. *Insert obligatory Franz Kafka reference here*

    Also, let’s not forget that locking people up is Big Business now.

    Also, prosecutors often are elected to their office, and have ambitions for higher office. One effective way to convince the sheeple to vote for you is to persuade them that you are their bulwark against hordes of criminals. The “If it bleeds, it leads” Corporate “News” Media will help you greatly in this.

    Never mind that the Murkan crime rate has dropped remarkably since the 1970s and 1980s, probably largely due to (literally) “getting the lead out”, as chronic low-level lead poisoning especially affects the impulse-controlling area of the brain.

  3. You can see many similarities in the gripes people of Ferguson have with the judicial system as one can see with the things that bother me with this Adnan case. It basically breaks down into, you can’t win. you can’t fight city hall. Money is a driving issue in the legal system. Lawyers are very expensive and getting a good one is not easy or cheap. The judicial system is now set up as to be a new way of extorting money from people. If you can’t raise taxes you can charge people with all types of crimes. Beef up traffic enforcement, every little thing needs a lawyer… Both sides. Divorce, custody, child support, bankruptcy, the lawers just want their money up front. The judges don’t even listen to the case. Men, who used to be discriminated against, now have the upper hand because they have more money. I witnessed first hand a judge deciding a case in a most bizarre way. The mother, worked weekends and wanted custody during the week. The father, who worked long shifts during the week wanted custody then too. As a result, the father with better lawyer won and it was his brother who got to watch the little girl most of the time and the mother had to constantly get relatives to watch her until her schedule could be changed. She had a good job with benefits.and the judge in giving his order had no clue to what he had done. Had to file a reconsideration motion and judge, rather than admit his mistake, gave some song and dance reason for continuing the strange custody order. I would not want to put my freedom in the hands of a judge or a judicial system. The penal system is huge money generator. Courts, fines, fees, attorney’s fees, indentured servitude, poor people with very little resources have crushing fines and if they can’t pay them, then jail or community service. Private jails are just asking for abuse…both financial and legal. Then you add racial animus, powder keg situations. Police have no controls. The court systems are really the same. They do what they want and shape the laws the way they want. Black people cry racism but isn’t just race. It’s poor, powerless people of which many are black.

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