This material September 22, 2022 – 18:32 . was published on
The release this week of one of the stars of the hit podcast “Serial” has rekindled the debate about the “obsession” of Americans with true crime series and their impact on the American criminal justice system.
On Monday, 22 years after Adnan Syed was sentenced to life in prison for the alleged murder of his ex-girlfriend, a crowd of supporters greeted him with applause when he was released from a Baltimore courthouse.
Syed has always denied his guilt in the murder of He Min Lee in 1999.
Among the supporters was Sarah Koenig, the journalist who in 2014 made her case known to millions of listeners with her “Serial” podcast.
Although he never concluded whether Syed was innocent or guilty, his investigation raised many questions about how the case was prosecuted.
Downloaded millions of times, the podcast was “a pop culture hit,” says Lindsay Sherrill, a communications researcher at the University of North Alabama and author of several articles on the topic.
“People have been interested in real crime as long as there have been humans,” he told AFP. “You can find evidence that people were interested in crime even in the Middle Ages, when they went to see executions and public trials.”
But with “serial” it has become “something that used to be seen as some sort of salty or guilty pleasure that is very much accepted… so now it’s fashionable.”
Unsolved murders, miscarriages of justice, mysterious disappearances… true crime podcasts have flourished in the wake of “Serial.”
Sherrill counts at least 5,000 of them, though she says they differ in both nature and quality.
– Quadruple murder –
According to Sherrill, most of them, created by amateurs, do little more than “remake Wikipedia articles”, but “the most shocking” of the highest quality are produced by “journalists, or people involved in the law in some way”. Huh.
One of the best, in his opinion, is the second season of “In the Dark”, a public radio show that investigated the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man prosecuted six times for quadruple murder, who has always said that he does not commit.
The journalistic investigation, which pointed to the chief prosecutor’s failures, helped Flowers’ legal team take his case to the US Supreme Court and secure his release after more than 20 years in bars.
The impact of the “serial” on Syed’s case is less direct, as prosecutors reopened his case requesting a reduced sentence.
They have also reserved the option to judge him again. But in the United States, prosecutors are elected officials who often conform to public opinion.
Sometimes amateur podcasts can have real effects.
The “Truth and Justice” series, which encourages fans to submit data, helped facilitate the 2018 release of Ed Etts, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering a neighbor, which he always denied. .
– “distorted” opinion –
According to Don Cecil, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, this participatory aspect is one of the main reasons for the success of true crime podcasts, along with their intimate nature and ability to listen to an entire program in one sitting. ,
However “this can lead to a whole host of problems if not done correctly, such as falsely identifying suspects or interfering with ongoing investigations,” he said.
More generally, while these shows are educational in nature and “draw more attention to potential injustices,” they also have “a tendency to distort people’s perspectives about crime and justice,” Cecil said.
The author of “Fear, Justice and Modern True Crime” explained that podcasts can have a negative impact on victims, especially if they don’t want to tell their story.
The family of Syed’s ex-girlfriend, Lee, has regularly said that she cannot move forward because her case is getting all the attention.
On Monday, his brother Young Lee inflicted his grief in court by making a statement on Zoom.
“This is not a podcast for me. This is real life,” she said through tears. “it’s a nightmare”.