Like millions of other people, I devoured Serial’s imperfect first season, listening until the end for a definitive answer as to whether Adnan Syed killed his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, the Baltimore high-school senior who was found murdered in 1999.
Serial’s first season, in the end, was thrilling to listen to but deeply flawed journalism; there were huge holes where crucial interviews should have been, a messy arc, and a finale that left more questions than answers. Syed is still in jail for the murder, an appeal for a new trial still in limbo. Those holes are perhaps why we’re getting yet another series on Hae Min Lee’s murder and whether or not Syed was unfairly convicted, this time in the form of the HBO series The Case Against Adnan Syed, premiering March 10. As millions more true crime fans giddy up in front of their television to hear the details of Syed’s alleged crime, it’s important to remember that Hae Min Lee’s family never asked for this.
Lee’s family declined to participate in both the podcast and the HBO show. After Serial debuted and Syed moved forward with seeking a new trial, Lee’s family issued a statement in 2016 to the media, making it clear that they found the entire excavation of the circumstances surrounding Lee’s death disturbing.
“The events of this past week have reopened wounds few can imagine,” their letter read. “It remains hard to see so many run to defend someone who committed a horrible crime, who destroyed our family, who refuses to accept responsibility, when so few are willing to speak up for Hae. She stood up for what was right, regardless of popular opinion.” They also called out internet sleuths and fans who were spreading their own theories, writing, “unlike those who learn about this case on the internet, we sat and watched every day of both trials – so many witnesses, so much evidence.”
In 2014, a Reddit user claiming to be Lee’s brother, posting interview requests from the podcast as proof, wrote to fans, “You don’t know what we went through. Especially to those who are demanding our family respon[d] and having a meetup... you guys are disgusting. Shame on you. I pray that you don’t have to go through what we went through and have your story blasted to 5 [million] listeners.”
At the time of Lee’s death, classmates described her as “one of those rare people you meet in life who is always happy, always joyful and full of love,” as reported by The Baltimore Sun. Listening to Serial, people learn little about Lee, despite the fact that reporter Sarah Koening reads her diary entries (emphasized as being so typically teenaged) aloud on the show. The hole where her family’s voices should have been was just too big; when the podcast was released, Koenig’s thin depiction of Lee was criticized as falling into racist tropes of high-performing Asian immigrants with “Tiger Parents.”
Amy Berg, the director of The Case Against Adnan Syed, has said in interviews that she felt it was important to bring Lee’s life into the series in ways Serial hadn’t, but Lee’s family still declined to participate. “We got so close at one point—we spoke to her mother’s current husband and he thought that she might talk to us, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen,” she said in an interview with Vulture. “That was the closest that we got. It has to be so painful for them that this is coming up again.”
Lee’s family has not commented on the HBO documentary series or commented further on Syed’s trial. But it’s hard to believe they’ve done a 180 on whether or not they want Lee’s murder tediously reinvestigated in front of the public again when all they want to do is move on.