Subject of ‘Serial’ Receives a Retrial

In 2014, Sarah Koenig of “This American Life” debuted the spinoff podcast “Serial,” which examined the complicated circumstances surrounding the 1999 murder of teenager Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Over the course of twelve episodes, Koenig delves into the murky details of the case and asks whether or not Syed’s conviction was, in fact, just. “Serial” proved to be enormously popular, becoming the most downloaded podcast of all time with eighty million downloads as of February 2016.

Since the success of “Serial,” the interest in Syed’s case has reached an all time high. Syed and his legal counsel pursued post-conviction relief in the form of a retrial, alleging that his trial attorney had provided an inadequate defense by neither following-up with an alibi witness nor cross-examining a key witness for the prosecution. On Thursday, Judge Martin Welch vacated Syed’s conviction and ordered a new trial. While Judge Welch acknowledged the popularity of the podcast, he has not listened to “Serial” and says his decision is unswayed by “sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion.”

  • “Serial” has led to a rise in popularity for a number of true crime documentaries, including HBO’s “The Jinx,” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer.” Why do you think these kinds of stories are fascinating so many?
  • Is it possible to be respectful of the victims of violent crimes when their stories are being used for entertainment purposes?
  • What role, if any, do culture and public opinion play in our justice system?
  • Do you think the criminal justice system should err on the side of security or liberty?