TIME Crime

I Started Serial, But It Didn’t End the Way I Had Hoped

Adnan Syed
Adnan Syed, now 34, was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in 2000 of killing his Woodlawn High School classmate and former girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Yusuf Syed—AP

Rabia Chaudry is a National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation.

When I found out the Sarah Koenig had failed to find evidence of a smoking gun, I felt like a failure.

Serial was not what I expected. It also was not what I wanted.

Fifteen years after Adnan Syed was arrested, when I decided it was time to get a journalist to look at what I have always held as a wrongful conviction, I did it thinking that reporters can go places most of us can’t. They have ways of tracking down information, getting people to talk, and resources the average person doesn’t. A year ago I was not hoping Sarah Koenig would create a show based on the case that would become a worldwide sensation; I was hoping she would uncover the truth about who killed Hae Min Lee—a truth that would exonerate Adnan.

In her search for the truth, Koenig has taken us all along for the ride with her. Like the rest of the fans, I listened each Thursday with anticipation; unlike most others, I also listened with anxiety and trepidation. Koenig did dozens of interviews that I wasn’t privy to, and found many documents I had never seen before. And each week, while I was aware of the major plot points and flaws in the case, she revealed morsels of information I had never heard or considered. Would it make Adnan look good? Would it make him look bad? What would people, people who don’t know him one bit, think about him this week?

I can’t lie. I haven’t always been happy with Koenig’s reporting, with her not drawing hard and fast conclusions about issues and people. I wanted Koenig’s judgement, but in most cases she refused, or wasn’t able, to give it. I wanted her to be an advocate for Adnan, but she couldn’t be. I understood why, but I hoped otherwise.

What she did do successfully was blow wide open the idea of a fair criminal justice process. She brought to light questions of religious and ethnic bias, prosecutorial misconduct, police manipulation of witnesses, reasonable doubt, evidential reliability, ineffective assistance of counsel, maximum sentences, juvenile detention, and appellate logjams. It sounds like a crazy litany of “everything-that-could-go-wrong” in a trial, except that all of these things did go wrong in Adnan’s case. And Adnan’s case is no outlier – for any and every wrongfully convicted person, you can assume almost everything went wrong.

A few weeks ago Koenig visited me do a follow-up interview. None of that interview made it into the remaining episodes, but at that time, and on the mic, she told me that after a year of investigating, she had failed to find a smoking gun. She found nothing that either condemned Adnan for certain, and nothing that exonerated him for certain.

It was not a punch to the gut, necessarily, but a quiet closing of a chapter that I had held open for 15 years. In the midst of the enormous coverage of the case and show, of hearty congratulations for staying on it, of lots of movement by the different teams of lawyers now working to help Adnan, I felt like a failure.

After making the decision unilaterally to get media involved, I’ve felt heavily responsible for the pain it’s forced Adnan and his loved ones to go through. It would be worth it, I hoped. Something concrete would surface. Koenig wouldn’t tolerate the fuzziness. She would dig till she struck rock.

It never seemed like a possibility that the only thing digging deep would do is bring up more mud, cloud up the air further. A single point of clarity is what I hoped for, and that eluded me. It eluded Koenig.

I’ve been asked a number of times if I regret taking the case to her. On that count, I say absolutely not. As disheartening as it is that no smoking gun was found, the case has ironically been brought back to life because of the mud, not in spite of it. If reasonable doubt existed 15 years ago, it abounds now.

Other attorneys blogged about the inconsistencies in the investigation, and in the trial. National organizations have come forward, compelled by the religious bigotry that the state injected into the case. The Innocence Project is pushing forward with testing DNA evidence. Volunteer lawyers and firms have stepped up to advocate for Adnan and develop a grassroots campaign for him. Old classmates and friends, and even old lawyers, of Adnan have come forward to help. The post-conviction appeal has gotten new life thanks to the Court of Special Appeals taking an interest and because of Koenig’s interview with Asia McClain. And I’ll continue to blog, sharing documents and information, updating people on Adnan and his case.

Not all is lost then. We are back to where we were before Koenig, before Serial. Back in court, but this time with millions of eyes watching. It’s nearly impossible to tell how all of the legal machinations will bear out, there are many ways this could go. But it is going, slowly but surely, somewhere.

In that same last interview Koenig did with me, she asked me if I would ever walk away from the case, from Adnan. I told her that if it was proven to me irrefutably that he was guilty, I would walk away. A little later, over tea, I asked her what would happen after Serial. Would she walk away? She said no. And the chapter I thought permanently closed opened back up again, if only a little.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Canada

Canadian Driver Who Stopped Car to Rescue Ducklings Gets Jail Time

Emma Czornobaj
Emma Czornobaj, shown here in this June 3, 2014, file photo at the Montreal Courthouse in Canada, was found guilty in the deaths of two motorcyclists who collided with her car after she stopped for ducks on a Montreal-area highway. On Thursday, a judge sentenced her to 90 days in jail. Graham Hughes—AP

Motorcyclist and his daughter died after crashing into Emma Czornobaj's stationary vehicle

A Canadian woman who stopped her car on the highway to rescue ducklings, inadvertently causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his daughter, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and banned from driving for 10 years on Thursday.

Emma Czornobaj, a 26-year-old woman from the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay, was sentenced Thursday to serve three months of jail time on the weekends, CBC reports. She was convicted in July on two counts of criminal negligence in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his 16-year-old daughter Jessie, and had faced a possible life sentence.

In June 2010, Czornobaj parked her Honda Civic in the left lane of a highway in a Montreal suburb after seeing seven ducklings in the road. She said she was trying to gather the ducks and take them home. As she left her parked car to round up the ducklings, Roy crashed his motorcycle into the back of the stationary vehicle.

The incident has been divisive in Canada. A petition on Change.org signed by thousands of people pushed for the country’s legal system to be lenient on a woman who they believe only had the best of intentions in saving the ducks. The victim’s family members, however, have expressed frustration with Czornobaj over the fact that she hasn’t reached out to them.


TIME Crime

This Poll Shows America’s Stark Racial Divide Over the Police

Killings by Police Protest
Public defenders, members of the legal community and others lay down during a "die-in" protest in the Brooklyn borough of New York Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Craig Ruttle—AP

Lowest ethics ratings for police since 1995

The percentage of nonwhite Americans who view police officers as honest and ethical plummeted in 2014, according to a new poll, sending ratings of law enforcement officers among all Americans to lows not seen in two decades.

According to a Gallup poll released Thursday, only 23% of nonwhites—largely made up of blacks and Hispanics—said they rated the honesty and ethical standards of police officers as “very high” or “high,” a 22-point drop from 2013. The views of non-Hispanic whites, however, remained virtually unchanged. Almost 60% said they rated cops’ ethical standards as very high or high.

(MORE: Why the Road to Ferguson Was a Freeway)

The drop among nonwhites helped bring overall honesty ratings for all Americans down to 48%, the lowest since 1995.

As crime rates have dropped over the last couple decades, Americans have generally viewed officers positively, according to Gallup. The highest ratings came, unsurprisingly, after 9/11, when 68% of Americans viewed cops’ ethics and honesty ratings as high, as they watched police officers in New York and elsewhere respond to the terrorist attacks on the country.

But the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, where white officers were involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, appear to have dramatically sunk those positive views among communities of color.

Grand juries declined to indict both officers—Ferguson’s Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department and New York City’s Daniel Pantaleo—in the deaths, respectively, of Brown and Garner. Those decisions have sparked widespread demonstrations in major cities against police brutality.

Americans’ views of officers’ ethics and honesty are not as low as they were in the 1970s, however, at a time when crime was a much bigger problem around the U.S., especially for inner cities. In 1977, only 37% of respondents rated officers’ ethical standards positively.

TIME Crime

Uber Driver Accused of Raping Passenger in Boston

The alleged rape comes as Uber navigates intense scrutiny at home and abroad

An Uber driver in Boston was charged with kidnapping and raping a customer of the ride-sharing service, in another potentially damaging case for the rapidly expanding company.

Alejandro Done, 46, allegedly drove a woman he picked up to a secluded area and then assaulted her in the back seat earlier this month. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment on Wednesday, the Boston Globe reports.

Uber says Done had passed a background check. “This is a despicable crime and our thoughts and prayers are with the victim during her recovery,” Uber spokesperson Kaitlin Durkosh said in a statement to CBS Boston. “Uber has been working closely with law enforcement and will continue to do everything we can to assist their investigation.”

The ride-sharing company is coming under increasing scrutiny in the U.S. and abroad over regulatory and safety concerns as it expands to more than 50 countries. Several countries have moved to outlaw Uber services, and New Delhi banned Uber earlier this month days after a female passenger accused her Uber driver of rape.

The ride-sharing service said yesterday that it was boosting safety measures and revamping its background checks abroad.

[The Boston Globe]

TIME executions

Oklahoma Inmate Felt ‘Liquid Fire’ During Execution, Doctor Says

Clayton Lockett
Doctors testified on Wednesday that Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate seen here in this June 29, 2011, file photo, likely suffered during his prolonged execution on April 29, 2014. AP

Expert says Clayton Lockett likely suffered on the execution table

An Oklahoma inmate whose prolonged execution triggered a statewide moratorium on executions likely suffered excruciating pain akin to “liquid fire” throughout his lethal injection last April.

That’s how one doctor assessed what Clayton Lockett experienced as he was put to death, in a federal court hearing Wednesday that will determine whether the state can once again resume executions in January.

Lockett, a convicted murderer who shot a 19-year-old woman and had her buried alive, was put to death with a three-drug combination on April 29. He reportedly writhed on the execution table and appeared to speak and regain consciousness during the process.

Since then, several grisly details have emerged about what went wrong, problems that likely arose due to poorly trained executioners and the use of a sedative that may not adequately put inmates to sleep.

(MORE: Report: Executioner Errors Led to Botched Execution)

On Wednesday, anesthesiologist David Lubarsky testified that midazolam, a sedative increasingly used by states as other drug sources have dried up, should not be used on inmates because it doesn’t render them fully unconscious. Lubarsky said the injection of vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer, would’ve likely felt like “liquid fire” because Lockett wasn’t properly knocked out.

Joseph Cohen, a forensic pathologist hired by Lockett’s lawyers to perform an autopsy following the lethal injection, also testified that he believed Lockett was conscious during the execution and confirmed that he found multiple puncture wounds on Lockett’s body where executioners attempted to insert IV lines.

Death row inmates in Oklahoma are seeking a federal court ruling to delay their upcoming executions, arguing in part that the state’s three-drug protocol used on Lockett violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Oklahoma’s next execution is scheduled for Jan. 15, 2015.

TIME Crime

3 New Sexual Assault Allegations at Princeton

Amid growing scrutiny into how schools handle it

Three new sexual assaults were reported over the weekend to Princeton University police, at a time when colleges and universities are under increasing national scrutiny for how they handle sexual assault allegations.

Two of the incidents were reported on Friday and one on Saturday, the Times of Trenton reports. Two of the reported incidents—both involving unwanted fondling—allegedly occurred over the last month at eating clubs, co-ed social clubs at Princeton. The third report alleged sexual activity while incapacitated during the 2012-2013 school year.

Reporting of sexual assault is generally considered a good sign because it indicates that the culture at an institution makes victims feel safe to report. Raising reporting has been one of the signature goals of the federal-government’s months-long initiative to improve the handling of sexual assaults on campus.

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on America’s campuses

Princeton has made a number of changes to its handling of sexual assault cases over the last several months, in response to a federal inquiry. It’s unclear if those changes played any role in empowering students to come forward.

In September, under pressure from the federal government, Princeton became the last Ivy League school to lower its standard of proof for sexual assault violations. Following that decision, the school reached a settlement agreement with the federal government ending an investigation into Princeton’s handling of sexual assault. In December, two student officers were stripped of their titles at the Princeton eating club Tiger Inn, after they sent emails ridiculing women including one that contained a sexually explicit photograph.


TIME Crime

Watch: New Yorkers Continue to Call for Justice for Eric Garner

New poll approves of New York's mayor handling of demonstrations

Two weeks after a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of a black man spurred waves of protests in New York City and around the country, some organizers of the protests will meet with the city’s mayor on Friday.

A poll released Wednesday reveals that the majority of New Yorkers approve of the way Mayor Bill de Blasio has handled the demonstrations taking place around the city to protest the killings of unarmed black men by police officers.

Earlier this week, thousands of New Yorkers poured out of Washington Square Park as part of Millions March NYC and demonstrators took to the streets in other cities to march in solidarity. These were the latest in a series of demonstrations following two separate grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men on Staten Island and in Ferguson.

Groups chanted, “I can’t breath,” the last words of Garner, the 43-year-old father of six who died in July by after a NYPD officer held him in a “chokehold”.

“We sit at home, we’re sad at what we see on the news, but it’s not enough to do that,” said a woman who identified herself as Robyn. “You have to make a stand and say what you believe,” she added. Robyn, who is a mother of three black sons, says that the safety of men like her sons is threatened by police.

“There is more white than black, more young than old,” a woman said of the individuals marching.

The phrase “black lives matter” served as a mantra for many demonstrators who voiced frustration regarding the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, all killed by police within the past months.

“We felt like we wanted to be here as a family and be a part of the movement,” said Carrie Gleason, a white woman who participated in the march with her partner and small child. She added, “it is our responsibility like anybody else’s.”

TIME Crime

Boston Bombing Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Make Rare Court Appearance

Boston Marathon Bombing
This photo released April 19, 2013, by the FBI shows Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev AP

Tsarnaev's last appearance was in July 2013 arraignment

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is expected to step out of solitary and into a courtroom Thursday in his first public appearance in 17 months. The pretrial status update will be the final conference hearing ahead of his Jan. 5 trial. The 21-year-old has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges related to the horrific twin bombings during the April 2013 Boston Marathon that left three dead and more than 250 injured.

Tsarnaev, a Russian immigrant who had been attending college, faces the death penalty if convicted of carrying out the plot with his older brother, Tamerlan, who died in a police shootout four days after the blast…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

Christmas Carol Singers Hit By Suspected Drunk Driver

One person killed and several injured by car

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — A female motorist hit a group of pedestrians outside a California church as a Christmas service ended, killing one person and leaving up to 11 others injured, police said.

Some of the pedestrians were rushed to hospitals with critical injuries, Redondo Beach police Lt. Joe Hoffman said. One adult died at a hospital, and the injured included at least two children.

Wednesday night’s crash along the Pacific Coast Highway left as many as a dozen people injured among the pedestrians and two cars that were involved, but the exact number wasn’t immediately clear, police said.

The woman was driving a white sedan northbound when she ran a red light, ran into the pedestrians and hit another vehicle after.

“The crosswalk was full and the light was red,” witness Marco Zonno told KNBC-TV. “Someone ran the red light and bodies started flying. It was pretty horrible.”

The woman was taken in police custody to a hospital, where she was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, authorities said. They were investigating whether she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The California Highway Patrol was assisting Redondo Beach police in the investigation.

The crash comes three days after another driver now charged with drunken driving injured 11 people who were parked and looking at a holiday light display in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra

TIME Crime

Montana Man Convicted in Exchange Student’s Death

(MISSOULA, Mont.) — A Montana man who shot and killed a German exchange student caught trespassing in his garage was convicted of deliberate homicide Wednesday in a case that attracted attention as a test of “stand your ground” laws in the U.S. that govern the use of deadly force to defend life and property.

Cheers erupted in the packed courtroom when the verdict in the case of Markus Kaarma, 30, was read.

Kaarma shot 17-year-old high school student Diren Dede in the early hours of April 27 after being alerted to an intruder by motion sensors. Witnesses testified Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts at Dede, who was unarmed.

The teen’s parents were in the courtroom Wednesday and hugged and cried at the jury’s decision, while others applauded.

“It is very good,” Dede’s father, Celal Dede, said with tears in his eyes. “Long live justice.”

Kaarma remained stoic as he was led from the courtroom. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 11. His lawyers plan to appeal.

Outside court, a neighbor who testified against the Missoula man called the verdict a “huge weight lifted.”

“The man was a threat to our neighborhood,” Terry Klise said.

Kaarma’s attorneys argued at trial that he feared for his life, didn’t know if the intruder was armed, and was on edge because his garage was burglarized at least once in the weeks before the shooting. They said under Montana’s “stand your ground” law, Kaarma’s actions were justifiable because he feared for his family’s safety.

Prosecutors maintained that after the previous burglary, Kaarma was intent on luring an intruder into his garage and then harming that person. That night, Kaarma left his garage door partially open with a purse inside.

The case generated outcry in Germany, where the government said it launched its own investigation.

Julia Reinhardt, with the German consulate in San Francisco, said in court that the German government has been closely following the proceedings.

“We are really grateful to everybody involved and particularly impressed by the outpouring of sympathy that Diren’s parents experienced here in Missoula,” she said Wednesday.

At trial, Klise and other neighbors testified that Kaarma’s girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, told them of the couple’s plans to bait an intruder and catch a burglar themselves because they believed police weren’t responding to area break-ins.

Prosecutors said Kaarma fired a pump-action shotgun four times into the garage — pausing between the third and fourth shots. During that pause, police testified, Kaarma might have adjusted his aim before he struck Dede in the head.

Dede’s parents attended the entire trial, often leaving the crowded courtroom during emotional testimony. The Hamburg teen was studying at Missoula’s Big Sky High School and was to leave the U.S. after the school term ended in just a few weeks.

More than 30 U.S. states have laws expanding the self-defense principle known as the “castle doctrine,” a centuries-old premise that a person has the right to defend their home against attack. The name evokes the old saying, “my home is my castle.”

Since Florida in 2005 became the first of several states to expand the castle doctrine’s use outside the home, a flurry of cases has tested the boundaries of self-defense law.

Most famously, a Florida jury acquitted security guard George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman followed the teenager, contended the boy attacked him, and was acquitted of murder charges even though he was not at his home at the time of the shooting.

In Germany, Hamburg prosecutor Carsten Rinio said his office was still looking into the Dede case after opening an investigation as required under German law. U.S. authorities were sent a request for documents several months ago, he said, but have not yet provided them.


Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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