HBO’s Adnan Syed Doc Was Denied a Jail Interview by State of Maryland

More than four years after the first season of Serial wrapped, leaving millions of podcast listeners with unanswered questions about the 1999 death of Maryland high schooler Hae Min Lee, her murder gets another look with HBO doc The Case Against Adnan Syed.

The four-part series, set to premiere March 10, picks up largely where the podcast left off — focusing on the ongoing work to see Syed, who was convicted of Lee’s murder in a particularly controversial trial, get another shot at freedom. Director Amy Berg was joined Friday afternoon by two attorneys involved in Syed’s case, as well as his former classmate Asia McClain, in a panel to discuss the project. The foursome all seemed optimistic about Syed’s prospects in a new trial, something he was finally granted in 2018.

“The goal of this series was to get closer to the truth, and I think you’ll get there by the end,” said Berg, who also directed Deliver Us from Evil Producer and West of Memphis. “I wasn’t satisfied with the case that was presented in 1999 or the outcome. I still feel very frustrated that police detectives din’t do their job in a thorough way. Things have changed since 1999. They didn’t even take color photos of the autopsy. There are so many cases that need to be reexamined because of these injustices.”

The lack of proper procedure that led to Syed’s prison sentence, and the wave of documentary programming about the wrongfully convicted that followed Serial, were a focal point of the discussion.

“Systems protect themselves” said Rabia Chaudry, the attorney and activist who wrote the book Adan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial. She emphasized that prosecutors tend to fight even harder in case's like this one. “It’s not always about the truth. It’s about maintaining status quo. It’s harder when there’s so much notoriety around a case, because it gives the State more incentive to save face.”

The State of Maryland was not particularly helpful in making the series, according the Berg. She emphasized that she was granted less access there than she had in Arkansas where she documented the wrongful conviction of the West Memphis Three. “They would not let us go into prison to interview Adnan,” she said. “Its’ really upsetting.”

In Serial, Syed was interviewed over the phone on several occasions. As for Syed, now almost 40 years old and still serving a life sentence, Chaudry spoke about his current outlook before the new trial.

“Adnan hears everything about him on the news,” she said. “The guards keep him updated. He’s doing well. He has hope finally after many years. He has a ray of light. I think he’ll be home in the next couple of years. I really do believe that.”