In Depth

Serial podcast review: what we learnt from episode 8, The Deal With Jay

Sarah Koenig's investigation of the murder of Hae Min Lee takes a closer look at the prosecution's 'star witness' Jay

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The latest episode of the Serial podcast phenomenon, which is attracting a rapidly expanding audience as it dissects a 15-year-old murder case in weekly instalments, addressed new analysis from a private investigator and further scrutiny of the prosecution's "star witness" Jay.

Having looked in detail at the prosecution's case two weeks ago in episode 6, The Case Against Adnan, Serial's host, Sarah Koenig, turned her attention this week to the most baffling aspect of the case to date: the testimony of Adnan Syed's friend Jay.

When the case went to trial, Jay (who has not been named in full on Serial) testified at length against Adnan, claiming that he had unwillingly become an accessory to the murder when his friend called cajoled him into helping to bury his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee's body.

Jay, a seeming blank slate in the series up until now, was presented as a complex character. He was "like the Rodman of our, like, social world", one former Woodlawn High School student said, referring to the unconventional US basketballer Dennis Rodman, renowned for his tattoos, piercings and his friendship with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In cross-examination by Adnan's defence lawyer, Maria Christina Gutierrez, Jay comes across as polite, attentive and credible. Yet his friends and former acquaintances describe him as a rather more challenging character. One of Jay's former "best friends", Chris, alleges that Jay once tried to stab him, because he had never been stabbed and Jay thought he should "know what it's like".

Others saw Jay as harmless. "He always seemed very honest with who he was. He was this beautifully unconventional guy," a former acquaintance says.

Ultimately, knowing that the story will be incomplete without a first-hand confrontation with Jay, Sarah Koenig and her producer track him down and go to meet him. They arrive unannounced and Jay lets them in and agrees to talk. But rather than coming away with any answers, the unrecorded conversation serves only to raise questions for Koenig. She seems surprised to admit that she finds Jay to be both pleasant and believable.

The episode also touches on the nature of police work. Does truth matter really matter to detectives in an investigation? Were the police just looking to pin the blame on someone and Adnan got in the way?

Retired Washington DC detective James Trainum, whom Koenig hires to look at the case, says that while the anomalies in some aspects of the case raise questions, he does not believe the work of the investigating detectives was unusually sloppy. In fact, he describes it as "better than average". Trainum points out that "rather than trying to get to the truth [detectives] are trying to build their case and make it the strongest case possible".

In next week's episode, Koenig promises to reveal what she now knows about Adnan that, in her view, the jury was not told.

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