22 December, 2014

Hello Monday: Serial Edition

Happy Monday!

Tis the week of Christmas – shopping is done, stockings are hung, the tree is decorated and menus are planned. Two more days of work before a long weekend full of family, sweet memories and lots of laughter and joy.

This can be a crazy time with traveling, shopping, wrapping, cooking, planning and anticipating. There is an underlying pressure to get it right. Not just right - perfect. The TV specials and commercials tell us this time is for Rockwell family moments.
image via Lilypad
But that is not realistic. This drive for the ideal moment is driving a lot of us out of our minds!

Can we all admit together that the pressure is too much and instead of trying to do it all, we are just going to come as we are? Can we collectively let ourselves off the hook and instead try for a bit of authenticity?

Maybe we can reach out to those who have no family. Maybe we can realize that for many this time of year is not a blessing. Let’s get beyond the perfection and the ‘everything is ideal’ that is bombarded at us from every angle and instead try a bit of patience, love, forgiveness and grace.

Instead of trying to have everything perfect and stressing out through our list of ought tos, have tos and shoulds, - let’s all take a deep breath and just show up and really be present.

It’s the small things that ultimately matter. People won’t remember how your house looked, if the pie was just right or the presents perfectly wrapped. But they will remember being included. They will remember a tender, honest moment in the midst of all the chaos this time has become.

I would encourage you take some time for you this week. Do something that will bring you joy. Drink some coffee in front of the fire, read a book, get your nails done, take a nap. Take time to let the stress go and maybe, perhaps, come in contact with what this season is truly about.

The article round-up today is all about Serial (a good pre-Christmas topic, I know).

Last week was the finale of Serial. For those who haven’t found this addictive podcast, Serial looks at the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a high-school senior from Baltimore. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is serving a life sentence, charged with her murder. The entire case against Syed came down to a friend saying he helped Syed bury the body. The jury convicted though the physical evidence was shaky at best and incomplete at worse. Now 15 years later Serial’s narrator, journalist Sarah Koenig, is going back over the case.

She looks at Syed’s alibi (it’s pretty thin), the evidence, and the friend who testified against him. She talks to lots of people connected to Syed and Lee. Serial is Koenig’s journey, and she takes the listener with her. Unlike other real life crime shows, Koenig doesn’t have a bias. She doesn’t know if Syed is innocent or guilty. The listener gets to hear Koenig struggle with her own emotion as she deals with the evidence and new pieces of information.

Beyond the case, the way Serial tells its story is remarkable. It’s a podcast, so no actors, special effects, intriguing camera angles or background music. It’s Sarah, at a microphone, playing interview clips and letting us hear her reaction. (For more on Serial’s storytelling techniques, go here.)

The finale last week brought a host of questions. Unlike other crime shows (spoiler alert) Koenig does not give us a clear answer. Twelve weeks later we still do not know if Syed did it.

On one hand the state’s evidence is shaky. There is evidence they did not test. There was never a definitive time of death given by the coroner (and I can’t remember Koenig addressing why). Parts of the interviews with Jay (the friend who testified against Syed) did not get taped. And yet, the former detective hired by the show to look at the case files says the detectives did a thorough job. They listed and eliminated suspects meticulously. They did not target Syed from day one, but arrived at him by the process of elimination.

I for one think if Syed did not do it, he was involved. I have a string of questions (like everyone!) but the biggest one for me goes back to Jay. Jay knew where Lee’s car was because (he says) he and Syed left it there before disposing of her body. The biggest question Koenig did not answer was: why would Jay lie?

Jay went to the police and admitted to being a part of the murder. For some reason (maybe lack of motive, but this was not covered in the podcast either) the police never saw Jay as the single actor in this murder. They always saw him as the accomplice, not someone trying to pinpoint the murder on Syed to cover his own actions. But because of what Jay knew – he had to be involved.

Eyewitness testimony is incredibly unreliable. It is amazing it is allowed in court given how flimsy and false our memories are. So I can overlook some of Koenig’s questions about Jay’s timeline that day. I do not believe Asia (who claimed to be with Syed at the time prosecutors say Lee was killed), who, to me, felt like she was trying to insert herself into the investigation. And if her letters are true, why not go to the police herself? Why send two notes to Syed and then let it go? You can exonerate a friend and you just let it go because you’re never contacted? Something does not add up.    

To be honest, the biggest hindrance to Syed’s case was Syed. I found his overwhelming charm unbelievable and his lack of memory that day too convenient.

Everyone, I mean everyone, loved this kid. No one had anything bad to say about him. They all called him charming, friendly, helpful, a defender of the bullied kid, a good Muslim.

People are good to a point. Even my best friends, people I find to be charming and incredible, have their flaws. They are always running late, they can be judgmental, they have the attention span of that dog in Up, blab, blab, blab. But the people Koenig talked to – none of this. No one was like “Yeah Adnan was great, but he was a bad winner.” To those Koenig interviewed Syed was perfect.

I wholeheartedly agree with Koenig’s producer that if Syed did not do this, he has the worse luck ever. The series of coincidences on the day Lee was killed that do not look good for Syed are remarkable.

Syed cannot remember where he was the day of the Lee’s murder. It was a routine day at school, and so Syed presumes that he would have followed his normal routine. Lee was killed shortly after school (according to the State’s case) and Syed cannot remember where he was – at all! He can offer nothing to prove that Jay’s story is not true. Here is the biggest reason why I don’t believe Syed.

The day Lee disappeared the police contacted Syed to see if he knew where she was. He said he didn’t and so the police went about their business trying to find Lee.  

I will say that for a lot of these kids their lack of real concern was shocking! They all said maybe Lee ran off to California (and yet didn’t tell anyone or pack anything – huh), so no one was overly concerned until the following week when no one had heard from her. But neither Syed nor Lee’s current boyfriend tried to call her post the call from police. If the police called to tell me a loved one was missing, the first thing I would do is call their cell phone, especially if I thought they had run off to the opposite coast. If nothing else a call to say, ‘Hey you might want to call someone ‘cause your family is freaking out.”

To me, being told that someone significant in your life is missing would be enough to imprint the day in your mind. Lee’s boyfriend at the time of the murder went over his day after the police called to see if anything stuck out to him. He started to scan his mind to see if Lee had said anything significant. Syed can remember talking to Lee earlier that day but can’t remember what happened that afternoon. Even now, fifteen years later, the details of the day are still hazy.

This is the biggest day in your life – this is the day that changed everything and you can’t remember what happened? Really? I find Syed to be almost flippant, arrogant and too nonchalant.

The State’s case is full of gaps. Why didn’t they test the DNA found on Lee’s body? Why didn’t they do more to corroborate Jay’s story (like checking out if there was a payphone at Best Buy)? Why isn’t there an official time of death?

The Innocence Project is working Syed’s case, asking some of these questions. They are also looking at a serial killer, released from prison weeks before Lee died, whose other murders are very similar to Lee’s. As Koenig’s presented things – there is reasonable doubt. Whether or not you believe Syed, the simple reality is that some vital details are still missing in the case of who killed Hae Min Lee.

P.S. if you want to read an interesting article on the power of the prosecution in determining what goes to trial, read this interesting op-ed from the Washington Post.

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© Amanda Lunday