BY MOLLY KASSEL This week on Serial, Sarah Koenig addresses the pack of rumors about Adnan that have circulated online and spread like a virus across the vectors of social media, and like an armchair virologist she attempts to trace the seemingly substantive ones back to their points of origin. Most of the rumors are started by people who claim to know Adnan through his mosque and arrive on Koenig’s doorstep via anonymous texts, emails, and phone calls. These tipsters insist on maintaining their anonymity because, they say, in their small, insular mosque community, gossip spreads quickly and nobody wants to be associated with Adnan in the wake of his being convicted of murder.
These rumors speak more to Adnan’s character, and less to the critical facts of his case. Most of these rumors don’t stand up to scrutiny, but there is one that Adnan acknowledges is true: That he once stole money from donation boxes at the mosque. He tells Koenig that during the summer he was in 8th grade, he and a few of his friends would sometimes take money from the donation boxes, which they would use to go to the movies. Adnan chalked this up to his youthful indiscretion but recalls how disappointed his mother was when she found out. Adnan was so ashamed, he says, that he never stole again. Some of the rumor-mongers assert that if Adnan was capable of stealing from their religious community, he is capable of much worse. However, the president of the mosque at that time was unfazed by the ‘crime,’ and dismissed it as ‘boys will be boys.’
Koenig also interviews Charles Ewing, a lawyer and forensic psychologist who has “evaluated several thousand criminal defendants, and testified in more than 700 criminal trials as an expert witness.” Recently he’s been specializing in murders committed in intimate relationships, and “homicides committed by young people.” He says that for most part people kill “because something happens that pushes them over the edge.” Outside of psychopaths, killing is usually not a “planned event.” That’s why it is so hard for those close Adnan accept that the murder of Hae was premeditated as the prosecution argued successfully.
Many of us suspect that Adnan is a psychopath, someone so adept at lying and manipulating people that he is capable of persuading friends and family that he is innocent. Ewing defines a psychopath as someone that has a great deal of “superficial charm” who “cannot empathize with other people’s feelings,” and “effectively manipulates other people.” Koenig is unconvinced that Adnan qualifies. “I don’t think Adnan is a psychopath — I just don’t,” she says. “I think he has empathy, I think he as real feelings because I’ve heard and seen him demonstrate empathy and emotion towards me and towards other people.”
Koenig says that a lot of people try to put themselves in Adnan’s shoes and speculate about how they would react to his circumstances. People expect Adnan to be angrier at Jay than he lets on for testifying against him. People also wonder why Adnan doesn’t reach out to people involved in the case that could help prove his innocence. Koenig points out that such contact would only undermine the credibility of people whose testimony could possibly set him free.
A few weeks back, Koenig received a typed, 18-page letter from Adnan. In the letter, Adnan writes that out of all the unflattering things that people say about him, the he is most hurt by the fact that people think he is a liar and manipulator. Because of that, in every interview for this podcast, he has tried to remain a bit distant, as to discourage people from thinking he was manipulating Koenig, and by extension the listener, into believing his innocence. He goes on to say that being standoffish is not his nature, that he wants to extend his sympathy to Sarah for the loss of her step-father and father, both of whom died earlier this year, but he cannot. Adnan says he wants public opinion about his guilt or innocence to rest the evidence, not his personality.
The tone of this episode is markedly sadder than any that came before it and there is vibe of impending finality. You can almost hear the exhaustion of Adnan, of Koenig, and perhaps even the podcast’s listenership. At this point, Adnan says he doesn’t care how Koenig portrays him, he just wants the whole thing to be done and over with and complains that people either characterize him as a victim or a monster. But given his circumstances and the facts of his case, what else could he be?