Another episode of Serial popped up in the podcast directory today. There’s only one left in the inaugural season of the podcast, which has redefined the standards by which all future podcasts are judged.
It’s been analyzing the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, who was charged with killing his ex-girlfriend.
Perhaps without us knowing it, it’s given us a taste of how cops, lawyers, and juries figure out who did it. Sometimes the conclusion is based on this question: “If he didn’t do it, who did?”
If SK’s (Reporter Sarah Koenig) point is that the system’s messed up, she could almost have ended at episode eight, “The Deal With Jay.” This is where she teases the idea that racial perceptions and loyalties could have been involved in the jury’s verdict. It’s also where she drops an alarming confession by a juror: despite explicit jury instructions to not consider Syed’s unwillingness to testify as a factor in determining his guilt, the juror reveals, Syed’s absence on the stand was a huge consideration. “We all kinda like gasped like, we were all just blown away by that,” the juror says. “You know, why not, if you’re a defendant, why would you not get up there and defend yourself, and try to prove that the State is wrong, that you weren’t there, that you’re not guilty? We were trying to be so open minded, it was just like, get up there and say something, try to persuade, even though it’s not your job to persuade us, but, I don’t know.”
But he also answers the question.
But it’s not a contemplation on the nature of the truth, or even on the nature of justice. The way Sarah Koenig tells it, Serial is a story about our system of justice working pretty much as it should, and failing miserably at providing anything that looks like justice. I think in the last episode, she’s going to point out that Adnan Syed was convicted in a few hours – beyond a reasonable doubt – for the murder of Hae-Min Lee. I think she’s going to say that if the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt” meant anything, this podcast wouldn’t exist, there wouldn’t be a subreddit devoted to analyzing every shred of available evidence, and Adnan Syed wouldn’t be in jail right now.
For all the delight Serial has provided us in its storytelling, it has forced us to often recalibrate our sensibilities. It’s been an entertaining series. It’s got all of us talking. But we have to remember a young girl really did die. A few lives really have been ruined.
But there’s one more: There are a lot more clearly innocent people in prison than Adnan Syed.
Related: Our Jury Is In on “Serial” (The Marshall Project).