Podcast review: Serial, season one (2014)

I recently heard coworkers talking about this series of podcasts. And then I heard the host and producer interviewed by Terri Gross on Fresh Air. I was intrigued and thought about dipping my toe in to see how it was.

I ended up plunging in head-first. The real-life story is that engrossing.

Serial is a series of 12 podcasts that debuted October 2014 as a spin-off from This American Life. The host, Sarah Koenig, as an investigative journalist, looks into the 1999 strangulation of a high school student and the subsequent incarceration of the newly deceased’s ex-boyfriend.

Sarah has ongoing telephone conversations with Adnan Syed from his prison. She reenacts the events of the day, walking through the timeline presented in court. She interviews different people: Adnan, Jay (the sole witness), jurors, lawyers, detectives, and those that knew Hae Min Lin (the deceased). She tracks down any item in the records that wasn’t followed up on or that seems suspicious, such as girl who could corroborate Adnan’s alibi or the lack of DNA testing done.

Through her investigation, we learn things about the judicial system and how police investigations are carried out. For example, Sarah tests the hypothesis that memory is reliable, which is a bit shocking when you consider how much stock we place on witness accounts and their memories in criminal investigations, at trials, and in life in general.

Sarah also discusses her feelings, the ups and down, the roller coaster she is on. One minute she thinks Adnan is innocent, and then something suggests that there is no way that he is innocent, and then something else suggests that there is no way that he committed the murder. And on and on.

And she discusses her perspectives on Adnan’s reactions and feelings. Fifteen years after the conviction, the wounds for him are being reopened for him to suffer through again.

It is disconcerting to consider the amount of human error in legal judgments. And what Sarah is investigating and discussing is not a hypothetical. It is a real case with a dead high school woman and a convicted man behind bars for life. Swirling around them are numerous lives that were affected to varying degrees…from the friends, to the parents of Hae, to the guy who helped bury Hae’s body.

Both the interview with Terri Gross and the podcast series Serial are well worth a listen. The first season of Serial is over and you can binge listen to all 12 episodes (which is what I did). 2015 brings a new season…and a new story.

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