The Jakarta Post
"Adnan's Story" by Rabia Chaudry. (Shutterstock/File)
For those who, like me, spent 2014 and 2015 obsessing over the hit podcast Serial and think they know all the aspects of the once shut-down murder case involving life-sentenced inmate Adnan Syed, think again. You may be surprised to find out that the non-fiction podcast may have only revealed 30 percent of the whole murder drama.
On Feb. 28, 1999, a Baltimore high school student, Adnan Syed, was convicted for murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, who died by manual strangulation. Adnan, adamant about being innocent, had to face a life-sentence plus 30 years when he was 19 years of age. Adnan and Hae had been dating for a year prior to the murder, amid the obstacle of very different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Coming from a close-knit religious American-Pakistani Muslim family, it was supposedly unthinkable for Adnan to have a relationship with someone outside of his community. Enter Hae Min Lee, a Korean-American who made him fall in love. The two dated until Hae broke it off due to pressure from their cultural differences and started seeing someone else named Don.
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In Jan. 13, 1999, Hae went missing and almost a month later on Feb. 9, 1999, her body was found in Leakin Park. In a sudden turn of events, the spotlight was shone on Adnan Syed, the ex-boyfriend who said he didn’t kill Hae but failed to provide a solid alibi.
Adnan’s Story was written by Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and US Institute of Peace senior fellow. She happens to be the sister of Saad, Adnan’s best friend. Rabia, convinced of Adnan’s innocence, skillfully and compellingly unravels bits and pieces that were strangely unmentioned – or half-mentioned in the Serial podcast, offering new witnesses, never-seen-before letters, stories and analysis of other possible suspects.
Rabia provides more than 100 letters and documents throughout the book, and very patiently walks readers through the decades-old case. She satisfies readers with legit fillers for the loopholes found in the podcast. A solid example is the part where readers are informed that Cristina Guttierez, Adnan’s previous lawyer, had many issues and was disbarred within a few months after Adnan received his verdict. In the Serial podcast, listeners were sympathetic to Cristina, while Adnan’s Story tells how she might be the biggest culprit in Adnan’s conviction.
Back in 2014 when the Serial podcast first came out, I was trying stay neutral, not deciding yet that Adnan Syed was guilty or innocent. However, like most Serial fans, I was flabbergasted by the seemingly abrupt end and the sudden change of tone from Sarah Koenig, the podcast’s creator, who at first seemed to lean into sticking up for Adnan’s innocence, and changed perspective at the last moments. Disappointment came again when I found out that Serial decided to tell a different story with a different anti-hero in its second season and left Adnan’s case open like a gaping wound.
Rabia Chaudry did a podcast titled Undisclosed, where she tells Adnan’s story from her perspective, and I found it enjoyable however not as addictive as the previous podcast. And just when I thought it was time to move on from podcast haven, she came out with this book. I bought Adnan’s Story out of curiosity, read it on my Kindle, and before I knew it I was hooked and googled past episodes and blogs that talked about Serial.
Adnan’s Story is grippingly authentic because it is about real people, real families and real conviction. Rabia’s fight to exonerate Adnan is a work in progress, a real-life event that has made a global audience collectively hold their breaths. She also shines the light on how Islamophobia has always been there, even before the 9/11 tragedy, and why Adnan is a victim of a broken justice system.