In the second of The Intercept's three-part interview with Jay Wilds, the star witness in Baltimore County's case against Adnan Syed recounts his meeting with Serial host Sarah Koenig at his home in California.
Wilds developed into a major character in Serial, primarily because of his role in Syed's eventual conviction for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, but also because of his reluctance to share his side of the story with Koenig on-air. In episode eight of the podcast's first season, "The Deal With Jay," Koenig and her producer surprise Wilds at his home—he speaks with the two briefly, but refuses to let them record him.
"There was a knock on my door in late August or early September, I can't remember exactly when, but I remember I was changing my clothes," Wilds tells The Intercept's Natasha Vargas-Cooper. "As soon as I opened that door I knew that it was her, the woman who was harassing my friends in Baltimore."
From the Intercept:
Did she ever say she was doing a podcast?
No, she said she was doing a radio show. They pitched it to me as an NPR radio show. I could also tell that she was uncomfortable talking to me. Her lips were quivering, and I just felt like she was lying. They were in the love seat over there [points across the room], and their body language was just making me really uncomfortable. It was confusing because they also pitched this story to me as a documentary, and they wanted to put me on video. By this time my wife was getting real upset. Our kids were crying. My wife knows about my involvement in this case. Because I eventually cooperated with the police and testified, I know that there are people back home who would consider me a snitch and would hurt me. So, for the most part, we've been really protective about our privacy. My wife would regularly Google my name to make sure none of my personal information would show up. So when these two women show up at my door it sent my wife into a panic. And when we asked them how they got our address, Koenig said something like, 'Sadly, it wasn't hard to find.'
Was the name 'Serial' ever used?
No. Not to my recollection. She kept saying 'This American Life,' 'the radio,' and 'a documentary.' There was no talk of 'Serial' or a podcast. Then I asked her outright, 'Are you an advocate for Adnan?' She said 'No,' that she wasn't his advocate. But she said that she had talked to Adnan, and she wanted to get more information about the case. She said there was new evidence, and I said there's no new evidence that's gonna change what I saw: I saw Hae dead in the trunk of his car. If Adnan wants to take the stand now and explain that away, let him. But there's no evidence that's gonna change what I saw. 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. If Koenig wants to get into how that all happened she can go there. But that doesn't change what I saw. And that's the only time I commented directly on the case to her.
As his wife and children grew more upset, Wilds says he eventually asked Koenig and her producer to leave. "My wife took all our kids upstairs. And I think she started Googling Sarah and the other producer," he told the Intercept.
An email composed by Koenig to Wilds after their meeting was provided to the Intercept in which Koenig apologizes for the "upheaval" their visit caused:
From: "Sarah Koenig" <Sarah> Date: Aug 9, 2014 6:11 AM Subject: Yesterday To: <Jay> Cc: Hello Jay, 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 California, 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. . . .
Vargas-Cooper also asks Wilds about the anonymous call that tipped off police to look into Syed:
Did you make the anonymous call to the police to tip them off about Adnan?
Do you know who did?
I don't know for sure. But there was a grand jury hearing on this case, and I have an idea who might have based on that hearing. I know that during the grand jury there was a spiritual leader of the mosque–I don't know how to pronounce his name. Something with a B [ed. note: We'll refer to this person as Mr. B.]. He spoke with the police during the investigation. But when he was called to the grand jury, he pled the fifth [amendment, against self incrimination through testimony]. So that whatever he knew about Adnan, he knew that if he said it in court he could also be in trouble. [Ed. note: The Intercept confirmed with two sources that 'Mr. B.' did plead the fifth during the grand jury testimony.] I believe that Mr. B. had some information that we don't have, possibly because he was a religious leader at the mosque, and Adnan talked to him like a priest taking a confession [Ed. note: this is Jay's speculation we were not able to confirm if Mr. B served in a leadership or spiritual advisor role at the mosque]. I believe it's possible that he's the person who made the anonymous call to the police saying to check into Adnan.
"Why do you think that he did that?" Vargas-Cooper asks. "Maybe Adnan lost his shit and confided in the one person he could trust not to tell anyone," Wilds responds.
He also expresses remorse for his involvement in helping bury Lee's body that January night in 1999:
What do you think about the people who have listened to "Serial" and have said in public forums like Reddit or Twitter that you should be punished for participating in helping dispose of Hae's body?
Not all your humanity is gone when you do something wrong. Criminals are criminals, and they do fucked up shit, but that doesn't mean they don't still have some sort of a moral compass. And once you engage in a criminal act—
Like you did?
Yeah, like I did. You don't lose your link to humanity.
What would you have done differently?
I don't know if me not moving in Adnan's circle of people would have saved her life. Like, I don't know if I sold more weed or less weed that Hae would still be alive. You know what I'm saying? I don't know if there's anything else I could have done. Maybe I could have listened better, and taken what I heard more seriously.
A salient passage closes this second section of Wilds' interview:
In what ways has your life changed?
Do you ever read Reddit? Have you read the subReddit about this case and about me?
[Image via The Intercept]