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The Case Against Adnan Syed debuted last night on HB0, the first in a four-episode documentary about the murder of Hae Min Lee on January 13, 1999, for which Syed was convicted. The podcast Serial in 2014 generated enormous international interest about this case, and the possibility that Syed was not the killer. Presumably at least in part as a result of this and new evidence brought to light, the path to a new trial was set for Syed in July 2016 by a Maryland Court of Special Appeals. That court indeed ordered a new trial in March 2018. But a higher Maryland Court of Appeals overturned that order on March 8, 2019—or, amazingly, just two days before the premiere of the HBO series. You just can't make this stuff up.
With all of these bizarre and incredible turns, this documentary has more than a fleeting resemblance to Netflix's two seasons and counting of Making a Murderer. And although True Detective and The Night Of are fiction, the documentaries have a lot in common with those two series, too.
It's always important to bear in mind that documentaries—though more truthful than docu-dramas if only because the documentaries show real people, not actors—are by no means literal mirrors of reality. The documentary creators have to decide what to show and what not to show in the true story they are retelling. Still, I believed after the first season of Making a Murderer that Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey were not guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted, and had no reason to change my mind after the second season. Indeed, I now believe even more strongly that their convictions were wrong (testament to the great work of the defendants' attorneys, especially Kathleen Zellner). After just one episode of The Case Against Adnan Syed, it's difficult to come to any strong conclusions, but there certainly seem to be other suspects, such as Hae's boyfriend at the time of the killing, Don (Adnan and Hae were no longer a couple when she was killed).
I'm also naturally suspicious whenever a higher court reverses a decision of a lower court to reopen a murder case, which is also what happened in the Avery/Dassey cases. I mean, we're talking about murder here. Shouldn't our legal system bend over backwards to consider new evidence that comes forth?
As for the making of the documentary, it has good use of animation and Impressionistic paintings, which were one of Hai's loves. I'll let you know more about what I think about this case and the documentary in the following three weeks.