In Depth

Serial podcast review: what we learnt from episode 10

The Best Defense is a Good Defense, latest Serial podcast looks at Adnan's lawyer Cristina Gutierrez

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This week's Serial podcast investigates whether Adnan Syed's defence lawyer Cristina Gutierrez was to blame for his murder conviction.

After a two-week break, journalist Sarah Koenig returns with the tenth Serial episode, 'The Best Defense is a Good Defense', to continue her re-examination of the 1999 murder of teenager Hae Min Lee in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The 18-year-old student's body was found in February 1999 strangled and buried in a shallow grave. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was later convicted of her murder.

In this week's episode, Koenig looks at whether discrimination played a part in Adnan’s conviction and whether his defence lawyer Gutierrez "blew" the case. She also reveals why Adnan's first trial collapsed.

Did discrimination play a part in Adnan's conviction?

Adnan's mother, Shamim, believes her son is completely innocent and was "easy to target" by authorities because he is a Muslim. While Koenig does not buy this explanation, she examines the way Adnan's religion and culture were dealt with in court.

At a bail hearing in March 1999, "bus loads" of people from Adnan's mosque came to support him. The defence argued that this community of doctors, teachers, lawyers and religious leaders were willing to supervise Adnan if he was released on bail and accompany him back to court. However, the prosecution "wash-cast" the same room full of people as "aiders and abetters" who could help Adnan run away to Pakistan, says Koenig. The prosecution apologised a few weeks later for misleading the court after claiming that there was a "pattern" of Pakistani men committing murder after they had been jilted.

Koenig says the jurors she spoke to insisted that religion had not influenced them, but that stereotypes about culture were lurking in the background. One juror said she remembered a fellow juror saying that in Arabic culture "men rule, not women". Another tells Koenig: "I know in some cultures women are second class citizens and maybe that's what it was. I don't know. He just wanted control and she wouldn't give it to him."

Did defence lawyer Cristina Gutierrez blow it?

Adnan says he had a "great deal of affection" for Gutierrez, a renowned defence attorney in Maryland, who died in 2004. But Koenig questions if Gutierrez ultimately "blew" the case for him and reveals why Adnan's first trial collapsed. Gutierrez was accused by the judge of lying after she claimed she had not seen a piece of mobile phone evidence about to be presented by the prosecution. Gutierrez requested the mistrial herself, fearing that the jury would not trust her after overhearing the accusation from the judge.

Koenig says, in the second trial, Gutierrez's main defence for Adnan was that someone else had killed Hae: either Jay, whose testimony secured Adnan's conviction; Don, Hae's new boyfriend; or 'Mr S', the man who found Hae's body. At one point Jay admitted that the prosecution had provided him with a private lawyer. Gutierrez saw this as the "magic information" at the time. She argued that it was "patently improper" as it could look like Jay was being influenced by the state and she said that the defence should have been informed. But this was not upheld by the judge.

Several people who were at the second trial, including Adnan, suggested Gutierrez had a confusing way of presenting evidence. One of her main arguments against a mobile phone expert fell apart and she failed to properly attack the state's timeline of events. Adnan's parents say she ended up bullying them for money, once insisting that they bring $10,000 in cash to court. Her career collapsed in 2001, a year after Adnan's trial ended, when she got in trouble with the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, with clients complaining she had taken their money and not carried out the work she had promised. The state fund that compensates people when their lawyers misuse their money paid out a total of $282,328 on 28 claims against her, says Koenig.

Yet one of her colleagues said she went into a "deep depression" after Adnan's case and never really bounced back. She became very sick with diabetes and multiple sclerosis and later died of a heart attack at the age of 52.

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