During the process, I became an expert in the geography of Baltimore, the location of cell towers in the county, the timing of phone calls, the folklore of Leakin Park, the complex and often fraught relationships of students at Woodlawn High, police procedures back in 1999, institutional racism, and the extraordinary behaviour of prosecution and – especially – defence attourneys: Christina Gutierrez was later disbarred.
In the hands of Sarah Koenig, the presenter, and her team at An American Life, it is a riveting story, and over the course of 12 episodes, it unfolds with detail after detail, speculation after speculation, before it comes to … well, no clear conclusion.
Did Adnan strangle Hae? Or was it Jay? Or Jay and Jenn, working in tandem, or perhaps with a third party? Or was it Mr S, the streaker who found the body? Or was it the man who had previously killed another female student of Asian ethnicity?
And why was this man never considered as a suspect? Why did the investigating detectives coach Jay in his tortuous efforts to record the events in a way which suited them? Why were no DNA tests carried out? What happened to Hae’s computer and AOL records which were seized by the police but subsequently disappeared without any record of examination? Why was Asia never interviewed?
There are a hell of a lot more questions than answers. But the answers that were given, true or otherwise, were sufficient to convict Adnan and get him a sentence of life plus 30 years.
This is a sentence which, to a European sensibility, is cruel and unusual for a kid of 17, even if he were guilty.
But if I am convinced of anything after listening to 12 episodes of Serial and five of Undisclosed, it is that Adnan was not guilty, at least not beyond reasonable doubt.
And this is the point. Listening to the podcasts, it is easy to forget that this is a real story, a ‘true’ story.
It is not a mystery story, a detective story, a courtroom drama of the sort to which I am addicted. It concerns people who existed on this planet: Hae herself who lost her life; Adnan who has been incarcerated in jail for 16 years; their families, the one grief-stricken, the other determined to obtain Adnan’s release.
These are not characters in a paperback thriller. They are real people. I hope that the Baltimore circuit court will remember this.
Today from the everysmith vaults: With the imminent release of Dylan, Cash & the Nashville Cats, I have dug out my bootleg of these sessions. Brilliant. Really looking forward to the full and remastered release.