On Tuesday night, Rabia Chaudry continued an informal “tour” in which she discussed the wildly popular podcast Serial. Chaudry, an attorney and family friend of Serial’s main character, Adnan Syed, also talked about his murder conviction, what’s next for him, and what she thinks host Sarah Koenig missed in her reporting.
Speaking of key prosecution witness Jay Wilds, Chaudry said, “For most of the last ten years I’ve thought it’s him. That’s the truth. Now, I’m not so sure.”
“I think Jay knows who did it,” she said. “I think Jay is close to whoever did it.”
Though she is careful to reveal any tentative information or lend support to theories on the case, Chaudry is sure of one thing: Syed is innocent of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. And that his conviction, she said, was an “evil genius plan.”
Chaudry wasted no time unleashing her offensive on the frustrating aspects of Syed’s saga, which have continued to play out on the Internet since Serial’s final episode December 18. She was greeted by an audience of mostly lawyers—the South Asian Bar Association (SABA) hosted the discussion at Arent Fox’s DC office—as well as members of the fan club that continues to follow Serial online.
Though Syed’s team of attorneys and supporters is mostly focused on his post-conviction filing, set for resolution in June, new theories and evidence, some from Internet investigators, could come into play if it is unsuccessful. As it stands, the post-conviction filing depends on arguing lawyer Cristina Gutierrez’s defense was inadequate because she did not seek out Asia McLean, a possible alibi for Syed, or solicit a plea deal. Chaudry, who was in law school at the time of both trials, was not shy about expressing her dissatisfaction with Gutierrez’s work.
“I did know a crappy lawyer when I saw one, or a trial going badly when I saw one. So when I sat through the trial, I remember many times thinking, this is a disaster, this is a train wreck. I am a student, but I could do better than this,” she said. The defense’s ethical issues also haunt her, like Gutierrez taking money she didn’t use for the case and often keeping Syed’s family in the dark about the process. “I know it wasn’t her illness making her lie; she was choosing to lie to her clients.”
Koenig’s treatment of Gutierrez, who died in 2004, was among Chaudry’s top criticisms of the podcast. “I think Sarah went easy on a lot of people,” she said— including detectives. But she argued that breakdowns in the judicial system as a whole were responsible for the way Syed’s—and wrongful conviction cases in general—ended. “We have to somehow figure out a way that these people are held accountable. They shouldn’t be able to keep their jobs or their law licenses,” Chaudry said. “If this is actually meeting your standard of duty, then our system is broken.”
In discussing the case’s injustices, Chaudry cited a recent count conducted by SABA of the number of times the courtroom heard the words Islam, Pakistani, or Muslim during trial—270. While Koenig touched on potential racial basis in the case, Chaudry thought the host discounted its importance in conviction. But she said even Syed’s current lawyer, and others who aren’t affected by racism, have little interest in pushing the issue. “If it doesn’t impact you, maybe it’s not so interesting,” she says. To Chaudry, the prosecution’s portrayal of Lee’s murder as a possible honor killing still retains significance, even if it didn’t prominently feature in the podcast till late in the season.
But theories like this one continue to abound. Since its finale, and Koenig’s public departure from the story, bloggers and Redditers have taken up the mantle, digging up evidence and spouting theories. Chaudry commended attendee Susan Simpson, a lawyer who blogs about her recent investigations in to the case. Simpson recently wrote a post explaining Lee could not have planned to attend a wrestling match on the day of her murder, as no match was scheduled that day—compromising the police account of Lee’s schedule. Chaudry says those like Simpson “picked up the pieces where Sarah left off and did a lot more in-depth investigation and analysis than Serial actually did.”
But despite her criticisms of the show, Chaudry attributes many developments in the case to its success. She has a good relationship with Koenig, who also keeps in touch with Syed. In fact, Chaudry said she planned to attend an event with Koenig in the District after the talk. “She’s told me she’s not walking away from the case or him,” she said.
And while Koenig is working on a second season of Serial, Chaudry continues working on the first, furthering attempts to prove Syed’s innocence. “It’s rare that you’re granted another shot at these types of things.”