Now a major docuseries
With intimate details and newly-uncovered evidence Adnan's Story goes beyond what the hit podcast Serial covered in its investigation of Adnan Syed's case.
Now a New York Times bestseller
“The first letter I received after being arrested in 1999 was from Rabia...As someone connected to me, my family, my community, my lawyers, and my investigation, there is no one better to help tell my story, and no one that I trust more to tell it, than Rabia.” Adnan Syed
On February 28, 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted and sentenced to life plus thirty years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore, Maryland. Adnan has always maintained his innocence. Rabia Chaudry, a family friend, believes he was wrongly convicted and has fought for his release. But by 2013, after appeals were exhausted, things looked bleak. Rabia contacted Sarah Koenig, a journalist and producer at This American Life, hoping that she would bring possibly shed new light on the case. Koenig’s investigation turned into Serial, the international phenomenon and Peabody Award-winning podcast.
Adnan’s Story reexamines the investigation that led to Adnan’s arrest, covers new evidence and possibilities that have since come to light, reviews the court successes that have breathed new life to Adnan’s case, and in this new edition, reveals how she achieved success in the courts when Adnan was granted a retrial in March 2018. Woven with personal reflections from Adnan himself, including new never-before-seen letters he penned from prison, this in-depth book offers new insight into the story that captivated millions.
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About the Author
RABIA CHAUDRY is an attorney and partner at Chaudry & Anwer Immigration Law, a recent Jennings Randolph Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, an International Security Fellow at the New America think tank, and a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. She is the co-host of Undisclosed, one of the top-ranked podcasts in the iTunes store with nearly 250 million downloads, and The 45th, with over four million downloads. She is a member of the National Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council and the Aspen Institute Vanguard Board. She is a frequent public speaker, and her writing has appeared in numerous outlets including Time.com, The Huffington Post, and the Chicago Sun-Times.
Read an Excerpt
The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial
By Rabia Chaudry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Rabia Chaudry
All rights reserved.
We decreed on the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul, unless for another killing or for spreading corruption in the land, it is as if he had slain mankind entirely.
And whoever saves one — it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.
Holy Quran 5:32
Leakin Park is beautiful and quiet. Heavily wooded, yet nestled amid densely populated urban neighborhoods in West Baltimore, its three hundred acres adjoin Gwynn Oak Park seamlessly, forming over a thousand acres of nature in the middle of a city not known for outdoor beauty. Other than a hushed flow of water, its peace is disturbed only by cars passing through on Franklintown Road.
To horror film aficionados Leakin Park should look familiar — the sequel to the cult classic Blair Witch Project was partially filmed there. It may have been the park's reputation that drew the filmmakers to it. Leakin Park is a notorious dumping ground for bodies. The remains of at least sixty-eight murdered people have been found there in the past five decades, most recently in November 2012.
You wouldn't know to look at it, though.
In summertime the brambles, vines, and thorny creepers are in abundance, making it difficult to forge a path from where we enter the park back to the Dead Run Stream. The stream is low and gentle this day, but has the potential to surge up forcefully. A century ago it powered grist, cloth, and paper mills, joined by its sister stream, Gwynn Falls, both of which eventually drop eastward into the Patapsco River and then the Chesapeake Bay.
Today Dead Run Stream babbles softly over a rocky bed, cutting through the park's ravine, nearly parallel to the road roughly a hundred yards south of it.
On this sweltering summer day I'm trying to figure something out about Leakin Park. As I head inside on no discernible path, fighting through brambles, I'm followed closely by a soil expert from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who hauls a shovel and had the forethought to keep high rubber boots in her car. I have asked for her help in determining the terrain type. My younger daughter is with us. At six years old, the idea of the woods is more appealing to her than the reality, and after encountering a few prickly brushes she refuses to go on. I pick her up and try to shelter her from the reaching, spiky foliage as we move under the shade of red oaks and American beeches.
It is cooler inside the park than a few dozen yards away on the road, which is in the sun. But the stillness of the park belies the tangible humidity seeping through our clothing, filling the air and the gaps between us.
Beyond the brambles, a rough path about a foot across becomes noticeable as we approach a fallen tree to our right. The tree is about forty feet long and parallel to the stream. In previous visits I witnessed at least half a dozen "tourists" stomp back to the tree to have their picture taken with it.
But it's the wrong tree.
I turn to the left and begin following the stream westward.
We go up a slight incline and there I set my daughter down. She's still frightened, grasping my legs. A mound rises up to my left, covering God knows what, with a filthy, nearly unrecognizable piece of carpet on top of it. The last time I was here the carpet lay flat. Now it's been pushed to one side, perhaps more "tourists" trying to figure out what's underneath.
I point to a spot a few feet behind it, at a massive fallen tree, unmoved for decades. Its roots spread in the air, claw-like, nearly reaching the stream. Large rocks and manmade concrete chunks lie scattered, and pieces of a corroded metal frame poke out from the ground.
From here, the road seems distant. We are shielded from view.
Under the very center of the tree is a hollow in the earth. It dips from one side of the tree to the other, like a cozy bowl perfectly formed, nearly four feet across. A shallow bed of soft dirt, leaves, and moss.
I wipe the sweat from my face, pushing back the hair that escaped my scarf, and nod toward it.
"That's it. That's where Hae's body was found."
* * *
Woodlawn High School in Woodlawn, Maryland, is in western Baltimore County, not the city of Baltimore. But the distance to the city, where the murder rate in 1999 was nearly a homicide a day, is just a few miles. Established in the 1920s, Woodlawn High is now one of the largest public schools in the county, and one of the most diverse.
It has also been prone to violence. Shootings, stabbings, and murder were not unusual in Woodlawn. And though the high school boasts a robust Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) magnet program, a police presence at and around the school has not been uncommon.
On January 7, 1999, a fifteen-year-old was stabbed repeatedly by another student in the stairwell of the school, the culmination of a long-standing grudge. He was rushed to the hospital where he was treated and survived. The other student was arrested, and the rest of the school went about its day. That was Woodlawn.
While the majority of the student population is and has always been African American, the establishment of a mosque, the Islamic Society of Baltimore, in its vicinity has meant a growing number of local Muslim families and Muslim students at Woodlawn. The mosque eventually became surrounded by neighborhoods with dozens of South Asian Muslim families, including Syed Rahman's.
Rahman and his wife and three sons lived a brisk fifteen-minute walk from the mosque. He was a state employee, and his wife, Shamim, ran a home-based daycare center in the basement of their modest two-level home. They had emigrated from Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where ethnic Pashtuns constitute the majority. Rahman and Shamim were Pashtun; their sons, Tanveer, Adnan, and Yusuf, were born in the United States.
The Rahmans were devout and simple people, raising their sons to be involved at the mosque, without television and other external influences at home. To Western sensibilities they might be considered "fundamentalists." To us, they were just conservative but kindly people.
The neighborhood they lived in was part of a modest subdivision peppered with Muslim families, a subdivision my own parents moved to in 1997. Like other Pakistanis and Muslims in the area, the Rahmans became acquaintances we ran into every so often, and as is traditional South Asian custom, my siblings and I called them "Uncle" and "Aunty" out of affection and respect.
My parents first moved to the Baltimore area in 1994 to the mostly white suburb of Ellicott City but moved closer to the mosque, and the city, in 1997. I had gotten married in 1996 while still in college and moved to northern Virginia, and my younger sister, Siddrah, was attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and living on campus. Our younger brother, Saad, was still in high school and living at home. The move meant Saad would have to switch from the very safe, suburban high school he attended, Mount Hebron, to Woodlawn High. But my mother worried about the school's reputation for drugs and violence, and managed to find a way to keep Saad in the Ellicott City school.
Although Saad never attended Woodlawn High, he got to know many of the local Muslim kids who did through the mosque, where they gathered almost every evening to play basketball. This is how he met Adnan Syed, the Rahman's middle son, and how our family came to know Adnan as Saad's best friend — a gangly, bespectacled kid who most of us thought was too sweet to be my alpha male, sports-jock brother's friend.
In January of 1999 I was in my second year of law school at the George Mason School of Law in Virginia, where I lived with my two-year-old daughter, husband, and nearly a dozen in-laws from Pakistan. It wasn't supposed to be that way, but shortly after my wedding I was told that we would be living in a traditional joint-family system. Mine was no ordinary, set-up-by-the-parents Pakistani marriage. I had met, fallen in love with, and married a student from Pakistan completely on my own. It had taken three years to convince my parents, my mother in particular, to let the marriage take place. After that, I was in no position to complain to my family that I was now badly stuck living with his parents, two grown brothers, their wives, the child of one of them, and a younger sister, all in the same house. Badly stuck not only because I had fought for this relationship in the face of my own family's resistance but also because within two weeks of marriage it was clear that my new marriage was deeply troubled.
My in-laws set the terms of my life. I could attend law school as long as I took care of my family responsibilities, which meant it was my job to cook for the entire extended family twice a day. I had to attend law school in the evenings.
My weeks were exhausting. I woke in the morning, bathed and fed my little girl, made a curry or some such thing for the family's lunch, and ran to my internship at a local law firm from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Then I returned home, spent a couple of hours with my daughter, made dinner, and left for law school by five o'clock. I often returned home around eleven and spent the night hours, after the house had fallen quiet, doing my homework. Most nights I fell asleep around 3:00 a.m. Then I was back up at seven o'clock to start the day over.
By Friday I was in desperate need of respite, and what saved me was being able to come home to my parents in Baltimore every weekend. I told them nothing of my home life, but showed up every Friday night with my daughter in tow and stayed until Sunday evening. Those two days of peace every week kept me sane and got me through the toughest years of my life. And it was during those visits that I first learned that a young local girl, a student at Woodlawn High School named Hae Min Lee, was missing.
* * *
Wednesday, January 13, 1999, was a rather mild day for winter in Baltimore, with temperatures reaching into the fifties, though in the weeks prior a number of snowstorms had hit the area.
That year eighteen-year-old Hae Min Lee was a senior at Woodlawn High. A star student-athlete, she played both lacrosse and field hockey, managed the boy's wrestling team, worked part-time at LensCrafters, and maintained excellent grades, with a 3.8 GPA as part of the school's Magnet Program. The students in the program were close. Adnan, Krista Meyers, Debbie Warren, Rebecca (Becky) Walker, Stephanie McPherson, Laura Estrada, Hae's best friend Aisha Pittman, and a few others hung out constantly. By all accounts Hae was a popular, hard-working, independent young woman. Her diary reveals an impassioned teenager focused on her studies and intense romantic love.
Hae was born in South Korea and migrated with her mother and brother to the United States when she was in middle school. She lived in the Woodlawn area with her mother, grandparents, young brother, and two cousins. There were rumors of a stepfather (or ex-fiancé) in California, where Hae, her brother, and mother spent a few months during her sophomore year. There were also conflicting stories about her biological father, who may or may not have ever been in the United States.
That Wednesday morning, January 13, 1999, Hae left home for school around 7:00 a.m. Her grandmother saw her get into her gray Nissan Sentra and drive away, not knowing it would be the last time she would see her granddaughter alive.
Classes started early at Woodlawn, at 7:45 a.m., and students began arriving by 7:30. According to school records and classmate accounts, Hae came to school on time that day. She was the teacher's assistant in her first-period French class. The rest of her day, though, is hard to piece together — inexplicably, statements weren't taken from students and teachers until long after she disappeared.
What is certain is that Hae left school sometime after dismissal at 2:15 p.m. It was her responsibility to pick up her six-year-old cousin from Campfield Early Learning Center, less than four miles away, by 3:15 p.m. every day. But that day her cousin was left stranded.
According to trial testimony, Hae's younger brother, Young Lee, received a phone call from Campfield around 3:30 p.m., asking that someone come to pick up the girl. Young called his grandfather to go retrieve his cousin, then called Hae's workplace and best friend, Aisha Pittman, looking for her. When he was unable to find her, he told their mother that Hae had not made it to Campfield and was missing. After two hours the family called the police, panicked.
An officer from the Baltimore County Police arrived within the hour, began calling Hae's friends, and, having taken details from the family, opened a missing person's investigation. One of the people he called that night was Adnan Syed.
* * *
Back in the spring of 1998, prom season was quickly approaching. Adnan and Hae were friends, and neither had a date for the junior prom. Adnan was over six feet tall, dark, handsome, played football and ran track, and charmed the girls. Hae was no less popular and ambitious — tall, athletic, outgoing, attractive, warm, and friendly is how her classmates described her. So when a friend suggested that Adnan ask Hae to the prom, he went for it, and Hae said yes.
For the next ten months Adnan and Hae were deeply, madly in love. Hae chronicled her relationship with Adnan in a diary, begun on April 1, 1998, when she bought a notebook during a French class field trip to a Monet exhibit.
By the second entry, made the same day, she mentions her plan to go to the prom with Adnan and writes with a smiley face, "I think I just might love him."
By April 7th the diary reveals the kind of challenges this new relationship faced from the very beginning. When Hae's grandmother asked who Hae was going to prom with, she was apparently not happy with the answer.
Someone please smack me! What the fuck am I doing?!?! I am pushing Adnan away! Damn my grandma + mother. Shit! I can't get close, and he can't get close to me. This is really fucked up! He is way too sweet + all! What is happening? I can't believe things are about to blow up in my face 'sigh' my life's a bitch
The challenge wasn't one-sided, though; on Adnan's end, any and all romantic relationships (outside of marriage) were a hard and fast cultural nono.
I feel comfortable making the claim that all teenagers lie to their parents. All of them. They just lie about different things. When you're the first-generation child of American Muslims (or South Asians, or Arabs, or Asians in general), you most definitely lie about dating.
Unfortunately for Adnan, his mother was excellent at catching his lies — and persistent. She had a keen sense of her sons, and she knew this one had an eye for the girls. She would catch him on the phone talking to young women, note the mileage on his car to see if he had traveled farther than the school, and go through his belongings to find some evidence that he had girls in his life.
Eventually she found out about Hae, but not yet. Adnan and Hae had already planned how they would evade parental detection by getting dressed at their friends' homes and then meeting up at the prom.
Adnan was crowned Prom Prince. But his Princess wasn't Hae that night, it was Stephanie McPherson, a longtime friend of Adnan's. Stephanie was an athlete and a beauty who had a playful, flirtatious relationship with her close friend Adnan, often sitting in his lap during class despite having a boyfriend. When Adnan and Stephanie were crowned, Hae initially felt jealous, which she notes in her diary, but then Adnan did something remarkable.
As the K-Ci & JoJo song, "All My Life," played for the Prince and Princess's first dance, Adnan began dancing with Stephanie. Hae took a picture of them and went to have a seat next to a friend, feeling a bit bothered but trying to act natural. Just then, Adnan broke off the dance with Stephanie and came to take Hae to the dance floor.
"10 seconds later guess who danced with me and not w/Stephanie? ADNAN!! Now how can I not fall in love with this guy!" writes Hae. That act of devotion from Adnan pushed them from dating to boyfriend-girlfriend, and later that night at the Baltimore Harbor, outside of a Cheesecake Factory, they had their first kiss. But Hae knew it wouldn't be an easy path. In the same entry she writes that "I keep on falling deeper and deeper into him. He's the cutest, sweetest, and coolest guy, and he loves me!!! The bad thing is we have to keep things secret ... sigh. But it's ok because love conquers all!"
Hae wasn't the only one falling head over heels in love. This was Adnan's first serious romantic relationship, and he was truly smitten.
Everyone knew about Adnan's deep attachment to Hae; he made no attempts to hide it, giving Hae flowers, gifts, cards, frequently writing poems and letters. They were publicly romantic, holding hands, cuddling, kissing at school, and at the same time supportive of each other's pursuits and success. If there was a power couple at Woodlawn, it was Adnan and Hae.
Excerpted from Adnan's Story by Rabia Chaudry. Copyright © 2016 Rabia Chaudry. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Star-Crossed Lovers 9
Chapter 2 Vanished: Missing Hae 26
Chapter 3 A Body 42
Chapter 4 Living the Lie 73
Chapter 5 Murder in the First 91
Chapter 6 Witness for the Prosecution 116
Chapter 7 Life Plus Thirty 173
Chapter 8 Sarah Koenig 226
Chapter 9 Fifth Column 248
Chapter 10 Serial 259
Chapter 11 It Takes a Village 282
Chapter 12 Undisclosed 301
Chapter 13 Truth and Justice 335