Book review: Adnan’s Story: Murder, Justice, and the Case that Captivated a Nation, by Rabia Chaudry (Amazon / Book Depository)
Like countless others, I was all-consumingly fascinated with the story presented in the Serial podcast back in fall 2014. We’re aware that miscarriages of justice exist in the American judicial system, yet we also put an immense amount of faith in this system to work as it should. When an example, like Adnan Syed’s, so dramatically highlights the failure of that system, it’s easy to see why public fascination is ignited. It’s a Gordian knot of a case, with each new angle or evidence only serving to tangle it up further.
Rabia Chaudry, a U.S. Institute of Peace senior fellow working to combat violent extremism (coolest job) is the sister of Adnan’s best friend. As a lawyer, she became horrified early in the process of the trial and conviction at the content of the State of Maryland’s case against Adnan. As any listener of Serial knows, to say things got out of hand and justice wasn’t served is an understatement, regardless of one’s position on Adnan’s guilt or innocence.
Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to weigh all this evidence – what we learned from Serial and the wealth of online sleuthing and subsequent research and legal-ortiented podcasts that followed in its immediate aftermath, and what Chaudry meticulously presents in the book – and assert that it’s possible Adnan was responsible. Unfortunately, in addition to his conviction without parole possibility, the question remains as to who’s responsible. Especially in respect to victim Hae Min Lee and her long suffering, understandably media-shy family, that’s a massive issue.
I read Chaudry’s blog and listened to a few episodes of her Serial followup podcast Undisclosed, which included the thorough legal analysis of two lawyers tracing the bizarre legal manipulations rampant in the case, but I was hesitant to read this book because I think she has a bias that comes across a bit too strongly. I can understand it – she’s been in the thick of this case for longer than the general public has even known it existed, and has known Adnan since he was a gangly kid, now he’s spent decades behind bars for a crime he had no part in.
So she’s forgivably fed up and ready to push her case however she can, but I’ve always felt that sometimes comes at Hae’s expense. There’s one passage where Chaudry switches gears from making the case for Adnan’s freedom, realizing there needs to be a clearer possibility of another suspect and lamenting that a shadow of doubt will always hang over him in the public’s mind if he’s released without someone else convicted. I was so frustrated with this, because as good as I feel her intentions are, it seemed like she was missing the point. He would be free and a murder would still be unsolved, surely one of the most maddening feelings for Hae’s family.
But for the most part, it’s solidly argued. The author gives a lot of her own well-researched and evidence-based opinions and ideas, particularly the maddening prosecution case, and it’s incredibly embarrassing for the State of Maryland. Chaudry stresses that the most important thing to take from the book is that the criminal justice system is broken, and it’s hard to argue with that point after seeing the hard evidence she backs that statement up with. Her writing is eloquent and intelligent, and she meticulously illustrates every point and piece; the book also consists of documents and letters pulled directly from the case files.
I’m not sure how much is new for those who aren’t avid Rabia-followers. I stopped listening to Undisclosed because it was getting a little legal-technical for me while feeling rambling, but the book doesn’t have those drawbacks. It’s compulsively readable, and her explanations are clear and organized enough that I was never lost in legal or courtroom technicalities, which I dislike although I know other readers get into. There are some intriguing, unusual angles – while admitting her own skepticism, she relates an uncomfortably believable story of a woman who had a vivid, disturbing dream seemingly showing part of the crime taking place, and jumping between thoughts of those involved, without the dreamer having any prior knowledge of the crime. I’m skeptical too but it gave me chills.
There have been a lot of pieces of evidence, presented over many mediums these last few years in service of exonerating Adnan and hopefully bringing the perpetrator to justice. This book collects much of the most compelling evidence, as well as giving insight into his experience as a Muslim American, what his family has endured since his conviction, and some context on Islam and Muslims in the U.S. Chaudry’s tireless advocating is paying off, that’s clear, and this is a convincing addition to the already sky-high mountain of evidence in his favor.
Murder, Justice, and the Case that Captivated a Nation
by Rabia Chaudry
published August 9, 2016 by St. Martin’s Press