Brief: Podcast Subject Freed From Life Sentence

Adnan Syed, subject of the podcast Serial and a high school friend of math teacher Amber Wagner-Gaines, went home this week for the first time since he was a teen.


Courtesy of Serial

Screenshot of the Serial podcast website, the day after Adnan Syed’s release from prison.

Airianna Carter, Contributor

Adnan Syed, suspected murderer and subject of the popular podcast Serial, was released from prison this week in Baltimore after serving 23 years behind bars.  The podcast raised awareness about the case worldwide, and helped spur Mr. Syed’s early release.

Students here at Friends, taking Mary Wiltenburg’s podcast class, listened to most of the true-crime podcast last spring, while learning the fundamentals of audio storytelling. They were surprised to learn that Upper School math teacher Amber Wagner-Gaines was a high school classmate of both Syed and Hae Min Lee, the high school girlfriend he was found guilty of strangling. 

The Serial podcast followed narrator and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig as she investigated the murder case. Woodlawn High School senior Ms. Lee disappeared one day after school in 1999, and her body was found a month later in the middle of a city forest. Syed, her ex-boyfriend, was convicted of first degree murder. He was charged as an adult, and given a life sentence.

But as journalist Koenig investigated his case, she noticed the pieces weren’t adding up. After going back and reenacting the crime, Koenig found that there was no solid evidence to link Syed to the murder. 

Last May, Ms. Wagner-Gaines visited the Friends podcasting class to share her high school yearbooks and memories of Syed and Lee, and to discuss the flimsiness of the evidence against Syed. 

This week, the Maryland State’s Attorney agreed, throwing out Syed’s conviction on the grounds that there are two more likely suspects in the killing, and that important evidence that would have helped his case was withheld from his defense attorneys.