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The dangers of remaining silent and an email from Sarah Koenig
On Tuesday, The Intercept released part 2 in a three-part interview series with Jay Wilds, known to many Serial listeners as the most elusive figure in the 1999 murder of high school honor student Hae Min Lee.
Wilds, who testified to the guilt of Adnan Syed in the murder of Lee, Syed’s former girlfriend, gave his account of his involvement in the burial of the victim in part 1. The interview circulated quickly across the Internet thanks to Reddit, Twitter, and fans who were hankering for more following the series’ inconclusive finale.
In part 2, Wilds shares his thoughts on the actions he took following the murder, as well as his choice to remain uninvolved as This American Life producers Julie Snyder and Sarah Koenig pieced together the podcast that would go on to become one of the most successful podcasts ever.
Now eager to share his story, Wilds gives a remarkably negative account of his face-to-face interaction with Koenig, who showed up at his door sometime in earlier this year to ask for his participation in the story. “I just felt like she was lying,” Wilds says. He argues that the only people with a right to demand he come forward and tell his story would be Lee’s family.
Wilds also shares a follow-up email from Koenig that politely and carefully outlines a very compelling argument for his participation:
I promise I won’t use this email address to badger you. But I did want to thank you so much for talking to us yesterday and for letting us into your house. I know it wasn’t an easy visit for you or your family. Both Julie and I felt pretty terrible that we caused such upheaval. We didn’t want or mean for that to happen, but I completely understand why it did. I thought it would be important for you to meet me in person, so you could get a sense of who I am and what my intentions are. But I also recognize what a jarring intrusion it was, and I’m sorry about that.
I also wanted to thank you for taking the time to think it over. I get that it’s a big decision. Of course we’d be more than happy to have coffee or a drink with you and [Jay’s wife] today (Saturday) or tomorrow, to answer your questions and to try our best to ease any fears you might have. Again, I’m not out to vilify anyone – no one’s talking about revenge or retribution here. That’s not what this is about. I’m not on anyone’s side. I’m a reporter, and I’m trying to figure this case out. I know you and your wife were concerned that we found you. Alas, it wasn’t difficult at all. So I can’t protect you from that, obviously. But I can do my best to make you hard to identify in the story, so that if someone googled your name, for instance, my story wouldn’t come up. I’m not using your last name, and I won’t say where you live – or anything about your family.
When you ask what’s the benefit to you, it’s a little hard for me to answer, because it’s kind of a personal question specific to you, and I don’t know you enough to know the answer. But what I can tell you with confidence is that I think in the end, you’ll feel better with the end result if you’re an active voice in the story — rather than someone who’s being talked about, you get to do the talking.
I think the simplest pitch I can make to you is: You have a story about what happened to you, and you should be the one to tell it. That’s why I came to [location redacted], to ask you to tell your story. You’re in the documentary either way, so it just seems more respectful and fair to you to let you tell what happened, rather then having me piece it together from whatever I can glean from the record. On paper, in the trial transcript, you’re two-dimensional. But in real life, of course you’re more than just a state’s witness. You’re a person who went through a traumatic thing. To hear you call yourself a “scoundrel with scruples” – that made me want to understand who you were then, and who you are now. And also, even just meeting you yesterday for that short time, hearing you talk so forcefully about what you saw, and about Adnan’s guilt – for both Julie and me, that was powerful and clarifying. No one else knows what you know about this whole case, and so even just the few things you said – it’s exactly what I’ve been waiting to hear. . . .
Wilds indicates that Koenig’s insistence that he could stand to gain power and control over the story if he spoke with her sounded “like a threat,” but the evidence of Koenig’s own words point to journalistic courtesy and persistence.
Aside from his concerns about Koenig’s motives, Wilds speculates about who might have made the anonymous call tipping police to Syed, who is serving life in prison for Lee’s murder, as a suspect, and devotes much of his interview to asserting that nothing can change what he knows or what he saw. Specifically, he states that he saw Lee’s body in the trunk of a car outside of his grandmother’s home late at night, but he has no idea what happened before Syed allegedly arrived with Lee’s body.
“I don’t know how she was murdered, I don’t know exactly how she got put in that trunk, and I told the cops that,” Wilds says. “If Koenig wants to get into how that all happened she can go there. But that doesn’t change what I saw.”
Meanwhile, over at “Split the Moon,” Syed advocate Rabia Chaudry’s blog, Chaudry is over the moon at the release of Wilds’ story. According to Chaudry, Wilds’ inconsistencies point to perjury under oath and could support Syed in his quest for a successful appeal.
Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.