News & Politics

5 Questions for Rabia Chaudry, Friend of Serial Subject Adnan Syed

Rabia Chaudry. Photograph by Hira Khan courtesy St. Martin's Press.

Last week, a Maryland judge ruled that Adnan Syed will be retried in the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Syed’s case was the subject of the wildly popular debut season of the podcast Serial in 2014. The podcast reported discrepancies in the prosecution’s case that led many listeners to rally for Syed’s release, which, thanks to the new trial, is now one step closer to being achieved.

None of that would have happened without Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer and family friend of Syed’s, who is now a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace. Convinced of his innocence, she was the person to first reach out to the Serial team, sparking the phenomenon that now could free Syed. Washingtonian spoke to Chaudry—who has a book, Adnan’s Story, coming out this August—about the news.

Where were you when you heard the news about the retrial, and what went through your head?

I was at home alone when Justin [Brown, Syed’s lawyer] called me and broke the news. I was rather emotional, sobbing, trying to process it. Hearing him say “we won a new trial, Rabia” blew my mind. It’s what we’ve hoped for all these years but hard to process that it has actually happened.

Have you talked to Adnan yet?

No, the prison currently has phone access on alternate days, and he had called me the day before the ruling. So [on June 30] he wasn’t able to call anyone and his lawyer could’t reach him either. We expect the guards have told him or he has seen.

Have you heard from anyone at the Serial team about the retrial?

No one at the Serial team has reached out to me or the family. I would hope they would congratulate us because they cared about all of this as more than a story, but as the life of a person that matters. If they did reach out, I’d say what I’ve said all along—that we are ever grateful for their work because we wouldn’t be here without them.

What’s been the reaction among the rest of Adnan’s family?

His family is overjoyed and grateful, and for the first time in many years his father talked about how hard it has been for him, but also laughed and smiled for the first time I’ve seen in a very long time.

What’s the next step in the case?

The ball is now in the State’s court. They can appeal or tell us to prepare for trial or offer Adnan a plea deal. We can’t make our next moves until we know what their move is. If this goes to trial, or is appealed, we are as prepared as humanly possible and this time are certain of an acquittal.

Staff Writer

Michael J. Gaynor has written about fake Navy SEALs, a town without cell phones, his Russian spy landlord, and many more weird and fascinating stories for the Washingtonian. He lives in DC, where his landlord is no longer a Russian spy.