Episode 9: To Be Suspected

Image via Emily Cody's students at Lakes Community High School: Chicago, IL

Update: Adnan's mother and brother interviewed by CBS for the first time on television.

*Spoilers Ahead*

This episode opens with a number of new things, including a message from Sarah asking for donations for season 2 of Serial. You can donate at the Serial website linked above, or by texting "Serial" to 25383 to make a $10 donation. They've been living off the back of This American Life for season 1, and the show will remain free to download. But it is an expensive production to run such an in depth investigation at such a high quality. They've hired private investigators, they've traveled to meet with lawyers, they've done a ton just to bring this story to the point where it is now. I think it's definitely worth throwing a bit of money at, regardless of what they cover next season.

Now on to the three new facts that came forth this week.

1) There was no phone booth at Best Buy! Laura verified it, since Best Buy was her go to place to shoplift for years, and there's no way she would have not seen a phone booth.

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2) Summer, a friend of Hae's, has thrown a big monkey wrench into the timeline of Hae's death. She was an assistant manager for the wrestling team, and clearly remembers giving her shit for not traveling to an away game on the bus with her because she was new at managing and really needed the help from Hae. She distinctly remembers them talking for about 10 minutes right around the time that Hae was suspected to be dead, and then being a mad at her because she was left to run the wrestling match alone.

3. Aisha was the mysterious phone call at Cathy's house. This definitely ties up the loose end about the call. She was calling around and Christa recalls Aisha calling her around that time looking for Hae and mentioning the police were going to be calling around. Adnan's suspicious behavior could also be seen as annoyed, either way he was high so he was paranoid.

The rest of this episode follows Adnan's perspective from the day they discovered Hae had been killed, to the booking and trial, to how prison life is for him today. It's an emotional episode; from how distraught Adnan sounded when he insisted on calling the detectives and trying to tell them they found the wrong person, to the testimony from Hae's mother, to the memories of Hae's personality as told by her friends. Hae's brother has spoken up on Reddit this week, saying that they will not be participating on the podcast for very good reason, and Sarah understands and is respecting their wishes not to be interviewed.

One detail Sarah slipped into these stories is that Christina Gutierrez, Adnan's lawyer, was actually fired and replaced with a public defender after the issues with Asia's letters. The public defender also told Adnan not to take the stand. As a public defender, it was likely the attorney didn't look at the case or at Adnan closely enough to consider that putting him on the stand would actually be beneficial, considering the attorney was more used to working with people who had criminal records. If you think back to last week's Slate episode, it was suggested that the reason most suspects don't take the stand is because other things would come out in cross examination. But Adnan was a pillar of the community, it would have helped.

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A good chunk of this podcast focuses on the letters Adnan sent to Christa from prison before the trial. He comes off as genuinely caring, asking about the details of her life, how everyone else is doing, and looking forward to getting out. Before trial, he wrote a letter to Christa and included a photo he ripped out of a magazine, remarking how much the model looked like Hae.

Today, he's a model prisoner. In the last 15 years he has only had one infraction for having a cell phone. He participates in activities and works in the kitchen, got awarded a "Distinguished Gentleman" certificate by a prison guard, he has friends who look out for him. He makes delicious food for his friends, and has proven himself to be a creative guy in the kitchen. He's basically Red from Orange is the New Black. He has his own cell, with a television. He is good at adapting, and he has adapted to making his life in prison work for him.

The next paragraph is an IRL possible spoiler!

[[[[[ The Columbia Journalism Review has been following up with the progress the Innocence Project is making, and now it looks like there is possibly a new suspect, wholly unrelated to the story. There was a murderer convicted for a similar crime in Baltimore around the same time. Could this be another timeline? If so, how is Jay involved?! If you would like to see more about the Innocence Project's involvement, UVA Law has an excellent article with Dierdre on where it's going. ]]]

There has also been a lot of talk this week surrounding the racial issues involved in telling this story. Both Jay Caspian Kang of The Awl and Julia Carrie Wong of Buzzfeed have touched on racially charged issues surrounding the idea of a white reporter telling the story of a murder case where every prime person involved is a person of color - most from immigrant Asian families. They both bring up plenty of good points about stereotype and perception of what it means to be a first generation Asian American through the lens of Sarah's reporting, though I will say that I do not entirely agree with them on everything they have written. But that isn't to say that I would go as far as to dismiss everything they bring up, like Lindsay Beyerstein did in her piece for the New York Observer which causes far more problems than it tries to address.

I feel like this has to be expressed every single time especially sensitive topics are brought up for critique: you are allowed to not agree with critics when it comes to a piece of work, but in no way does that mean that you are allowed to shut them down, invalidate their opinion, or dismiss them for taking issue with something just because you like the end product! Just because you love Serial doesn't mean it is perfect and can do no wrong. Believe me, I've raised my eyebrows a few times myself and I still remain a big fan.

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And one last reminder that there is no new episode next Thursday due to U.S. Thanksgiving! I won't be doing a recap since there won't be anything to recap, but I will probably write up a clip show version of a post about the media surrounding Serial just to fill in the gap.