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The Story of Adnan Syed: Racial Prejudice and Wrongful Conviction

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How would you feel if a loved one was convicted of a crime based on evidence that did not add up or make any sense? This nightmare became a reality for a family who had their son taken from their arms in the blink of an eye. The story of Adnan Syed, revealed in the hit podcast Serial written by Sarah Koenig, tells the case of how he was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The trial of Adnan Syed had left many people thinking whether the conviction was correct, fair, and just. The prosecution on this case used many pieces of evidence against Adnan, some which were fair, but others which were questionable. It raised the concern of whether the evidence itself was truly strong enough to convict Adnan of murder. Now with these holes that are not filled in, it can be asserted that the criminal justice system focuses more on convicting a person rather than finding the full truth, seen through the evidence used against Adnan Syed, the racial prejudice present throughout his trial, and the omission of key evidence.

The prosecution gathered many different pieces of evidence to convict Adnan, but most were quite unreliable. The biggest piece of evidence which was also the foundation of the prosecution’s claim against Adnan was Jay’s testimony. He claimed to have helped Adnan bury Hae’s body and his story essentially determined the outcome of the trial. However, throughout the trial, Jay changes his story numerous times, one being the location he saw Hae’s body, from “Edmonson Avenue versus the Best Buy parking lot”. How does somebody forget the location of where they saw a dead body? Some of the changes in Jay’s story were minor, but the major changes were not seen in a critical way as it should have, and the prosecution only used specific information from Jay’s testimony that could convict Adnan, not caring whether or not they could be lies. Furthermore, another piece of evidence often used by prosecution were the cell records from Adnan’s phone. The main focus, however, was one phone call made to Adnan’s phone at 2:36pm, where the prosecution assumed it was the call made to Jay after Adnan killed Hae, saying, “‘come and get me, I’m at Best Buy’”.

However, it is later learned from the employees of Best Buy that they never had any payphones, which brings up the question, why didn’t the prosecution further investigate this phone call from Best Buy at 2:36pm? They needed Jay’s testimony to match. They needed the timeline to line up. They needed to put the pieces together, even if some were not true, so that Adnan could be convicted. Although most of the evidence used against Adnan was related to where he was at a certain time, physical evidence was also used. DNA samples were tested from Hae’s car, and “the evidence against Adnan Syed was a fingerprint, or rather, a palmprint”. Prosecution used this evidence to say that Adnan was in Hae’s car and killed her, leaving fingerprints. On the contrary, these fingerprints could have been from weeks, or even months before, when Adnan and Hae were still dating, but prosecution seems to twist the evidence and used it against Adnan. Although the prosecution had some legitimate evidence against Adnan, they only used the ones that will most definitely convict him, ignoring the fact that some evidence were flawed.

Not only did the prosecution use evidence that may have had some flaws, they also used the fact that Adnan is Pakistani against him, stooping to use racial prejudice within this trial. A prosecuting attorney by the name of Viki Wash used the fact that Adnan had much support from his Muslim community against him. She tells the judge that Adnan has many connections back in Pakistan and can use them to help protect him, and she states, “If you issue a bail, then you are issuing him a passport under these circumstances to flee the country”. This statement is later found to be untrue; however, even though Viki Wash apologized afterwards for saying it, a bias was put within the jury on Adnan’s racial background.

Moreover, instead of solely using evidence from the case itself, the state used Adnan’s culture to attack him. A statement was said about Pakistani culture, where men kill women and how “For many ethnic Pakistani men, incidences like this are commonplace and in Pakistan this would not have been a crime but probably a question of honor”. By stating this extremely irrelevant fact, the prosecution wanted to show the jury that Adnan was capable of committing a murder because it is supposedly accepted in his culture. These two previous examples have showed that prosecution used absolutely anything to try and convict Adnan, creating a false identity for him that may have been far from true. The racial prejudice in Adnan’s case was also recognized by his own mother, Shamim Rahman. She had never truly felt much racial prejudice from the court system, but throughout Adnan’s trial, her and the community felt that they took him because “he was a Muslim child … It was easy for them to take him, than other people”. This shows that so much of Adnan’s background and culture was taken into account, that it was likely one of the reasons he was convicted. Instead of using evidence found from Adnan’s case, prosecution suggested a new identity for Adnan, leaving bias within the jury, therefore creating a greater chance for conviction. The omission of key evidence also played a large role in how the prosecution ensured Adnan’s conviction. A piece of evidence that could have caused a different outcome were certain DNA samples. It was found that certain DNA lab reports such as DNA from the liquor bottle near Hae’s body, only had comments stating “retained for future possible analysis”. These forensic reports were not mentioned once in trial, and the results of the testing could have led to more suspects. However, the prosecution decided to ignore those DNA testings that could have helped with finding out the truth, and continued to pursue the conviction of Adnan.

Another major key evidence that was omitted were some cell towers that pinged throughout the day that Hae was killed. The cell towers were another way that the prosecution attempted to draw a timeline of where Adnan was, but they only mentioned “four out of the fourteen cell towers” that pinged throughout that day. These four cell towers used also lined up with Jay’s testimony, after Jay changed his story multiple times to fit with the evidence. The fact that Jay had to change his story to match where the cell towers pinged shows that prosecution did not care whether or not there were lies within his testimony. They only wanted to prove that Adnan killed Hae, by connecting different pieces of evidence and placing Adnan at the perfect time and location, despite the fact that other evidence were completely omitted. By ignoring these evidence that could piece together the entire case, prosecution forced jigsaw pieces together, although they were not supposed to fit together in the first place. Instead of uncovering the full truth, the criminal justice system cares more about the act of convicting a person, seen through the unreliable evidence placed against Adnan Syed, the racial prejudice within the trial, and certain key evidence that were omitted. The thought of being convicted for a horrendous crime with unreliable evidence is frightening. What happened to finding the actual truth about a case rather than piecing together a pool filled with lies? Is it not more settling to know that the right person was convicted for a crime?

The criminal justice system is so extremely caught up in convicting a person that they will use anything and everything to try and lock them up in jail. There are so many wrongfully convicted people who have had their lives taken away from them in an instant. Convicting the right person is more important than just convicting a person because it does not only affect them, but their loved ones too. The result of rushed and incomplete court cases using faulty evidence is that ultimately, justice is perverted and no longer just, as seen in Adnan Syed’s trial. It would be in the best interest of humanity if both prosecution and defense attorneys strived for the truth. The criminal justice system must begin to start using the truth to convict someone.

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The Story of Adnan Syed: Racial Prejudice and Wrongful Conviction. (2020, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from
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