Advocating for Adnan
Rabia Chaudry was at home when the news broke. On June 30, more than 15 years after he was convicted for murdering his high school girlfriend, Judge Martin Welch vacated Adnan Syed's conviction and granted a new trial.
"It was really tremendous," Chaudry says, recalling that day in an interview with Metro. "I had a bit of an emotional meltdown." That's because Chaudry has spent the last decade and a half working to exonerate Syed, a family friend, whom she says was wrongly accused in the death of Hae Min Lee.
Chaudry opens her new book, Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial, with a letter to the reader recalling that fateful day and her unwavering commitment to proving Syed's innocence.
In 2000 Syed was found guilty of Lee's murder. At the time, the developing case dominated local news in Syed and Lee's hometown of Baltimore before fading out of the spotlight. The crime, and subsequent investigation, were catapulted into the national spotlight in 2014 when reporter Sarah Koenig made it the focus of her popular podcast, Serial. She will speak about her new book and the experience of being thrust into the limelight at Kepler's Books next Tuesday,
Koenig was turned on to the story after Chaudry reached out to her. Chaudry's hope was that through her reporting, new evidence would arise and shed light on Syed's innocence. Although the podcast gained international interest and returned a key witness to the case, it still left out a lot of information, according to Chaudry, who says that Koenig did not pay adequate attention to Lee's autopsy. She also claims prosecutors were wrong about cell phone tower data that was used to link Syed to Lee's killing.
Chaudry was also disappointed at the lack of in-depth reporting Koenig did when it came down to lead detectives Gregory MacGillivray and William Ritz who, Chaudry says, have a history of flawed criminal investigations, which include the mishandling evidence in order to make their theory better fit a case.
"Koenig was very forgiving to the detectives on the case," she says.
After receiving Syed's blessing, Chaudry went ahead and started writing Adnan's Story. The way Chaudry sees it, her account is more accurate, because "he wasn't being edited as he was in the podcast," she says.
Chaudry had no intention to write a book until she realized that if she didn't do it, someone else would. And sure enough, someone else did. Asia McClain, perhaps Syed's best alibi—who states she was with him at the library at the time he was allegedly committing the crime—has also released a book. Chaudry was very supportive and praised McClain for sticking to her story, even after she was, according to Chaudry, misled and attacked by Maryland state prosecutors.
As Chaudry tells it: In 2010, former prosecutor Kevin Urick convinced McClain to stay out of Syed's appeal because, according to him, all the evidence pointed to Syed as the killer and anything she said would not hold up in court. Urick also allegedly told McClain that the affidavit she wrote confirming she was with Syed at the time of the murder, was forced upon her by Syed's family. McClain adamantly denied this claim, saying she never told Urick this and reaffirming she was with Syed.
After 16 years of advocating for Syed, Chaudry still firmly believes he is innocent. All the evidence so publically scrutinized by Koenig, along with the new trial, point to the same answer in Chaudry's mind: everyone who knew Syed says he was a genuinely nice guy.
"There is not a single act of violence attributed to him," she says.
However, according to Chaudry, Syed does not want to be judged by his character. Instead, Chaudry says, he wants the evidence to prevail. Jay Wilds, the state's key witness against Syed, has modified his account of the events surrounding the murder numerous times. And, in another potential game-changer for Syed, new evidence has come to light suggesting that the cell phone tracking information, used by the state to place Syed's during the time of the murder, is unreliable.
Aug 16, 7:30pm, Free
Kepler's Books, Menlo Park