Through the blizzard armed with 3,000 pages of transcripts, maps and cell phone records, I headed out to meet Kevin Urick, one of the prosecutors from the Adnan Syed case. If you are in the 1 percent of the universe that does not recognize those names, I am referring to “Serial.” a 12 episode podcast that reexamines the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school student in Baltimore, Maryland. Syed, who was convicted of Lee’s murder, is currently serving a life sentence.
From the very beginning I hated “Serial.” Hated it! I despised how Sarah Koenig (host/producer) was blaming the defense attorney within 35 minutes of the first episode. The epitome of ‘liberal media bias’ – with utter disbelief in her voice, Koenig informs the listeners that after a six week trial the jury returned a verdict within two hours. Big Whoop. That happens ALL the time. A reporter wouldn’t know that, thus, delivering such information was irresponsible without collecting data on the frequency of fast verdicts.
While I grew skeptical of the State’s case as well as the defense Syed received, I still remained neutral. I was on episode six at that point.
Then Mr. Urick gave an interview to The Intercept. But it wasn’t the whole story. I wanted that from Mr. Urick – on camera, in depth. I left him messages explaining that since I was a former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney, I was in a unique position to understand his. He returned my call.
We spoke several times, emailed dozens - we had a crew, a location, it was all set in stone way in advance. And then he cancelled. Sure he had a lame reason but he cancelled with a specific note that he would not reschedule. Why?
My feeling is that when I told him I had read the trial transcripts he grew fearful of what I discovered. That would be true. But there was more.
Certainly Koenig’s uncovering of inconsistencies led me to investigate deeper but it also led me to Susan Simpson. Susan is a brilliant young lawyer who through her blog, The View From LL2, dissects key pieces of evidence from Syed’s trial. Actually, no. That’s the problem. Susan was looking at materials that were not admitted at trial but should have been. Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Syed’s who was the impetus for “Serial,” has facilitated Susan’s quest and now she is doing the same for me.
Analyzing what I was reading frightened me. I became baffled by the call log, the testimony, the maps. What I was looking at simply could not be true. I will admit I wanted to confirm that Syed was rightfully found guilty. I always want to believe that the system works because…..that’s where I live.
“A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence and that special precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons.” (Rule 3.8, The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct). I remember carrying those words on a piece of paper into my first interview at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.
To me, being a ‘minister of justice’ always meant doing the just thing. My entire life, both personally and professionally, I decide everything on a case-by-case basis. I don’t do the party line. Sometimes I’m with the prosecution, sometimes I’m with the defense. My slogan is “fairness” – I don’t care who ends up in jail, as long as they got there the right way.
What I loved about being a prosecutor is that if the evidence wasn’t there, if the cops screwed up, if there was extreme mitigation, you dismiss the charges. Why would a prosecutor sacrifice his job, his license, his livelihood, by falsifying a case? Perhaps that was the question Urick knew I would ask.
Imagine writing a script then calling central casting for the ideal villain to play the main character. The prosecution (Urick’s co-prosecutor was Kathleen Murphy) constructed a narrative and then orchestrated Syed’s role in it. We now know that to be true because the prosecutors, for instance,
- Hid from the defense that Jay was given a free lawyer; (would’ve been easy to have her court appointed)
- Arranged an invalid guilty plea for Jay and allowed for an alternative plea condition outside of what was contained in the plea agreement;
- Didn’t test Syed’s phone to determine that it’s easily capable of misdialing; (they sure could have)
- Improperly failed to mention the entire call log to the jury; of the 24 calls on Syed’s phone between 10:45am-8:05pm only 6 calls were possibly in the range of where the prosecution places the phone;
- Didn’t introduce location of 3:32pm Nisha call at trial;
- Didn’t reveal that the actual call which fits Nisha’s memory; that occurred on February 14, 1999, 7:17pm for approximately 10 minutes in the vicinity of the porn store; (according to cell phone records)
- Inaccurately conveyed to the jury that the 5:14pm phone call was Syed calling his voicemail when it was actually someone leaving a voicemail; (from AT&T records the police obtained)
- Failed to tell jury that only outgoing calls are reliable for location status NOT incoming (like the 7:09pm and 7:16pm that were allegedly places phone in Leakin Park while the body was being buried); (from AT&T records the police obtained)
I think you get the idea. There is so much more that Susan Simpson and Rabia Chaudry are working on and the world needs to hear all of it. I no longer have the confidence in the courts to do their job so perhaps exposing the real evidence – all of it – is what needs to be done. So that is what we are going to do…...
As for Kevin Urick, I understand why you stood me up. Really, it’s okay. But I gave you a shot to give your side of the story. Now just be prepared for what’s coming next because the gloves – are – off.
Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC. She hosts the weekly legal show "The Docket" on Shift by MSNBC.com. Seema also appears frequently on television as a legal analyst. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq
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