The 1999 murder of 18-year-old Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, were brought to global attention in 2014 by the hugely popular “Serial” podcast. But there is more to the story.
THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED reinvestigates the case behind the podcast, from the genesis of their high school relationship to the original police investigation and trial, and moves into the current day as Syed faces the prospect of a new trial after almost 20 years in jail. Directed by Amy Berg (“West of Memphis,” the Oscar®-nominated “Deliver Us from Evil”), this absorbing four-part documentary series debuts SUNDAY, MARCH 10 (9:00–10:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
The show will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.
In production since 2015, THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED reviews the events leading up to Hae Min Lee’s disappearance, from high school romance, forbidden love and cultural conflict, to the aftermath of her disappearance, the original police investigation and the present day, as Syed awaits the outcome of a lengthy appeals process.
Director Amy Berg brings a fresh eye to the case and offers interviews with key players, many of whom were not featured in the original podcast. Bringing the story to life visually, she revisits the crime and follows unfolding developments from 2014 to today. The series presents new information that questions the state’s case, and draws on exclusive access to essential characters, including new audio recordings of Syed from prison, the defense team, the Syed family, friends and teachers of Hae Min Lee, private investigators and members of Baltimore City law enforcement, examining how Syed’s trial and subsequent conviction in 2000 raised as many questions as they answered.
Along with footage and recordings from the original investigation and trial, THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED features exclusive new interviews with figures from many sides of the case, including: Syed’s mother, father and brothers; family friend and advocate Rabia Chaudry, who originally reached out to “Serial” podcast host Sarah Koenig; Asia McClain, a key witness in the appeal; Susan Simpson, an attorney and advocate for Syed; high school friends Aisha Pittman, Krista Meyers, Laura Estrada Sandoval and Debbie Warren; Darryl Massey, a former Baltimore City police detective on Syed’s case; and key prosecution witnesses who have not spoken publicly until now.
A wealth of archival footage, documents from the case file, family photos and personal ephemera bring back the feel of 1990s Baltimore and give visual texture to elements of a story that unfolds over two decades. Hae Min Lee’s richly detailed teenage diary, charting the emotional journey through her last high school years, is brought to life with voiceover, illustration and animation.
In Feb. 2016, Syed’s post-conviction relief proceedings commenced and continued for five days. In June 2016, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Martin P. Welch granted Syed’s request for a new trial after new evidence challenged the reliability of cellphone tower data linking Syed to the crime scene, and a long-awaited alibi witness, Asia McClain, finally had her day in court.
The State of Maryland appealed the lower court judge’s ruling, but on March 29, 2018, the Court of Special Appeals also ruled to vacate Syed’s conviction and grant him the retrial he has been waiting for. The state appealed once again, to the highest court in Maryland, to review the decision to overturn Syed’s conviction. An appeals panel of seven judges heard oral arguments in Nov. 2018, and all parties are awaiting their decision later this year.
Part 1: “Forbidden Love”
Debut date: SUNDAY, MARCH 10 (9:00–10:00 p.m. ET/PT)
Family and friends of Adnan Syed, who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, recall their blossoming high-school romance, their emotional breakup, Lee’s mysterious disappearance and the discovery of her body, and the events that led to Syed’s arrest. After the podcast phenomenon “Serial” resurrects the cold case for millions, Syed’s family prepares for his appeal in Feb. 2016, and a chance to discover the truth after nearly 20 years.
Part 2: “In Between the Truth”
Debut date: SUNDAY, MARCH 17 (9:00–10:00 p.m.)
As Syed’s appeal for a new trial gets underway, supporters look back at the 1999 confession of his friend, Jay Wilds, who claimed he helped Syed bury Lee’s body. With questions remaining regarding the police’s timeline of events, acquaintance Asia McClain becomes a key figure in providing a possible alibi for him. While private investigators consult experts in hopes of recreating circumstances surrounding evidence in the case, the veracity of Wilds’ testimony is called into question years later.
Part 3: “‘Justice Is Arbitrary’”
Debut date: SUNDAY, MARCH 24 (9:00–10:00 p.m.)
With Syed’s 2016 post-conviction hearing for appeal drawing to a close, figures in the case reflect on issues raised by the original trial, including misleading cellphone records and cell tower data, questionable interviews and gaps in information related to Jay Wilds’ involvement. The politicized culture in which the trial took place reveals a Korean community uniting to demand a conviction from a city they felt had systematically overlooked them, and a Pakistani-Muslim community that felt Adnan’s religion and ethnicity were on trial. Memories of events are questioned and the impact of the podcast “Serial” on those involved in the story is explored. Attorney and advocate Susan Simpson, along with others, are enlisted to further probe lingering questions around the state’s case against Syed.
THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED is produced by Working Title TV and Instinct Productions and is a production of HBO Documentary Films in association with Sky. Directed by Amy Berg. Executive producers: Henrietta Conrad and Jemima Khan for Instinct Productions; Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan and Andrew Stearn for Working Title TV; Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller for HBO; and Amy F. Berg, Sara Bernstein and Rabia Chaudry. Original music by Dhani Harrison and Paul Hicks.
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