Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?

We are in the middle of what, for lack of a better description, I will call a radical feminist moment. Not a day goes by without some poor soul being shamed on the internet for a multitude of sins ranging from mansplaining and manspreading to making us all live in a rape culture and depriving women of jobs in the gaming industry.

Yet right in the middle of this media-fuelled, girl-power moment, something inexplicable has happened. It is Serial, last year’s blockbuster of a podcast all about loveable, enigmatic Adnan Syed, who back in 1999 murdered Hae Min Lee, the 18-year-old girl, who had just dumped him. Serial, which led many people to conclude — despite piles of evidence to the contrary — that Adnan did not receive a fair trial, was brought to you not by the usual misogynists and rape apologists but by the impeccably liberal staff of This American Life. It was fronted by Sarah Koenig, radio reporter and earth mother extraordinaire.

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Sarah Koenig consistently minimized the warning signs of intimate partner violence, including Adnan Syed’s writing “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae Min Lee telling him to back off.

As I write (April 20, 2015), the accolades for Serial’s innovative investigative journalism keep rolling in. Earlier today it was announced that it had won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting and last week Koenig was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2014. When she isn’t working on the next season of Serial, Koenig’s out being fêted on the speaker circuit. Mysteriously, there are no trigger warnings and calls for safe spaces when Koenig arrives on campus despite her iffy perspective on the very sensitive subject of intimate partner violence.

As an example, consider that in November 1998, two months before she was strangled to death, Hae Min Lee wrote a break-up note to Adnan Syed telling him to move on, accept her decision to end their relationship, and to “hate me if you will.” On the back of this note, Adnan Syed wrote: “I’m going to kill.” The police found the note when they searched the Syeds’ house after his arrest.

Koenig waved this all away, describing it as “a detail you’d find in a cheesy detective novel” and a “stray thing” that could be meaningless. Too bad that we’re talking about real life here and Hae Min Lee did, you know, actually turn up dead. But then Koenig also managed to overlook the fact that Hae asked a teacher to help her hide from Adnan and that, in her diary, she described her ex-boyfriend’s possessiveness as a problem, a direct contradiction of what was said on the podcast.

Teacher testimony transcript Hae hides from Adnan

Teacher Hope Schab helped Hae hide from Adnan but this was never mentioned on Serial. (Trial 1 transcript)

Yet despite Koenig’s consistent minimization of incidents that are classic warning signs of intimate partner violence, there has not been one serious feminist critique of Serial in the mainstream US media. Yes, a couple of Brit pundits expressed shock, but that was before Christmas and they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten.

Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted despite the plentiful evidence against him and the transcripts that show he had a fair trial. Koenig’s “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur is V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.”

I’m not sure, however, that Koenig would have gotten away with the rehabilitation of Adnan Syed, had she not been aided and abetted by the Innocence Project — an organization that pre-podcast I had always respected, but about which I now, to borrow a handy expression from the Serial songbook, nurse some pretty serious doubts. Deirdre Enright, director of investigations for its University of Virginia law school branch, deals a serious blow to Innocence Project credibility every time she opens her mouth about Adnan.

Take, for example, the final episode of Serial in which she asks Koenig: “What makes mores sense? That little 17-year-old, never-been-in-trouble-with-the-law Adnan killed someone or that Ronald Moore, rapist and murderer who got out of prison 13 days before Hae disappeared, that he killed someone?”

“Right, I know,” says a dumbfounded Koenig instead of, “Hold on a minute there, Deirdre. Isn’t it way more likely that a woman will be murdered by her intimate partner as opposed to some random serial killer? And BTW, how does Jay fit into your wild third party strangler theory?”

Oh wait, Koenig did actually ask about Jay and here’s what Enright replied:  “Big picture Sarah, big picture.” The big picture, to put it bluntly, is that Enright is talking like a freaking crazy lady, and if it weren’t for her impressive credentials, no one would be paying the slightest bit of attention to her theories. Emperor, new clothes and all that.

Which brings me to still more lawyers spouting nonsense — Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson and Colin Miller, who have been keeping Adnan Syed’s story in the news since Serial ended. Their new Undisclosed podcast made its debut last week, burning its way up the iTunes charts.

As a result of their newfound status as quasi public figures, the Undisclosed lawyers have come in for quite a bit of criticism, some of which is crazy and unhinged, and has, of course, been chronicled in the media. What the MSM fails to mention, however, is that these lawyers have, in a number of instances, demonstrated a startling lack of respect for ethical boundaries.

Chaudry, a polarizing figure with a potty mouth, set the tone right at the beginning of Serial when she and her gang accused an Adnan-critic from the Baltimore Muslim community of being a child molester.

Simpson is more cautious, sticking to innuendo and classic just-asking-questions tactics. She recently published the unflattering employment records of Hae’s last boyfriend Don in a misguided attempt to show police hadn’t done their job (sorry, I don’t want to link to this one), all the while conceding Don didn’t do it. So what’s her excuse for dragging him through the online mud 16 years later then? It’s to make one of her hallmark illogical points — that the police should have devoted more time to investigating an innocent dude.

Miller, meanwhile, has been ghoulishly poring over autopsy reports, a subject in which he has zero scientific training, and talking to “experts” apparently unwilling to attach their names* to his tenuous theories that prove nothing. I can’t help but wonder if he’s ever spared a thought for how Hae’s family might feel about his futile ramblings over her corpse.

Perhaps it’s just coincidence but the debut of Undisclosed and the latest round of Serial plaudits coincided with the arrival on the internet of various documents discrediting the #FreeAdnan movement. Over the weekend, an email written by Adnan’s good high school friend, Imran, made its way on to Reddit. It shows that one week after Hae’s disappearance, before anyone knew she was dead, Imran wrote to a friend of Hae’s in California, who was concerned about her:

Imran email re death of Hae Min Lee

On her blog, Rabia Chaudry brushed this highly troubling email off as a “sick joke.” Other Adnan supporters, a number of whom remain Facebook friends with Imran, also dismiss it as a failed attempt at humour, the type of thing crazy teenagers do — just like Adnan writing “I’m going to kill” on a note from Hae. It’s not clear whether Sarah Koenig ever saw the email although I’ve been told but can’t confirm that Imran was one of the people she interviewed in the Rumours episode of Serial. Imran did not respond to my requests for an interview.

As someone who doesn’t think your average teen is down with joking about a friend’s death, I’m going to suggest a non-humourous interpretation of this callous misogyny: Imran, an Adnan acolyte who doesn’t seem at all moved by the gruesome murder he describes, was clumsily trying to help with a cover-up. I would further suggest that my theory is supported by the fact that after Adnan is arrested, Asia McClain — who is being touted by #FreeAdnan as their new star witness — describes Emron (sic) as upset and looking like “crap.”

Evidently the much maligned police — who Simpson and Chaudry constantly accuse of failing to do their job — were concerned enough about this email to subpoena information about the IP address from which it was sent in an effort to confirm the identity of the sender. That’s a strong indication they didn’t believe it was a joke but rather potential evidence.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone able to confront facts that the Imran email undermines the whole premise of Serial’s first episode, that Adnan couldn’t remember January 13, 1999, the day of Hae’s murder, because for him it was just another regular day in the distant, six-weeks-ago past. The email shows that, as far away as California, friends were talking about what had happened to Hae and trying to get information. No one was blowing off her disappearance as Adnan preposterously claimed to Sarah Koenig in Serial and she audibly nodded along.

As more and more non-Serial sanctioned information comes to light, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the  #FreeAdnan movement is little more than a collection of useful idiots fooled into fighting against an imaginary miscarriage of justice. Their goal is to spring from prison the remorseless killer of a young woman, who had her whole life ahead of her until Adnan Syed stole it away.

Amidst all the publicity and noise, it’s important to remember that Serial is not the new Thin Blue Line and never will be. The right man is behind bars and that’s a good thing, no matter what Adnan Syed supporters want to talk themselves into believing.

 


Read Rabia Chaudry’s response to this essay and my response to Rabia.

*The day after I published this post, Colin Miller quoted his first and only named expert in months of ghoul blogging. Probably just a coincidence.

May 9 Update: This article got linked on Reddit yesterday and has generated a lively discussion.

Avoid guys like Adnan. Read The Gift of Fear and then pass it on. It’s a great book:

Adnan Syed and the systemic dismissal of real violence against women

I have written a number of articles about the troubling phenomenon of how Adnan Syed, a guy rightfully convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, became a poster child for the wrongfully convicted. I’m especially disquieted by how Syed supporters wave away and dismiss all the warning signs of intimate partner violence.

In light of his upcoming post-conviction relief hearing on February 4 and 5 and the attention being showered on Adnan apologists, I wanted to put the key links in one place:

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Adnan Syed wrote “I’m going to kill” on the back of the note, which his supporters variously dismiss as a “stray thing” and so much teenage drama

1) Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?

There has not been one serious feminist critique of Serial in the mainstream US media. Yes, a couple of Brit pundits expressed shock, but that was before Christmas (2014) and they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten. Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted despite the plentiful evidence against him and the transcripts that show he had a fair trial. Koenig’s “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur is V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.” Read complete article

2) Adnan advocate-in-chief Rabia Chaudry responds to my feminist critique of Serial, and I respond back to her

Your crowd, Rabia, has shown no qualms about smearing innocent people including, among many others — Stephanie, Don, Don’s mother, Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary, and, most favourite of all, Jay. In short, pretty much anyone who’s not Adnan. Here’s your own brother suggesting, with zero evidence, that Stephanie might have done it:

Rabia's brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Rabia’s brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Accusations of murder are thrown around like they’re nothing, which is pretty ironic given that the goal of all this is to get a guy out of jail who’s ostensibly been wrongly convicted of murder. Read complete article

3) ‘Injustice porn’ like Making a Murder and Serial celebrates men who kill and abuse women

Injustice porn history is repeating itself with Making a Murderer. The directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos leave out key evidence about Avery’s possible guilt and history of violence against women. They also portray Avery’s parents as kindly homespun hillbillies, showing his father tending to his garden and his mother spending years fighting to get her son out of jail. They skip over the fact that Avery looks like he might have fetal alcohol syndrome and don’t bother to mention that all three of Avery brothers have criminal records including multiple charges for assaulting women.

As a result of these omissions — apparently no big deal in injustice porn land — the abusive and dysfunctional Avery family has developed quite the internet fan following. In contrast, family and friends of the victim have been subject to internet abuse based on their treatment in Making a Murderer. “Mike Halbach seems awfully creepy,” tweets Kinsey Schofield, a tv personality and journalist  to her 286,000 Twitter followers. Read complete article

‘Injustice porn’ like Making a Murder and Serial celebrates men who kill and abuse women

Featured

Yet feminist critics of this new entertainment genre are missing in action

We are in the middle of what, for lack of a better description, I will call a radical feminist moment. Not a day goes by without some poor soul being shamed on the internet for a multitude of sins ranging from mansplaining and manspreading to not fully supporting affirmative consent policies or depriving women of jobs in the gaming industry.

Yet right in the middle of this media-fuelled, girl-power moment, something inexplicable has happened. A new favourite entertainment genre — let’s call it “injustice porn” — has emerged that celebrates the men who kill and abuse women.

Funnily enough, the usual feminist suspects have next to nothing to say about injustice porn’s woman problem. And even weirder, the genre’s most recent hits — the 2014 podcast Serial and the 2015 Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer — are produced and directed by women who systematically minimize, dismiss and ignore crimes against women.

The result of our current over-fixation on things like everyday sexism and microaggressions has been not just to turn the trivial into the supposedly important but the inverse as well — it’s made the important trivial.

Thus when Steven Avery douses a cat and gasoline and throws it on a fire to watch it suffer, the directors of Making a Murderer suggest their protagonist was just goofing around and the cat mistakenly fell in the fire. Adding insult to injury, online apologists explain that this is how rural folk treat animals.

10 Questions about Making a Murderer

Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction medicine specialist, pointed out on the Reasonable Doubt podcast that Steven Avery looks like he suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, but that doesn’t fit the lovable-Avery-clan narrative (Photo: courtesy of Netflix)

Likewise, when Adnan Syed, the hero of Serial, writes “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note written to him by his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, journalist Sarah Koenig dismisses it as a “a detail you’d find in a cheesy detective novel” and a “stray thing” that could be meaningless. Never mind that 18-year-old Lee actually ended up murdered, her body dumped and half buried in a Baltimore park. Koenig can’t even be bothered to ask Syed about the note.

The Serial journalist also managed to overlook the fact that Hae asked a teacher to help her hide from Adnan and that, in her diary, she described her ex-boyfriend’s possessiveness as a problem, a direct contradiction of what was said on the podcast.  Yet despite Koenig’s consistent minimization of incidents that are classic warning signs of intimate partner violence, there has, in almost a year and a half, not been one serious feminist critique of in the mainstream US media. (Yes, early on a couple of Brits expressed shock, but they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten.) Instead, Serial won the prized Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 1.31.35 PM

Hae Min Lee wrote a break-up note to Adnan Syed telling him to move on, accept her decision to end their relationship, and “hate me if you will”

 

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Adnan Syed wrote “I’m going to kill” on the back of the note, which his supporters variously dismiss as a “stray thing” and so much teenage drama

Now, injustice porn history is repeating itself with Making a Murderer. The directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos leave out key evidence about Avery’s possible guilt and history of violence against women. They never explain why he asked specifically for Teresa Halbach, the 25 year old woman he was convicted of murdering, to come to the Avery salvage yard and photograph his sister’s car. They fail to mention how he had answered the door in a towel on one of her previous work visits. Nor do they acknowledge that Avery used *67, which blocks the callers’ name, to phone her twice on the day she disappeared.

The filmmakers also portray Avery’s parents as kindly homespun hillbillies, showing his father tending to his garden and his mother spending years fighting to get her son out of jail. They skip over the fact that Avery looks like he might have fetal alcohol syndrome and don’t bother to mention that all three of Avery brothers have criminal records including multiple charges for assaulting women.

Older brother Charles was charged and acquitted of sexual assault in 1988. And then in 1999, his ex-wife accused him of sexual assault and wrapping a phone cord around her neck. Along the way, he pled guilty to disorderly conduct. Younger brother Earl pleaded no contest to sexual assault and two different sets of battery charges. He was also charged with sexually assaulting his two daughters.

As a result of these omissions — apparently no big deal in injustice porn land — the abusive and dysfunctional Avery family has developed quite the internet fan following. Stop by Reddit’s Making a Murderer forum and you can participate in threads entitled: Anyone else wanna give Steve Avery’s mom a big hug?, “I know you like lettuce.” – The incredibly endearing Allan Avery” and What can we do to help the Avery family?

In contrast, family and friends of the victim have been subject to internet abuse based on their treatment in Making a Murderer. “Mike Halbach seems awfully creepy,” tweets Kinsey Schofielda tv personality and journalist  to her 286,000 Twitter followers.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 9.19.25 AM

“My “#MikeHalbach is the worst” tweet is still getting likes. I’m so happy people agree. Mike…you are the worst. #MakingAMurderer,” boasts Seth Lieber, who describes himself as an Actors’ Equity member.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 9.21.51 AM

Empathy is not a requirement for injustice porn fans

While the filmmakers aren’t responsible for every idiot on the internet, this reaction was completely predictable. Ricciardi and Demos treated Mike Halbach, Teresa’s brother and the family spokesman, unconscionably. Every time he appears, he’s made to say something that’s just been carefully debunked for the audience. From his very first quote, about how the process of grieving his sister might take days (yes, days!), the directors never miss an opportunity to make him look bad. Halbach doesn’t get so much as one sympathetic quote. The only thing the filmmakers don’t do is play spooky music whenever he appears.

Such are the requirements of injustice porn. When the convicted man is your protagonist, the audience requires and will find someone to witch hunt. After Serial ended, Syed’s advocate-in-chief, Rabia Chaudry, joined up with two other lawyers to start the Undisclosed podcast, which, since its inception, has produced one conspiracy theory after another, smearing a long list of people along the way.

Their friend and fellow Serial-obsessed podcaster Bob Ruff devoted show after 2015 show to innuendo and unfounded accusations that Don, the guy Hae dated after she dumped Adnan, was a far more likely killer even though he had something very important that Adnan didn’t — an alibi.

Nor is Injustice porn kind to victims although it often tries to disguise this with hashtags like #JusticeforHae #FreeAdnan, while ignoring the fact that freeing remorseless Adnan would be about the biggest injustice possible for Hae.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 at 9.32.10 AM

Injustice porn fans turn the female victims into props designed to support the most ludicrous and offensive theories. For the purpose of finding her fantasy, anyone-but-Adnan killer, Rabia Chaudry suggested Hae, who took only the occasional puff of pot, was a weed smoker with a big enough habit that she would be visiting shady drug dealers after school, which was how she got killed. Hashtag victim blaming.

In a related vein, Making a Murderer uses footage of Teresa Halbach, talking about what would happen if she were to die, without putting it in context, namely that it was a university video project. As a result, Teresa’s mental health has been questioned and it’s been suggested she might have killed herself although how that would cause her cremains to end up in the Avery salvage yard is never explained. Hashtag more victim blaming.

Yet another fact that Making a Murderer withholds from its audience is that the people Steven Avery’s lawyers would have thrown under the bus — had the judge allowed the defence to name alternate suspects — were his two brothers, his nephew and brother-in-law. That was an inconvenient truth that didn’t fit the adorable Averys narrative and would have taken some explaining. Why bother when it was so much easier just to make Teresa’s brother and ex-boyfriend look bad and serve them up for the online lynch mob?

Essentially, the only reason the filmmakers were able to so successfully mythologize the Averys is because, in 1985, Steven Avery was wrongfully convicted of rape, a crime for which he was exonerated by DNA testing after spending 18 years in jail. The wrongful conviction was a result of tunnel vision on the part of the police, a mishandled identification process for the accused assailant, and the victim’s compelling yet mistaken testimony that it was Avery who had raped and viciously assaulted her. After he was finally released from jail, Avery sued the county for $36 million, but just as it looked like he was about to receive a fat settlement, he was arrested again for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Like all wrongful convictions, it’s a shocking tale — yet something of a challenge for Third Wave feminists preaching that the victim must always be believed.

None of this is to deny that Ricciardi and Demos make a convincing argument that some of the evidence used against Avery in the murder charge might have been planted. And it’s  also hard to disagree with their conclusion that Avery’s 16-year-old cousin was wrongfully charged and convicted, failed by everyone, including his lawyers, at every step of the way. As for Steven Avery himself, I have no idea whether he did it or not. But like his lawyers, I believe that whoever did kill Teresa Halbach was associated with the salvage yard.

In this respect Making a Murderer is very different from Serial, where there was — as the transcripts for Adnan’s trial and the police files of investigation clearly demonstrate — no miscarriage of justice. The prosecutor Kevin Urick was half right when he described the killing of Hae Min Lee as  “pretty much a run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder.”

Where he was wrong however was in his failure to understand that there is indeed a mystery at the heart of Serial. It’s just that it has nothing to do with Adnan Syed, whose unoriginal motive and story are as old as time. What made Serial a mystery was the presence of Jay, a Shakespearean character, who first goes along with Syed, becoming an accessory after the fact to murder, but later confesses his crime to police. His testimony sends Syed to jail for life plus 30, and left every Serial listener puzzling and arguing over why he did what he did.

The post conviction relief hearing recently granted to Syed and coming up in February is the exploitation of a legal loophole and most likely the result of the publicity the podcast generated. The defence is contending that Syed’s counsel was ineffective because she failed to contact Asia McLain, who was presented in the first episode of Serial, entitled The Alibi, as the witness who could have exonerated Adnan had his lawyer done her job. Never mind that Asia’s a total flake who appears to have her alibi days mixed up, she was part of the false groundwork Sarah Koenig laid to convince the audience that something was not quite right about the Syed case and that if they wanted to find out the truth, they would need to accompany her on her emotionally manipulative podcast journey.

The promise was not kept, however. Koenig copped out and never provided the truth. Her “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur was V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.” Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted and the Averys celebrated as exemplary Americans while the Halbachs are trashed.

This is because, in the end, Injustice porn isn’t about either truth or justice. It’s porn, which means it can only supply a cheap frisson. If it leaves you with an uneasy feeling about the women victims, it’s because it should.

Rabia Chaudry responds to my feminist take on Serial podcast, and I respond back to Rabia

Earlier this week I received the following email from Rabia Chaudry about my essay criticizing Serial from a feminist perspective:

Dear Ann,

I just read your recent blog post and want to bring a couple of things to your attention. First, you are by all means entitled to being offended by my potty mouth, my best friend 25 years ago declared I have Tourettes (clearly I don’t and neither of us even knew what it meant, but it was a way of explaining my proclivity for profanity), and certainly my mouth leaves much to be desired.

That, however, has nothing to do with things called “facts”. The charge that I falsely accused someone of child molestation is, in fact, false. I accurately pointed out that Mr. B was someone who had been accused by his then wife, in public at the mosque, of such acts. I can connect you with her. You know, so you can actually investigate. Attached you’ll find a clip from Susan’s blog noting his arrest. If you’d like the actual report of the arrest, I can connect you with Susan who can provide it. The community had heard of it back in 1999, and had even internally identified the victim, but since it seems it wasn’t prosecuted in exchange for him not testifying in Adnan’s favor, no one ever understood what happened.

I suggest, as “private investigator”, you’d be better served to find out who this man was and whether he had in fact molested a child before defending him. It doesn’t behoove a PI to make pronouncements about anonymous figures. Kind of defeats your purpose.

I am appalled that someone who calls themselves an investigator would find the attention to autopsy reports “ghoulish”. Isn’t the job of an investigator to do exactly that? Find and then analyze the evidence? Instead of talking about the merits of the lividity issue, this is a rhetorical, baseless attack for the sake of — what, blog hits?  If you have issues with the SUBSTANCE of Colin and Susan’s analysis, that would be worthy to see.  Ad hominem attacks are easy, where’s your analysis on these issues?

When cell tower experts from across the country are calling us to say “hey that evidence was totally misused in Adnan’s trial” and medical experts are telling us Hae was not buried for at least 8 hours, would you have us ignore these experts? When the state’s only witness has once again changed his timeline, rendering the state’s use of the cell phone evidence useless, who do we believe now? The State? Jay?

Jay, who in fact has domestic violence charges on his record, perhaps needs a bit more scrutiny. And certainly the man who killed another young woman in a similar fashion six months prior, from the SAME SCHOOL, does too.

As for Imran’s note, I can connect you with him personally and you can ask about it. If it had any merit at all, the police and prosecution would have used it.

Lastly, as for the Baltimore City Police conduct, you may want to revisit much that’s been written about their corruption, take note of the pending DOJ investigation, and take a listen to our upcoming episode on Monday.

Best,

Here is my reply:

First off, let me get this out of the way. I’m not personally offended by your potty mouth, Rabia. I mentioned it as an example of why you’re a polarizing figure. Some people love a feisty woman keeping it real as she drops F-bombs in the fight against injustice. Others not so much. As I see it, the swearing is just how you roll.

Since you wrote me a frank email, I’m going to give you my honest answers. I’m also going to try really hard not to confuse people who aren’t up on every detail of this case while, at the same time, adding some background to my original blog essay.

The Adnan critic I referred to, who was accused of being a child molester by your friends, was sachabacha. He was attacked on Reddit after he posted anonymously there — making the allegation, later verified by Serial, that Adnan stole from the mosque, and another accusation, not featured on Serial, that Adnan’s brother had called him a “masterful liar.” This resulted in a vicious pile-on designed to shut sachabacha down.

sachabachaaccusedof beingBilal

On Reddit, Rabia and co. originally accused sachabacha, a mosque insider, of being Bilal, an alleged child molester. Above is a deleted quote from Adnan’s brother, Yusef.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Rabia, but I think it’s conceded now that sachabacha is not nor never was Bilal, so the ugly accusations levelled against him, by Adnan’s brother and others, were completely out of line. Luckily for sachabacha, he’s just an anonymous internet person because your crowd has shown no qualms about smearing innocent people including, among many others — Stephanie, Don, Don’s mother, Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary, and, most favourite of all, Jay. In short, pretty much anyone who’s not Adnan.

Here’s your own brother suggesting, with zero evidence, that Stephanie might have done it:

Rabia's brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Rabia’s brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Accusations of murder are thrown around like they’re nothing, which is pretty ironic given that the goal of all this is to get a guy out of jail who’s ostensibly been wrongly convicted of murder.

Perilsoffingerpointing

The problem at the heart of Serial

Now, I’m not suggesting that all this finger pointing at innocent people is your fault, Rabia. People are going to do stupid things and you can’t stop that or be held responsible for every idiot on the internet, but if Saad were my little brother, I would have had a word with him. And if I were you, I also wouldn’t be praising Susan Simpson for her irresponsible exposure of Don’s completely irrelevant employment records.

You and Simpson both say you believe Don’s innocent and then you send out tweets like this. Sure, your official line for putting confidential information about him on the internet is that these were documents filed in court and you need to show that the police were lax in their investigation of Don. Well, in answer to point one, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Here’s an NYT article on the problem with people posting documents from court cases on the internet. And two, Simpson has in no way established that the police did not properly investigate Don. They interviewed him multiple times, they searched his home and workplace, they checked his alibi. (Unlike Adnan, he actually had an alibi.) It’s just ridiculous to argue they should have investigated him more because he had some bad employee reviews. The police do not have unlimited resources and they had a far more likely suspect in Adnan Syed.

Dragging Don through the mud was the example I originally gave of Simpson crossing ethical boundaries yet you accused me of launching baseless ad hominem attacks on her and Colin MIller to get blog hits. Well, yes, I am a journalist so I do want my work to get read, but my critiques were neither baseless nor ad hominem. And since you asked, I’m happy to elaborate on Simpson’s and MIller’s bad habits.

Let’s start with Simpson who specializes in producing reams of irrelevant data, can’t see the forest for the trees, and doesn’t recognize the difference between an assumption and a fact. Here’s a classic example of the latter from one of her first Serial blog posts. For some reason she can’t wrap her head around the idea that Jay might have noticed that Hae’s corpse had no shoes. To show how preposterous this is, she writes:

Sure. Some time during Jay and Adnan’s post-murder road trip through western Baltimore, Adnan could have turned to Jay and said, “By the way, I’m leaving Hae’s shoes in her car.” But does that really sound plausible? Adnan told Jay about what he had decided to do with Hae’s shoes? Of all the things they could talk about, of all the things Adnan might have told Jay, one of them was, “Oh by the way, Hae’s shoes are in her car”? Of course, there’s another explanation for why Jay knows where Hae’s shoes were left. Because he’s the one that left them there. And saying “Adnan told me” is simply Jay’s way of answering everything every question the detectives ask about things only Adnan should have knowledge of.

Do you follow the lack of logic there? In Simpson’s opinion, it’s crazy that Jay would have known about Hae’s shoes therefore Jay was involved in murdering Hae. Not just as an accessory after the fact but as something more. This is a completely unjustified accusation based on a flawed leap of logic. What’s more, this type of magical transformation of assumption into fact happens multiple times in every one of her blog posts  as well as on Undisclosed.

Here’s a more recent example from your podcast. Simpson believes that Cathy has the day that Adnan visited her house wrong, which is important because it’s also the day of the murder. Cathy says she remembers it was that specific day because she went to a conference. Simpson finds a “workshop” related to Cathy’s field of study that  took place on a different day. She assumes, based on nothing, that Cathy must have been confused and attended this other workshop aka conference on another day. The Undisclosed crew declares Cathy is wrong. Again, an assumption is transformed into a fact.

You mentioned I’m a private investigator. I am and I’m also a journalist who writes about crime and courts. One of the things I’ve learned over decades in this business is that when you test your beautifully imagined and constructed theories in the real world, you often find out they’re wrong because people will give you facts and evidence that contradict them. Maybe, unbeknownst to Simpson, Cathy’s conference on January 13, 1999 was written in her diary. Maybe Cristina Gutierrez and her investigator double checked Cathy’s alibi because at trial Adnan’s lawyer references the building in which the conference was held. Maybe the prosecution checked it too, as is standard practice, because you don’t want your key witnesses blowing up on the stand. Maybe Simpson needs to actually talk to Cathy before declaring her a muddled mixer-upper who testified incorrectly 16 years ago.

But enough about Simpson. Let’s talk about Evidence Prof Colin Miller. You’re miffed that I called him ghoulish. Well, frankly, I thought it was better than creepy, which I also considered. You also suggest that I shouldn’t criticize him for investigating autopsy reports and analyzing the evidence. I actually have no problem with Miller playing amateur coroner if that’s his thing. My problem is with him posting his half-baked theories on the internet.

Although you chose to ignore it, I did explain in my essay that the issue with Miller’s blog posts is that there is no purpose to them. Take the one devoted to explaining why Hae’s head injuries demonstrate she couldn’t have been killed in the driver’s seat. In the prosecution’s closing arguments Kathleen Murphy argues that Hae was killed in the passenger seat. It’s only Jay, who wasn’t even there, who says Adnan told him Hae was killed in the driver’s seat. Basically the whole post, like all his other gruesome autopsy posts, is beside the point.

If this is some kind of intellectual exercise for Miller, he should go do it in privacy of his basement. Unless he reveals truly exculpatory evidence, there is simply no justification for putting this type of post on the internet without the permission and blessing of Hae’s family. It’s disrespectful and a violation of a murdered girl’s privacy in every possible way.

The other point that I should make while I am on the subject of Miller and Simpson is that the forensic evidence they discuss is open to interpretation. Their MO is to suggest an improbable hypothetical and show that it’s possible. They then try to demonstrate, unconvincingly, that the prosecution’s version of events must be wrong and theirs must be right. Sometimes, they even drag an expert in to help, which ultimately ends in a case of which lividity or cell phone expert are you going to believe?  The whole exercise is futile and irrelevant. One expert’s interpretation of complex data is not going to spring Adnan from jail. Once a jury of your peers has found you guilty of murder and the appeals court has rejected all but your very last avenue of appeal, you need to find either a large legal loophole or major evidence that proves you innocent. Nothing else matters no matter how many supposedly fishy red herrings Simpson and Miller spot.

Unfortunately for Adnan, he’s been looking for that elusive proof of his innocence for 16 years with no success at all. Even now, with the Innocence Project and This American Life on his side, no one can suggest a remotely plausible version of who killed Hae Min Lee other than Adnan Syed. Your email suggests, Rabia, that you’re grasping at the straw that it was Roy Sharonnie Davis who strangled another Woodlawn high school student in 1998 but wasn’t convicted until 2004 on the basis of DNA. (Not to be confused with Deirdre Enright’s Ronald Lee Moore straw.)

Enright's pinning her hopes on Ronald Lee Moore (above) as Hae's killer. Chaudry thinks it's more likely Roy Sharronie Davis. I think it's neither.

Enright’s pinning her hopes on Ronald Lee Moore (above) as Hae’s killer. Chaudry thinks it’s more likely Roy Sharonnie Davis. I think it’s neither.

The big problem with yours and Deirdre Enright’s third party theories is that there’s zero reason for Jay to be protecting some loser serial killer, be it Roy or Ronald, and even less reason for the cops to be framing Adnan and Jay to protect said serial killer. Not to mention that it’s highly unlikely that, after 16 years, nothing about this would have come to light. People almost always talk and this is exactly the stuff that lowlifes talk about.

Rabia, you make a big deal about how Jay’s a lying liar, which he is, but I’ve got to tell you that I find Jay a whole lot more credible than Adnan, who’s also been lying from the very beginning. On the day Hae disappeared, he told the police he asked her for a ride. Then he said he didn’t. Then he couldn’t remember the day at all, claiming it was just a regular day six weeks ago even though it was the very unregular day the police contacted him about his ex-girlfriend, who he had called three times the night before. And on and on.

Imran email re death of Hae Min Lee

One week after Hae disappeared and five weeks before her body was found, Adnan’s friend Imran wrote this email

Which brings us to the police. You ask me to believe the police didn’t think Imran’s email was important because they didn’t use it in court. Say what? Now, I’m supposed to put my faith in those same bumbling police who didn’t investigate  Don properly and used Jay to frame Adnan to protect some rando serial killer. The same police you accused of corruption on your last episode of Undisclosed?

Rabia, I’m not naive about police. In my work, I criticize them when they deserve it and praise them when they do a good job. I’ve watched The Wire and read David Simon’s Homicide, which BTW features some good and dedicated Baltimore cops. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary engaged in any kind of misconduct whatsoever. Sarah Koenig said they both had good reputations. Jim Trainum said the Hae Min Lee investigation was above average and that they investigated three suspects. Ritz told Koenig that, knowing that Jay was a liar, they corroborated every part of his story.

Unlike most people on the #FreeAdnan boards, I’ve also actually read those court cases involving Ritz that keep getting cited as proof that he’s the devil incarnate. In the Mable case, Ritz was one of dozens of people being sued: Screen shot 2015-05-16 at 3.15.44 PM It was a civil case which never even made it to the discovery phase before the plaintiff dropped out so we have no idea how Ritz would have responded. Then there was another case where Ritz is mentioned in passing for using an interview technique practised by police forces across the country until the courts ordered it modified. That hardly sounds like a black mark agains his character. And most recently, another civil case came out, where Ritz has yet to respond to the allegations against him. Screen shot 2015-05-16 at 3.25.43 PM So what to make of all this? It doesn’t strike me as at all out of the ordinary that a homicide cop in Baltimore would be named in a handful of lawsuits after decades of service. It comes with the territory just like getting snarked on by Susan Simpson. In the name of balance though, you might also want to consider this Baltimore Sun article about Ritz raising money for a child abuse center:

“He solicits all the golfers single-handedly and all the donations single-handedly,” said Ritz’s son, William. “He talks about it all year long, and then he stresses about it the last couple of months leading up to it.” Sometimes, like in police work, his diligence comes at the expense of his health. Last year, while canvassing Inner Harbor businesses for tournament sponsors and after working nearly 36 hours straight on cases, Ritz, physically spent, passed out on the street outside Power Plant Live. He regained consciousness as a few pedestrians helped him to his feet. But rather than seek immediate medical attention, he brushed himself off and headed home, only to continue fundraising later. (He subsequently sought medical attention.)

When I listened to Ritz on the latest episode of Undisclosed, I was struck by how much he sounded like a decent guy, unable to comprehend Jenn’s callous reaction to Hae’s death and Adnan’s plan to kill her. He had the same disbelieving reaction to Jay in episode one of Serial, asking him why he didn’t try to stop Adnan. Where you, Rabia, hear taps and rustling papers and conspiratorial corruption, I hear veteran homicide cops blown away by the casual cruelty and immorality of these kids. Imran’s awful email was yet another example. Hae’s life meant so little to Jay, Jenn and Imran. And to Adnan, who actually killed her.

In her attempt to explain away the Imran email, Simpson told a convoluted tale of two Imrans, claiming erroneously that the writer wasn’t really Adnan’s good friend but another Imran altogether. This is a perfect example of tunnel vision.  Imran’s email looks bad for Adnan so Simpson dismisses it and, worse yet, starts making stuff up to fit her Adnan is innocent theory.

Thanks for offering to put me in touch with Imran H, Rabia. If the offer still stands after this article, I would love to take you up on it. I would like to hear why he wrote what he did and see the apology email he’s rumoured to have sent. I’m a believer in redemption. It’s one of the reasons I feel far more sympathetic to Jay than Adnan — because Jay actually owned up to what he did. While I wish he had gone to jail for his part in the crime, he didn’t so time to let it go. As far as I’m concerned Jay has paid his debt to society. What’s more he’s apologized and shown remorse.

You mention the domestic assault charges he later faced, and say they deserve more scrutiny despite being dropped. You are right that we absolutely do need to hear his ex-girlfriend’s side of things before swallowing the explanation he gave the Intercept.

Since I wrote my essay, there have been more than 500 comments about it. A number of people agreed with me that Sarah Koenig was indeed wrong to brush off well- documented warning signs of intimate partner violence, but argued that wasn’t proof Adnan killed Hae. They were right, of course, but my essay wasn’t about laying out the entire case against Adnan. It was about the oddness of Koenig’s unfeminist ouevre being so lauded at this particular point in time, where we are supposedly so concerned about women’s issues.

So, for the record, let me tell you why I’m convinced Adnan is guilty.

  1. Adnan should remember what happened on that very un-normal day. He was called by police the same day his ex-girlfriend disappeared. He was interviewed by police two weeks later. The whole “I can’t remember that normal day six weeks ago” schtick is total BS. And Koenig was a sucker for believing it. There is no good explanation for why Adnan has no alibi. He was aware the day Hae went missing something was seriously wrong.
  2. Jay has no reason for framing Adnan nor does anyone else let alone Roy Sharonnie Davis or Ronald Lee Moore, who, between the two of them, probably have the combined IQ of a cactus plant.
  3. Adnan has no explanation whatsoever as to how he landed in this position. Yes, I know Deirdre Enright said innocent people often can’t help their case. But she was talking about not being able to find a body in a field as opposed to having no idea whatsoever why your buddy Jay might want to frame you for murder. People who work with killers will also tell you that this vaguey-vague “someone must have framed me but I don’t know why” explanation is a pretty common one among the guilty.
  4. Adnan has consistently lied about how people reacted to Hae’s disppearance, claiming it was no big deal, which is completely implausible. Hae had a new a boyfriend, a class trip to France booked, and university to look forward to. There was no way she’d take off to California in the middle of her senior year.
  5. Adnan’s good friend Imran appears to have been actively trying to discourage Hae’s California friends from looking for her a week after her disappearance, when, according to Adnan, no one was concerned she was gone.
  6. Adnan had no reason for lending Jay his car. The idea that he was concerned about Jay getting a birthday present for Stephanie is laughable.
  7. Adnan lied about asking Hae for a ride, contradicting the testimony of Krista and Debbie.
  8. Adnan wrote “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae telling him to back off. (If you think that’s no biggie, let me know how you feel about it when you see your daughters writing a note like that and then discover the recipient’s decorated it with “I’m going to kill.”)
  9. Adnan exhibited other stalkery behaviour towards Hae. She hid from him at school and wrote in her diary that he was possessive.
  10. Adnan never tried to contact Hae after January 13th even though he called her three times the night before.
  11. There is no explanation for the Nisha call other than an improbable butt dial.
  12. Adnan’s cell phone records place him in Leakin Park burying Hae’s body.

So that’s it for now, Rabia, 12 points and counting. I’ve probably left something off the list and if I remember it, I’ll add it later. But the bottom line is, just like the jury, I’m convinced way beyond a reasonable doubt that your guy is guilty.

If you ever find some evidence that shows I’m wrong — like the stuff you said a while back that your PI has dug up — let me know. Likewise, if  Adnan decides to admit to his crime, show remorse and ask for forgiveness, I’d like to hear.

Otherwise Rabia, I don’t think this is a gulf that can be crossed. I just can’t get behind the campaign to free a guy who killed his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend and has never once said he feels a single bit of remorse.

There was no miscarriage of justice in the case of Adnan Syed. The fact that he’s in jail is justice.