Deirdre Enright, the head of the Innocence Project Clinic at University of Virginia Law School, talks about her role in the ongoing investigation — and what might happen next
On the Thursday finale of the Serial podcast, the week-by-week true crime story that has become a broadcasting sensation, we didn’t find out definitively if convicted murderer Adnan Syed did or did not kill his high school ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. But we did learn that the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, will continue to pursue the case in court.
In the episode listeners discovered that Deirdre Enright, the head of the Innocence Project Clinic at University of Virginia Law School which has opened an investigation into Syed’s murder conviction, tracked down another person whom she believes to be a suspect, Ronald Lee Moore, a man who left prison just days before Lee’s murder in 1999.
Baltimore authorities have linked Moore, who killed himself in 2012, with new DNA evidence to another 1999 murder. Given this new potential suspect, Enright said she and her students plan to ask the courts to run DNA tests on physical evidence that was never tested.
In an interview with TIME conducted after the episode aired, Enright said she and her team are pursuing other theories while they wait for the courts to test the 1999 evidence. Serial host Sarah Koenig may have uncovered some leads that they can pursue in court, she says — while amateur sleuths on Reddit have helped them identify another suspect who was not on their radar.
Here’s Enright on other potential suspects, whether Adnan Syed’s first lawyer botched his case, why Jay—the chief witness for the prosecution whose full name has not been identified—might have appeared so scared, and how easily innocent people can be put in jail:
TIME: Tell me about finding Ronald Lee Moore?
Enright: He was the first alternate suspect we were able to develop. And then when the police told us he had committed suicide, we thought all the better because there wouldn’t be privacy concerns about naming him [in filing for new DNA testing]. There are other people whom we have identified [as potential suspects] who are not deceased and so we aren’t naming them. In some ways, he was ideal because he had been released from prison and fit the timeframe for Hae’s murder because he had been out for 10 days when she was murdered.
You were recorded on the podcast saying that there was always sex involved with Moore’s alleged crimes. Was there evidence of that here?
What we know is that Hae had her clothes on, although I know her shirt and bra had been moved up. And her skirt was on but pushed up. As far as I can tell from the lab reports, they definitely did a physical evidence recovery kit where they did anal and vaginal swabs and swabs in her mouth, but they never tested any of that—which is somewhat odd. There were hairs on her body, two of which were microscopically compared to Adnan, and he was excluded and they didn’t belong to her either. Then there was this rope near her body.
If there’s a possibility that Ronald Moore or somebody else did this, then why would Jay say he’d helped Syed dispose of Lee’s body?
I have no idea. But I wonder about whether Jay somehow got involved with people who had some other entire scheme going on and it’s them he’s afraid of. Because even now he appears to be terrified, and Adnan is in jail so how could it be Adnan that he’s afraid of?
In Josh’s account in the last episode there are these people Jay’s worried about while he’s at work. It sounded like what they were trying to suggest is he’s worried about Adnan, but it makes more sense to me that there’s somebody else he’s worried about entirely that’s not Adnan. And he just realizes that [the police are suspicious of] Adnan, and he knows Adnan is this teenager who isn’t going to hurt him.
When Sarah spoke to Jay on the show, one of the comments she reported him saying was, “Well if it’s not Adnan, who was it?” And I thought, “Who says that?” It was such a bizarre comment.
That didn’t strike me as strange at the time, but now that you’re saying it I guess it is weird.
In this one particular capital murder case that I did a lot of re-investigation on, what I learned was that the people who have dealt with law enforcement over a long period of time were really good at figuring out at the beginning of an interview how much [the interviewer] knows. And then they give up information right to that line.
So when Jay said that: “Well then who is it?” I thought, “If anyone knows, it’s Jay.” My suspicion is he’s trying to get her to give up what she knows so he can respond. He’s gaming. And it did seem that he was genuinely concerned about safety. But Adnan is locked up, so who does he have to worry about?
Have you met Adnan Syed?
Yes. Not for very long, but we talked. I took several students a couple weeks ago, and we met him. He’s very much how he sounds.
Did it change your impression of him at all?
No. And he’s a great example for me—this is going to sound terrible and I don’t mean it to be—but I didn’t have to meet Adnan, you know? Of course I always want to meet my clients and know my clients. But oftentimes they know the least of anybody. If you are the wrong guy, all you do is say, “I don’t know. I don’t know,” and speculate. I often tell clients, “Every minute I’m spending with you is a minute I’m not doing something for you.”
You had also mentioned that Syed had not known about the physical evidence until Sarah Koenig told him about it.What was his reaction to hearing about that?
It took him a long time to really sort of wrap his head around that there was physical evidence and that there was lots of it and that he didn’t know about it. I was not there: Sarah told him about the physical evidence. Then I let him have some time to sort of dwell on that because I knew that in the same time that I saw him, I was also going to have to have him [agree to be tested] and so I didn’t want to say, “You have 45 minutes to decide.”
But Sarah told me he was very emotional about hearing it just because he didn’t know. He thought he understood that she was murdered, and that was bad enough. The specter that it might be something entirely different and more was stunning. And then of course he had to deal with the fact that once again this person who he trusted to defend him never even mentioned it.
Do you think defense attorney Christina Gutierrez botched the case?
I remember thinking that having a six-week trial, that would be along trial where you’ve gotten to do a lot. It does sound to me like Gutierrez did a lot and fought a lot. It also seems very clear to me that she was falling apart. She had cancer and MS, and I don’t think that was known to most people. [Gutierrez died in 2004]
I looked into MS and some of the symptoms, and the stress of getting halfway through the trial and getting a mistrial and starting again? The stress would be really bad for you if you had MS.
My biggest concern, though, is that there was physical evidence, and nobody tested it—not Maryland and not her. If you’ve got a client and he’s maintaining his innocence, you would tell him about this physical evidence, and you would have discussions about testing it. And Adnan knew nothing about the physical evidence.
So what is the timeline of getting back the results of this testing?
[The official I spoke to] seemed to think that if I got this all to him pretty quickly, which I plan to in the next two weeks, that we could be in court and testing within five months. I think I have shortened their time for them because I did already go and talk to the officer and get all the lab reports. I can tell them exactly where all the evidence is.
But remember it’s not one single test, it’s a series of tests. Whether they join or not could determine how quickly we get results. If it’s something being requested by law enforcement and prosecutor’s side of the fence as well as the defense, and that might put us into a category that gets attention more quickly.
Could you just walk me through the alternate ways this will move forward, depending on whether the test results come back with a match or not?
There’s linking it to someone like Ronald Lee Moore, who is a far more likely candidate, in which case that should exculpate Adnan.
And then we might hit on someone who is incarcerated and who has committed other crimes, like Moore—he was linked with DNA to a rape-murder and then to two rapes. And up until then in Maryland, he was sort of this petty burglar. If that happens, then that’s sort of a slam dunk too.
Then we might get a male profile, but not a person that anyone can find or not somebody incarcerated. I still think that would be exculpatory. If there was semen and it was not her boyfriend and it was not Adnan, and we still couldn’t point out a serial killer or a serial rapist, I would still argue—depending on what that physical evidence there was—that that should also exculpate Adnan.
What are the chances that nothing comes back at all?
I think if ever there was an opportunity to generate something this would be it. And touch DNA—if people did use this rope on Hae, unless they had gloves on, it would seem that someone’s DNA should be on that rope.
But if nothing comes up we would have to take a look at Adnan’s case with an eye to everything that got generated through Sarah’s investigation. She uncovered a lot of new information, and we did too, that had not been available to the defense attorney, or the defense attorney failed to make available.
And maybe in the subsequent search we’ll find out that there was other exculpatory information that was withheld from the defense. So it’s still possible even if our DNA evidence yields nothing that we would have what we think is sufficient evidence to file a writ of actual innocence.
Is there anything that Koenig unearthed that would qualify as something like that?
Yes, there were many things not included on her show that we would want to include in a writ of actual innocence… things that were more legal and complicated, such as procedures that didn’t seem right or I know weren’t right. But they were more legal and too complicated to present, I think, as part of a podcast.
In the last episode producer Dana Chivvis argued, “If [Adnan] didn’t do it, then my God that guy is ridiculously unlucky.” What did you think of that given your experience with the Innocence Project?
I think one thing is, a lot of normal things are made to look like bad luck when they are making you into a suspect. This is what happens when you decide to build a case against someone. You look and say, “All these phone calls are so suspicious.” But that’s only if you buy into Jay’s timeline of when it happened and when she went missing because it’s entirely possible that Hae was alive for another week. Something bad happened, but those phone calls may be nothing, right?
Wrongful conviction cases are terrifying because it’s often just people going about their life and then all of the sudden they are a suspect. One by one the things start happening: Someone misidentifies you, you get a bad lawyer by chance, the lawyer doesn’t believe you. People say, “Oh he had such bad luck.” The other way to look at it is often it’s a lot of people in the system using bad practices, not crossing Ts and dotting Is.
So the world is a terrifying place. I think all the time about how you can become that person.
I think a lot of people feel that same way after listening to Serial. Did you expect the podcast to become so popular?
I never thought for a second that this would turn into some global phenomenon. It’s just bizarre.
The popularity of the podcast means a lot of people on Reddit and chatrooms are trying to figure out the case themselves. Does that hurt or help your case?
Right, the self-deputized investigators. I’m sure there are ways in which it is hurting us, but I sort of have to embrace that it’s also helping. They—Redditors and Slate podcast listeners and total strangers—sent us charts that they put together of cellphone tower records, for instance. We had something like it in our own wheelhouse, but the one they put together was fantastic.
And people have sent us even the identity of an alternate suspect who was not on our radar. We had a couple people who were on our radar but not this person. We can’t say that it was this person, but it’s certainly a person we now are going back and looking at the past and his history.
That said, the downside of this is that they change the story as they become the story. They’ve probably scared certain people who might have spoken into not speaking. So it has the “both and” sort of feel to it.
Did your students listen to the podcast?
Oh yeah, because they have more time than me, they listen in real time and reach out to the rest of the team if there’s something that we haven’t heard or seen that we want to look into immediately. I bet you they listen to each episode more than once.
I have to admit that the Adnan Syed team is particularly workaholic. And to be fair to them, they were that way before any of this happened. The kids are in exams right now, and if they’ve finished they can leave. Several of the Syed members have stayed to do more interviews. They just want to do that.