In 2016, a Baltimore judge vacated Adnan Syed’s life sentence for murder in a case that sparked the 2014 true-crime podcast “Serial,” which generated more than 300 million downloads.
Syed’s case is also the focus of a new four-hour docuseries, “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” premiering March 10 on HBO (9 p.m.).
Directed by documentary filmmaker Amy Berg, it follows the circumstances surrounding the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a Korean-American high school senior in Baltimore County, Maryland. Syed, her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend — described as “an A-student who was friendly to everyone” — was convicted of her murder in February 2000.
Though his murder conviction was vacated three years ago, Syed remains behind bars while the state of Maryland appeals the decision for his new trial.
“First and foremost, I wanted to make sure Hae Min Lee was brought to life in a way that represented who she was as a young woman,” says Berg.
“I was also a fanatic listener to this [‘Serial’] podcast, and I was very curious to know more at the end of that 11-hour experience.
“In the beginning, I spoke to [‘Serial’ host] Sarah Koenig to let her know what I was going to do, and she gave us her blessing. She was at the end of this journey, and we were just beginning.”
“The Case Against Adnan Syed” covers the case for viewers who might have skipped the podcast — or were, like Berg, riveted to “Serial” — and updates developments in the case since the podcast premiered in 2014.
“I feel like this film brings us much closer to the truth, and also it’s important to understand, visually, the cultural context and see the characters,” Berg says. “It’s a story that starts where ‘Serial’ left off, in many ways. When I tell people I’m working on this, they assume [Syed is] out of prison. But he’s not. He’s still awaiting trial.”
Interviews in the series include both Hae Min Lee’s and Syed’s high school friends, old teachers, lawyers and Syed’s brother. They all reflect on how the worldwide popularity of “Serial” changed their view of the case, and how it effected their lives.
Berg, a veteran filmmaker, earned an Oscar nod for her 2006 documentary “Deliver us from Evil” (about sex abuse in the Catholic Church) and directed and produced the 2012 documentary “West of Memphis” about the West Memphis Three — three Memphis teens who were convicted of the 1993 murders of three boys. (The case was alluded to in Season 3 of HBO’s “True Detective”).
It was this project that led Berg to musician Dhani Harrison — son of the late Beatles legend George Harrison — who provides the musical score for “The Case Against Adnan Syed.”
“I actually met Dhani in 2011 in Little Rock, Arkansas, when I was making ‘West of Memphis,’ ” says Berg. “There was a fundraising concert (for the West Memphis Three) that Eddie Vedder put together that Dhani played at. Cut to this, many years later when I was looking for a composer.”
Berg says her ideal outcome for the new docuseries is for Syed to get the new trial that was ordered in 2016.
“I think that he was not proven guilty [in 2000], if that’s a good answer,” she says.
By Lauren Sarner