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‘Serial’ Witness Jay Wilds Opens Up for First Time

Key witness in the case against Adnan Syed says he was portrayed unfairly by hit podcast

Serial

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WBEZ Chicago

Jay Wilds, the key witness in the case against Adnan Syed — the man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999 — has given his first public interview to The Intercept following the popular podcast, “Serial,” which reexamined the murder and subsequent trial.

While “Serial” host and producer Sarah Koenig spent the podcast’s 12-episode run dismantling various aspects of the State’s flimsy case against Syed, she honed in on Wilds, questioning the inconsistencies of his police interviews and trial testimony. Though Koenig never formally interviewed Wilds, she did track him down and confront him off the record; Wilds eventually declined to be interviewed for the show.

Now, in his first chat with The Intercept, Wilds maintains his side of the story, and says “Serial” portrayed him and his involvement in the case unfairly. The interview is just the first installment of a multi-part series, and covers the basics of the case, Wilds’ motivation for helping Syed allegedly bury Lee’s body and his account of what happened on January 13th, 1999, the day she was murdered.

Like Koenig reported, Wilds and Syed were never close friends — classmates and smoking buddies at most. Still, Wilds remembers Syed being very distraught after he and Lee broke up and she began seeing another guy. Wilds recalled the moment a week before the murder when Syed told him he was going to kill Lee, but said he still wasn’t sure if Syed was just blowing off steam or, according to him, if the murder was pre-meditated.

“[T]here looked like there was real hurt and pain,” Wilds said of Syed. “What else could motivate you to choke the life out of someone you cared about? He just couldn’t come to grips with those feelings. However he ended up doing it — whether it was premeditated, an involuntary reaction at that point in time — he just couldn’t come to grips with being a loser and failing. He failed; he lost the girl.”

As for his account of what happened on January 13th, Wilds said Syed did not mention any plans to murder Lee when he loaned him his car and cellphone. The pair parted ways for several hours, and Wilds eventually picked up Syed from the Best Buy parking. And while this is when Wilds says Syed told him he had killed Lee, it was not when Wilds first saw her body in the trunk of her car.

“I saw her body later, in front of of my grandmother’s house where I was living,” he said. “I didn’t tell the cops it was in front of my house because I didn’t want to involve my grandmother. I believe I told them it was in front of ‘Cathy’s [not her real name] house, but it was in front of my grandmother’s house. I know it didn’t happen anywhere other than my grandmother’s house. I remember the highway traffic to my right, and I remember standing there on the curb. I remember Adnan standing next to me.”

Wilds maintains that Syed threatened to turn him over to the police for drug-dealing if he didn’t help bury Lee’s body; and, his own fear of going to jail, or implicating his friends or family, is what kept him from contacting authorities before the two buried the body in Leakin Park.

When he did finally start to cooperate with police, Wilds said he didn’t work with them fully until they assured him they weren’t interested in his drug dealing. “They had to chase me around before they could corner me to talk to me, and there came a point where I was just sick of talking to them. And they wouldn’t stop interviewing me or questioning me… I stonewalled them that way. No — until they told me they weren’t trying to prosecute me for selling weed, or trying to get any of my friends in trouble. People had lives and were trying to get into college and stuff like that. Getting them in trouble for anything that they knew or that I had told them — I couldn’t have that.”

Though he did eventually begin cooperating with police, Wilds said he was not the anonymous caller who tipped investigators off to Syed in the first place. “But there was a grand jury hearing on this case,” Wilds said, “and I have an idea who might have [called] based on that hearing.”

Despite Wilds’ certainty, not everyone is convinced. Though Koenig has yet to comment, lawyer and Syed’s family friend Rabia Chaudry — who first brought Syed’s case to Koenig’s attention — dismissed Wilds’ account on Twitter, writing: “I think Jay’s next move should be a live televised polygraph, preferably administered by Geraldo.”

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