The Key Break in Adnan Syed’s Case Didn’t Come From Serial

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serialWith the odds it overcame and unexpected twist, the news that Adnan Syed is getting a new trial seemed like a setup for another run of Serial. But the podcast can’t take full credit. It must share credit with another.

Judge Martin Welch ruled Syed should get a new trial because of a piece of evidence found by a separate researcher. The cover sheet on a fax that cast doubt on the cell phone data used by the prosecution to place Syed in the area of the crime was found after Serial was over. Rabia Chaudry, the activist who initially brought the case to Sarah Koenig, ran another podcast called Undisclosed. During that podcast, attorney Susan Simpson discusses the fax cover sheet. She later blogged about the evidence, which Welch said Syed’s lawyer knew about and could’ve acted on, but didn’t.

That’s not to say that Serial wasn’t somewhat responsible for this moment. Millions of people wouldn’t know about Syed’s case without the podcast, and it humanized its subject to such an extent that it made people care. As Zoe Williams put it in The Guardian,  “…the distinctive and memorable elements of Serial were the details that a court wouldn’t accept, and wouldn’t even go looking for.”

With any luck, we may get a new season of the podcast. Koenig hasn’t said much yet, much less speculated whether she will bring the series back. But the fact that she dropped what she was doing and returned to Baltimore to deliver her patented conversational reports from Syed’s hearings earlier this year made it clear where her priorities remain.



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