True crime makes us imagine we’re sure about folks like Adnan Syed. We must be ashamed Amelia Tait


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I know for sure whether or not Adnan Syed was responsible. Syed, who has simply had his conviction overturned after serving nearly 23 years for the 1999 homicide of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, as soon as mentioned that solely he and her assassin may very well be 100% sure whether or not Syed was harmless – ​​however nope, sorry, I do know. I’ve listened to Serial – the 2014 podcast that popularized Syed’s case – twice. I’ve spent numerous hours on Reddit boards devoted to every thing the podcast missed. I’ve noticed telling remarks made in telling tones. I’ve learn the doodled diary extracts of a strangled teenage lady. I do know whether or not Syed is a assassin. Eliminate judges, juries and executioners: substitute them with me.

I am being facetious, clearly – there is a purpose I have not instructed you whether or not I am so certain of Syed’s innocence or of his guilt. It is because I do know, logically, that the understanding that surges in my chest is not any such factor in any respect. Clearly I do not know whether or not Syed dedicated homicide greater than 20 years in the past; clearly I do not know whether or not he was framed by corrupt detectives on the Baltimore Police Division. I’m simply one among 340 million listeners, and about as geographically and temporally faraway from the case as it’s doable to be. However nonetheless, I’m sure – and I am troubled by that, and troubled by different folks’s certainty too.

True crime invitations us to take a position, rating factors and take sides. I’ve watched the web divide itself into “guilters” and “innocenters” who gleefully name one another deluded and rejoice like sports activities followers when a brand new piece of proof advantages their “staff”. Large swaths of individuals spend their days cosplaying as detectives, digging into strangers’ lives, studying their diaries, even driving previous their homes. And so a lot of them – like me – are so, so sure that they have it proper. So a lot of them are unwilling to confess that they really know little or no in any respect.

Syed’s conviction was vacated on September 19 as a result of the state did not share exculpatory proof about two potential suspects that would have helped his protection at trial (this is named a Brady violation). Syed has been positioned on house detention. The 41-year-old was not launched from jail as a result of he has been discovered harmless – ​​relatively, investigators are awaiting the outcomes of DNA evaluation earlier than deciding whether or not to hunt a brand new trial. What has been confirmed, nevertheless, is that Syed’s conviction was wrongful and his rights had been violated – the state was “morally compelled to take affirmative motion”, because it had “misplaced confidence within the integrity of the conviction”.

Whether or not or not there’s one other trial, it’s doable that there’ll by no means be a smoking (or smokeless) gun on this case. The id of the killer could also be a type of issues that the broader world can by no means know for sure – Serial host Sarah Koenig lately instructed the New York Occasions that, “there was no means” for the present’s producers “to say definitively what occurred” . As an alternative, Koenig mentioned: “What we had been declaring in our story was that the timeline of the case and the proof within the case had critical issues…

“This child goes to jail for all times at 18, based mostly on a narrative that wasn’t correct. That is what we wished folks to consider: even setting apart the query of Adnan’s guilt or innocence, are we OK with a system that operates like that?”

In fact, nobody desires to “put aside the query of Adnan’s guilt or innocence” – nobody ever has. When Sequence first aired, some listeners had been disillusioned that the ultimate episode didn’t characteristic a surprising, spine-tingling revelation that would put the case to mattress. As an alternative, it was a narrative in regards to the failures and flaws of the US justice system – boo-ring! For a lot of, it was much more enjoyable to don a deerstalker and spend the subsequent eight years changing into so, so sure about whether or not Syed did or did not do it.

Frankly, we should always all be ashamed. This is not a sport – the folks we’re speaking about aren’t characters on TV. Addressing the court docket earlier than Syed’s conviction was overturned, Hae Min Lee’s brother, Younger Lee, mentioned: “This isn’t a podcast for me. It is actual life that may by no means finish. It has been 20-plus years. It is a nightmare.”

The sequence paved the best way for numerous true crime podcasts and documentaries, and whereas Koenig stopped in need of declaring whodunnit, different producers have been much less scrupulous. I bear in mind a sickening feeling creeping over me after I listened to a podcast on a good friend’s suggestion shortly after ending Serial. The host authoritatively declared within the last episode that the particular person on the coronary heart of the case had certainly dedicated the crime – they made an enormous, grand present a couple of second they felt they had been talking to a assassin. However we won’t sense something. Our hunches are simply hunches. As ProPublica reporter Pamela Colloff has pointed out: these are the identical biases that result in wrongful convictions within the first place.

Can true crime thrive with out inviting viewers to take a position? Most likely not. The style invitations us to be entitled – it welcomes us with heat arms to the worst moments of different folks’s lives. However as viewers and listeners, we should resist certainty – we should resist black and white pondering and assured declarations of innocence and guilt. We must always settle for that we’re simply spectators; that we all know little or no in any respect. If we do not – if we proceed to belittle one another, stalk strangers and depart smug feedback about our instincts – then we should settle for that the one guilt that we could be certain of is our personal.

  • Amelia Tait is a contract options author

  • Do you might have an opinion on the problems raised on this article? If you need to submit a letter of as much as 300 phrases to be thought of for publication, e-mail it to us at

True crime makes us imagine we’re sure about folks like Adnan Syed. We must be ashamed Amelia Tait

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