Was Adnan Syed wrongfully imprisoned? The question at the heart of the 1999 Baltimore murder case that Serial made famous — both triggering a true-crime podcast boom and helping earn the convicted killer a new trial in the process — is set to be placed under a public microscope yet again.
The Case Against Adnan Syed, HBO’s four-part documentary about the killing of Hae Min Lee and Syed’s subsequent arrest and conviction, will premiere on March 10, the cable network announced at a TV Critics Association panel in Pasadena on Friday,
“I wasn’t satisfied with the case that was presented in 1999 and the outcome,” filmmaker Amy Berg said during the panel, explaining why she made the four-part docuseries. “After listening to Serial, I felt very frustrated about that, so I went into it trying to understand what actually happened and investigate the original investigation. Three-and-a-half years later, I still feel very frustrated that police detectives didn’t do their jobs in a more thorough way because we probably wouldn’t be sitting here today if there was more of an investigation done at the time.”
For the docuseries, Berg was granted access to Baltimore police, Syed, his defense team, and his family, as well as to friends and teachers of both Lee and Syed. Although Lee’s family declined to participate in the project — as they declined Serial host Sarah Koenig’s requests — Berg says she and her team did have access to the teenager’s journals and a close family friend.
“For me, it was very important to bring Hae to life in this series,” Berg said. “And I started with her journals — she actually started her journal right when she met Adnan and her last entry was the night before she disappeared. Then I began to speak to all of her classmates and friends. […] We did speak to a spokesperson for the family, a close friend of the mother and grandmother, and she brought Hae to life on another level.”
Advocate Rabia Chaudry, a childhood friend of Syed’s who initially reached out to Koenig about the case and is featured in the docuseries, told journalists that The Case Against Adnan Syed sheds light on an important turning point for Muslim people in the United States, in addition to telling Syed’s story and exposing the failures of the criminal justice system.
“In the era of a Muslim ban, in the era of the highest anti-Muslim sentiment in this country ever, this is a story that has resonated across the hearts of this country and the world,” Chaudry said. “And people don’t care that he’s a young American Muslim guy. His religion all of a sudden didn’t matter so much. Serial was able to do that. This documentary is going to put a face to those people and it’s going to do it even further.”
The HBO docuseries will follow the years-long process of Syed’s seeking and winning an appeal. Though Syed’s original conviction was overturned in June 2016, a new trial has been delayed by state appeals. “He has a lot of hope finally, after many, many years,” Chaudry said. “About five years ago, he had come to terms with the fact that he’d probably leave prison in a coffin. For the first time, he has a very strong ray of light. In the next couple of years, he’ll be home. I really do believe it.”
Because the trial date has yet to be set, however, Berg sounded more pessimistic. “We’ve been waiting over two years for the trial,” she said. “This film might be the trial that he will never receive.”