Tuesday, November 04, 2014

We need to talk about Serial

Serial is a spinoff podcast from This American Life. This season, the podcast's first, takes on the narrative of the 1999 murder of a Baltimore teenager. Blah blah blah, just go listen to episode 1 already, mmkay? I don't have to tell you to listen to the other episodes because once you listen to the first, you will not be able to restrain yourself from downloading the rest. You will hide from your family to listen to this podcast. You will sit in the driveway in your car to listen to this podcast. You will invent household chores to finish to listen to this podcast. And then, when you have listened to all the episodes released so far, you will write a blog post about this podcast.

My thoughts are below. Please chime in with your own.

1. The teenagers whose story is told by Serial are exactly my age, which gives me the heebie jeebies sometimes, thinking about what they were doing and what I was doing during our senior year of 1998-1999. I also totally get all the references to paging someone, and the novelty of mobile phones, and calling someone from a payphone, and the idea that a store's security system would use and re-use a VHS tape to record its CCTV.

2. This issue was addressed in episode 1 to some extent, but I am still flabbergasted that some of these kids cannot remember where they were or what they were doing the afternoon that Hae disappeared. If my recently ex-boyfriend disappeared - disappeared! - one day after school, for sure I would be thinking about where I was during that time period. Like a flashbulb memory, you know? I just can't figure out why Adnan couldn't remember whether he was at the library, at track practice, or what. I know it was just an ordinary day for those kids, but it actually wasn't - Hae disappeared that day, which, to me, seems like it should make it an absolutely extraordinary day, and therefore memorable.

3. Does it seem to anyone else like nobody in this story is telling the truth? There are problems with both Adnan and Jay's timelines. What really happened that day? Is there some kind of middle-ground truth that can be teased out of their conflicting stories? And does Serial's ability to do Jay's proposed timeline in 21 minutes (or whatever) actually prove anything? Maybe bus exiting procedure was different 15 years ago. Maybe there were more, or fewer, traffic lights. Maybe entire intersections have been redesigned or streamlined. All it would take is one anomaly to throw off the entire timeline. So I don't think that proves anything.

Two final, major issues.

4. Is Adnan guilty? I still think no. I think regular ol' high school boys do not kill their girlfriends, and there is way more going on here than meets the eye.

5. Does the show know its own ending? Sarah Koenig has said, um, not really. She says they know the overall arc, just not the way it's headed. This may be my major worry about this podcast, that it will end with some kind of "welp, isn't all truth just so nebulous!" cop-out. Because it's entirely possible - dare I say probable? - that the show will have told us this whole story but not meaningfully advanced a case for Adnan being innocent (or decisively guilty). Fingers crossed that doesn't happen.


Señora H-B said...

You were the impetus for me taking the plunge and listening (I think you recommended it last week?). I kept seeing it referenced here and there, but when Bridget makes a recommendation, I'm going to listen. It's totally weird to me to be just a year or two older than these kids. I can't imagine having spent the last 15 years in prison.

Anyway. I agree with you. There are so many lies, so many partial truths, so much misinformation. I've been following a forum discussion about this. One of the members did a bit of digging on Jay and Jen. I'll paste it in another comment so this doesn't turn into a novel.

Bottom line: I don't think Adnan acted alone and that he may not have actually committed the murder. I think he's involved in some way - whether it's just covering things up or something deeper. I DEFINITELY think Jay is a lot more involved than he's letting on and I'm pretty sure Jen is also involved.

I can't wait for Thursday!

Señora H-B said...

This is a slightly revised version (i.e., cleaned up) of what I read in my forum:

I'm 99.9% positive that I found Jay. His Facebook is totally open, and he's friends with someone named Jenn, who still lives in Baltimore, although Jay doesn't. Jenn's FB is also totally open. Both Jay and Jenn list Woodlawn High School as their alma mater and they graduated in 1998 and 1999, respectively. Jenn has a really uncommon last name, and when I did some searches, I found out that she's been in trouble with the law frequently. Charges range from marijuana possession to possession of narcotics other than marijuana to intent to distribute to intent to manufacture to armed robbery to unlawful possession of a firearm.

Here's where it gets really interesting. Jenn has been busted frequently in conjunction with another man. Who happens to share Jay's last name and is seven years older than Jay. The same woman is listed as the person who posts bond for both Jay and this relative (and shares their last name). Jay's older brother is my guess. The last name isn't as uncommon as Jenn's but it's still somewhat uncommon – I've only ever met one person with this last name. This man has been arrested with Jenn multiple times. I would not be surprised if he was her dealer, because he does have many more arrests for possession with intent to distribute than she does. But every time she's been arrested for drugs, it's been with him.

Okay, here's where it gets extremely interesting. I did some similar searches for Jay. In September 1999, Jay was charged with Accessory after Fact (nothing specific about the crime he was an accessory to). He was sentenced to five years in prison and 2 years probation. Nothing is listed under time served. Okay, that makes it sound like the police possibly charged Jay with being an accessory in Hae's murder, right? But. His later arrests mention violation of probation, so it looks like his prison term wasn't enforced and he was let off with probation. He was arrested for intent to distribute in a drug-free zone (a school) less than a month later. So he was sentenced to five years in prison for being an accessory after fact to an unknown crime, yet he was free and clear selling drugs less than a month later. And this violated his parole. Huh.

Señora H-B said...

...aaaand it continues:

So over the next two months, Jay goes to court on these charges. All charges are resolved as nolle prosequi, which means that the state will no longer prosecute. For selling drugs in a school zone? Huh. Furthermore, within a year he is busted again for selling drugs, possession, and also for theft. None of the charges stick. "All counts disposed" is the ruling. He was jailed for the theft for one day, the day it happened. Over the next few years, he's arrested for drugs (possession and intent to distribute), assault, domestic violence, and theft again. In every instance, the ruling is "all counts disposed." He served a day in jail for a few of the charges but only one day, and when it finally goes to court, the charges go away.

Ready for more? Jay has two pages of criminal charges – 31 total. On the second page, every single charge listed involves Jenn with the very uncommon last name. So apparently Jay, Jenn and Jay's relative were all busted together. For drug-related charges. Multiple times. When Jay's relative was busted on his own, he ended up going before a trial and served time in jail. When he was busted with Jay: "all counts disposed." The relative has 48 charges against him – he is seven years older than Jay and his charges start sooner. Same story with Jenn. The times she was charged with Jay: "all counts disposed." Not so lucky when she's charged with just the relative.

I know next to nothing about the legal system – I had to search for several of these terms – but does anyone else think this is shady? Getting sentenced to five years in jail for being an accessory to a crime, then getting released in time to get busted for selling drugs in a school zone less than a month later? Getting busted with the same two people multiple times, and when that happens, getting off scot-free…but when the other two are busted, the charges stick? Literally every time Jay is involved, the charges go away. Does that sound like some sort of police cover-up to anyone else? Or is Baltimore's criminal justice system just a mess? I really want to know more about the deal Jay has with the police, because this just does not add up.

Señora H-B said...

Feel free to delete the previous comments, but I was SO fascinated to learn more about Jay and Jenn's histories because I think they are going to play into what actually happened. We'll see...

Liz Johnson said...

YES. AGREED, and I've also read ideas similar to Senora H-B's comments in other forums. I have thought for a while that Jay & Jenn are more involved than they say, and I don't know that I think Adnan is involved at all. I don't know why I'm so hesitant to believe that he did it, but I am.

Have you hopped on the Serial Subreddit? It can consume my life, so I try to limit my readings to 10-15 minutes per day.

Aimee said...

I am totally following this, but I need to check back in when I'm on my computer. So crazy! I was waiting for a post like this from you!

Jen said...

I also jumped down the rabbit hole on your recommendation. Listened to them all this weekend.

Regardless of whether or not Adnan did it, I'm pretty certain he got crappy legal representation. (I find myself wondering, however, how things would have turned out if this crime happened 3 or 4 years later---in the height of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country.)

Jay is lying about something. Or all things. Or some things. Dunno. It's going to make me CRAZY if there's no sense of resolution at the end.

But I'm hooked.

Crys said...

Here is the sad thing...legal representation is mandatory, there are a ton a lawyers but unless you are well to do the chances of you getting great legal representation is so small. Wasn't there an american life episode once about a guy that confessed to a crime who was totally innocent. I used to have these grand opinions about our legal system then I watched the next 48 TV show...and I learned how easy it is to be screwed...

Bridget said...

Oh man, Senora H-B, I have purposely stayed away from the rabbit holes of external information about the case. But what you found out is SUPER interesting! I have been wondering about Jay and why they haven't told us more about him. Now let's see how the show presents this information.

I forgot to put this in the post. Last week's "Sometimes I think Dana isn't really listening to me" moment: Funny or Not Funny? I vote HILARIOUS.

Aimee said...

I also avoided googling anything about it, but yeah, apparently I need to do some of that. I found Katy Waldman's podcast and through that Rabia Choudry's blog. Interesting. Crazy.

1) The whole time I was trying to remember my senior year and what I was doing, so yes, crazy that it was our senior year.

2) I agree, that it would be an odd phone call to receive that your girlfriend was missing. Adnan talked about how all he thought about was "Oh man Hae is going to be in trouble with her mom." Also, it talks about how frequently he is getting stoned, and I am sure that has to mess with one's memory. Then when they actually find her body its been six weeks. Why didn't Adnan page her to see if she would call him back the evening the police call??

3) I also agree regarding the 21 minute timeline, that it doesn't prove anything.

4) The motive for Adnan killing Hae is so cold and calculating I just can't imagine that happening. And can someone really strangle to death someone in 1.5 minutes??

5) I've heard Sarah Koenig is about 70% sure of the ending.

I have a few questions in general about some of the people. Stephanie? Kathy? Jen? His lawyer? The streaker? I could go on.

Jen said...

THE STREAKER! MR S! Aimee----I totally forgot about that!


Liz Johnson said...

"Dana isn't really listening" - HILARIOUS.

Aimee said...

OK, so after listening to todays episode I had to come back and talk about some things that had been ruminating in my head.

Here's the backstory. One of my highlights from last year was serving on a jury in a criminal case. Seriously, I was the very stereotypical stay-at-home mom (preganant, even!) who was so excited to get out of the house and talk to adults. It was a small drug case, so a little different. As the case began both the prosecutor and defense attorney spoke to the jury about the fact that the burden of proof was on the side of prosecution.
The prosecutor had to bring a case forth for the jurors to feel that, based on evidence presented, this is how it happened. The defendant didn't need to justify or explain anything. The person sitting at the defense table actually was considered "not guilty" at the start and one had to begin with the presumption of innocence. (Harder than it sounds!) I was really proud of my fellow jurors because we all worked really well together and were truly able to maintain that presumption during the trial, even though we were split nearly 50/50 after our initial discussions. We ended up not convicting because there was enough reasonable doubt. Some things that could have helped convict were left undone. Other things did not make sense. Stories changed by the detectives, no evidence that they were presenting was swabbed, the kid didn't speak any english etc. Oh and the three drug detectives were so ridiculously stereotypical it was almost comical!

This whole time I have tried to see what a jury would see or hear (although I know its impossible). Since Adnan should have been given the presumption of innocence, there are so many issues, dropped balls, changed stories, lack of motive and physical evidence that he NEVER should have been convicted in the first place. Any one of those issues alone is enough for "reasonable" doubt had the jury been doing there job properly. It was nice to hear my thought process was on the right track. I love that Deirdre brought up the possibility of a serial killer targeting asian women, because I don't necessarily think any of these players had anything to do with it!

Bridget said...

Aimee, I think what you're saying is totally plausible, which is why I wonder why Jay ever got involved (I know we might hear more about this and things related to what Senora H-B brought up). What are these kids doing, messing around with a murder case? That is big stuff and no joke!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I just passed the part in #9 where one juror, after having been instructed by the judge that non-testimony by the defendant is not to be used against him, goes on about how weird that was, that he didn't testify, and how it made the jurors look askance at him.

Really really sad. That's not supposed to happen.


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