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Mysterious murders have horrified many people throughout centuries. The fear of the unknown, which in this case was the murderer, the means, or possible events, was the prime factor of terror. In the 20th century, many murder cases would involve the perpetrator, yet other aspects would sometimes be unknown, continuing the tendency of horror. Finally, in the 21st century, the murder cases would get even more detailed and clear, however, would still make many feel uncomfortable. One of such cases is the murder of Hae Min Lee presumably killed by Adnan Syed convicted to life sentence plus 30 years. While all the details of this case seem to be known, the harshness of the conviction process, the refusal to reopen the trial, or use significant details as proof of Syed’s possible innocence have led many to doubt the lack of bias or thoroughness in the case.
The 21st Century Mystery
The story of the murder of Hae Min Lee seems to form a complete picture. In January of 1999, a girl of Korean descent has been manually strangled by an ex-boyfriend on her way to pick up a younger cousin. At the same time, the convicted murderer does not seem like a murderer at all. Adnan Syed who was 17-year-old at the time was almost immediately convicted with a first-degree murder to life imprisonment plus 30 years despite being underaged at the time of the murder. On top of that, his conviction was primarily based the controversial witness testimony and anonymous phone call to the police (Chaudry 7). The mystery, thus, relies mainly in the way how pieces fit together in the puzzle as there were no direct witnesses as well as no other evidence than testimonies.
The witness and anonymous testimonies are, perhaps, the most puzzling components of the story as they were used as the primary evidence in the case against Syed even despite their low credibility. The police received an anonymous call about a month Lee disappeared. The caller provided the police with the exact location of the body of Hae Min Lee and assumed that Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend was guilty (Chaudry 44). This became the only lead to the police who were already searching for Lee for about a month. While the anonymous caller provided the location of the body correctly and was aware of the relationship between Syed and Lee, their testimony and such serious accusations could not be credible requiring serious checks from the police and the courts alike.
The testimony of the witness and Syed’s friend Jay Wilds also raises many questions. During the first trial, Wilds provided that Syed attended his psychology class at the time Lee was killed (confirmed by Syed’s teacher) and then spent time with him at his house. During the second trial, however, the testimony changed radically with Wilds stating that Syed showed him Lee’s body in the trunk of her car, and that they would bury Lee together in the Leakin Park (Chang). These radically controversial testimonies should also have motivated the court to look further into the case.
A relatively reliable testimony that provided Syed with additional alibi, however, was essentially ignored. As such, Asia McClain, another friend of Syed’s stated that she was with Syed in the library exactly at the time when Lee was presumably killed. The court, however, ruled that this testimony was weak and, thus, will not be taken into the account. This effectively given Syed his life plus thirty years sentence for the first-degree murder (Chaudry 168-171). About 10 years after the sentence and a few ignored appeals from Syed, the situation gained additional attention from journalists and private investigators.
Syed appealed his sentence 3 times; however, they were not effective and did not change the court’s rule. One of the appeals was denied. This made many doubt the decision and motivated to privately investigate the case further. Two independent podcasts have been released, Sarah Koenig’s Serial and Rabia Chaudry’s Undisclosed, both questioning various details of the investigation such as the harshness of the verdict, testimonies, and court’s decisive ignoring of Syed’s appeals. The questions raised and the attention would stimulate prosecutors to agree for the DNA test from Lee’s body, possessions, and crime scene in 2022, which was not done effectively before (Chaudry 329; Vigdor). Hence, there is hope that even after 20 years, some new details might emerge, possibly proving Syed’s innocence, which he claims to this day.
The case of Adnan Syed demonstrates that even in the highly digitized and well-informed 21st century, mysterious crimes still take place. Indeed, Syed might be found guilty after all, however, this will be proved by strong evidence that cannot be disputed or questioned in any way. The only mystery in this case will remain in the reason why such evidence has not been collected immediately after Hae Min Lee’s murder in 1999.
Chang, Rachel. "Adnan Syed: A Complete Timeline of His Trial, Appeal and Killing Of Hae Min Lee". Biography, 2022, https://www.biography.com/news/adnan-syed-hae-min-lee-timeline-facts.
Chaudry, Rabia. Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial. St. Martin's Press, 2016.
Vigdor, Neil. "Prosecutors Agree to New DNA Testing In ‘Serial’ Case". The New York Times, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/10/us/serial-adnan-syed-dna.html.
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