The murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999, and the question of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed’s guilt, has captivated the world since the phenomenally successful podcast Serial popularised the case in 2014.
Now, armchair detectives will have more to consider as director Amy J. Berg’s (West of Memphis) four-part docuseries The Case Against Adnan Syed, available to watch now at SBS On Demand, reveals tantalising new evidence.
We won’t spoil it for you, but here’s a teaser of what you can expect to find in The Case Against Adnan Syed.
Only rudimentary DNA testing was carried out on evidence in the initial investigation.
In July last year, prosecutors submitted items from the crime scene for testing and the documentary reveals not only what they were but also some surprising results. There were 12 items tested including Lee’s fingernail clippings, necklaces and shirt, blood samples, a condom wrapper, a liquor bottle, and rope found close to her body buried at Baltimore’s Leakin Park.
The fingernail clippings and the rope particularly raise some intriguing questions over the case.
Private investigators Tyler Maroney and Luke Brindle-Khym of Quest Research & Investigations were hired by the filmmakers to conduct an independent investigation and uncover new evidence. They had Dr. Jan Gorniak, forensic pathologist and Chief Medical Examiner in Fulton County, Atlanta and self-described “death detective”, evaluate crime scene photographs and the autopsy report.
Her analysis raises an alternate theory that paints the circumstances surrounding Lee’s death and burial, as presented by the prosecution, in a glaringly different light.
Key to her findings are some unusual markings on Lee’s body, and the process of lividity, “the settling of the blood after you die,” according to Gorniak. Lividity can determine the position of a body at death.
Jay Wilds, the star witness in the State’s case, claimed that after helping Syed bury Lee’s body, they moved her car to a grassy lot in suburban Baltimore on 13 January 1999, the day of the murder. He led police to the car some six weeks later.
But was the car really there that long? Maroney and Brindle-Khym enlist Dr. Erik Ervin, turf physiologist at the University of Delaware, to carry out grass simulations to test Wilds’ story. Turns out, watching grass grow is actually very interesting, and revealing.
And fingerprints taken from the rear-view mirror of Lee’s car could determine if someone other than Syed and Wilds moved the vehicle.
The key witnesses
Wilds, who has garnered a reputation as an alarmingly unreliable witness because of his changing testimony, declined a formal interview for the docuseries, but did provide the filmmakers with statements that yet again contradict his previous account of events – chiefly, the location where Syed showed him Lee’s lifeless body in the trunk of her car. He also gives a plausible reason for his changing story, and makes an accusation of blackmail.
And in some stunning sequences, the filmmakers present key prosecution witnesses Kristi Vinson and Jennifer Pusateri, who corroborated Wilds’ testimony, with a piece of evidence that has them doubting their memory of events.
Interview: Director Amy Berg, on finding new witnesses, and on her conversation with Jay Wilds
The other suspects
Maroney and Brindle-Khym explore evidence that potentially points to possible suspects who were dismissed in the original investigation.
Is there more to the involvement of Alonzo Sellers, who found Lee’s body, than meets the eye?
And why weren’t the movements of Lee’s boyfriend at the time, Don Clinedinst, more closely scrutinised? The private investigators explore a theory of deception, and speak with a former colleague who makes an alarming allegation about Clinedinst’s state at the time of the disappearance.
More questions are raised in The Case Against Adnan Syed, but the fresh evidence could be bringing us that much closer to the truth.
All episodes of The Case Against Adnan Syed are available to stream at SBS On Demand. Watch episode 1 of 4 here:
A special episode devoted to new true crime documentary series, 'The Case Against Adnan Syed'. Fiona talks to writer/director Amy Berg ('West of Memphis' / 'Deliver Us From Evil') about why she chose to revisit the very high profile case, first explored in the podcast Serial. Amy reflects upon how she won the confidence of key witnesses, to convince them to tell their side of the story for the first time. She also explains how new evidence was uncovered over the course of the series' lengthy production.