Serial: The Podcast
I’ve come across dozens of bits of evidence like this. Information that could mean one thing or perhaps its opposite depending on who’s talking…All this information, every scrap, it’s currency for whatever side you’re on. It’s spin. And the trouble with spin is that you can’t totally disregard it, because swirling around somewhere inside, some tendril of it is true.
No, that wasn't from a storytelling lecture by a hot shot defense attorney at the National Criminal Defense College. That was Sarah Koenig on her podcast Serial. About 6 weeks ago, the beloved public radio program This American Life started a spin-off podcast available only via the web. Serial explores the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted fourteen years ago of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Both were 17 years old at the time. The editors sift through the evidence collected in the case and carry out some additional investigations of their own to tease out the tendrils of truth. I’m addicted. And I happen to be learning a ton about being a good lawyer.
Serial is a new twist on the old cliché: An investigative reporter receives a call regarding a possibly innocent man serving a life sentence. Koenig admits her ambivalence regarding Adnan. If he's innocent, then she’ll use her resources to investigate his case in hopes of exonerating him. If he’s actually guilty, then Adnan’s family should be spared the agony of believing their innocent son is in jail. In fact the editors of the podcast go so far as to claim: "We'll follow the plot and characters wherever they take us and we won’t know what happens at the end of the story until we get there, not long before you get there with us." The result is suspenseful and engaging listening.
The quote I started off with is from Episode 2: The Breakup. That particular episode focuses on the relationship between Adnan and his ex-girlfriend and how the prosecution spun their breakup to create a motive for the murder. The podcast quotes from the transcript of the prosecution’s eloquent closing, where repetition, triads, and vivid words weave together the testimony of the snitch and Hae’s diary entries. Anyone who has attended the Basic Trial Skills Program in Faubush, Kentucky will be delighted to hear that the prosecution described Hae’s parents’ surprise visit to the school and Hae’s mortification to illustrate their point. On another level, the editors of Serial are telling their own story. I find myself analyzing how they reveal each piece of evidence and introduce each new interviewee to understand what makes the story so gripping.
Every aspect of a case gets explored. In Episode 3: Leakin Park we hear the tapes of the interrogation of the man who discovered Hae’s body in the woods. Since I practice in a jurisdiction where interrogations are not recorded, I appreciate eavesdropping on police questioning. In Episode 5: Route Talk, the producers re-create the route that Adnan and his friend supposedly took to dump Hae’s body. Listening to the episode, I was reminded of the importance of going to the scene and even trying to re-enact what witnesses claim took place in order to the test plausibility. In another episode, Koenig somehow manages to succeed in making expert testimony regarding cell phone triangulation engaging.
Excuse me now, I’ve got to run. Episode 6 just dropped and I must listen to it.
When you go to iTunes to subscribe to Serial be sure to also subscribe to The NAPD Podcast.