Serial’s killer fact

16th December 2014

In the whodunnit which has recently captured 5 million podcast downloads, there are really only two contenders. Adnan, who is in jail for the crime. And Jay, his friend and supposed accomplice after-the-fact, who is not.

Adnan, it emerges across SERIAL’s 11 podcast instalments to date, is in jail mostly because a compelling narrative was not presented by his defence team. The facts suggested he could have done it, and his attorney failed to present an alternative narrative to account for these facts.

Jay, on the other hand, presents a compelling story of how events took place, situating himself as a hapless patsy controlled by his premeditated, manipulative friend, Adnan.

Juries convict based on stories, not facts.

Stories are the relatable experiences which bind facts together. They are a mushy, apparently inconsequential mosaic of colour and emotion which, taken together, offer a human being a powerful human explanation.

Adnan had no story. He couldn’t remember what happened that day. Innocent people rarely can; guilty people only sometimes will. Nor could he present an alternative version of what might have happened. No counter narrative emerged.

As Serial progresses to its final instalment this week, it is unclear who is guilty of the heinous 1999 murder of Hae Lee, a teenage high school student, in Baltimore, Maryland.

What is clear to me, notwithstanding, is that the young man convicted of her murder should not be in prison, as the evidence against him is not sufficiently persuasive.

The issues a lawyer encounters in persuading a jury will be familiar to those of us engaged in the less weighty and, one hopes, less consequential enterprise of brand-building.

We are all, in our own way, building a case, judiciously using the facts to do so.

Believe me and choose me, because…

But facts alone do not convince. Facts alone rarely seal the deal. Fail to tell a story, and you will likely fail. Period.

Serial, a podcast from the makers of This American Life, is a breakthrough piece of radio journalism. At its heart is a truth of human decision-making: particulars lay the foundation, narrative wins the day.

Whether you’re looking for a job, seeking to build a brand, or fighting to exonerate yourself of a crime you did not commit, it is sobering to realise that the facts can only bring you so far.

As I listen to Adnan, now in his early thirties, speaking from his cell block in a maximum security prison, I am inclined to summarise his predicament thus: my kingdom for a story.
© Brian McIntyre. 2014.

Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply