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When the first season of the wildly popular podcast "Serial" debuted in 2014, millions of listeners learned about the 1999 murder of high school senior Hae Min Lee. The podcast asked whether her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted of her murder, may actually be innocent, which led to several key people involved in the case being re-examined. One such person was Jennifer Pusateri, who had a vital interaction with Syed and alleged accomplice Jay Wilds on Jan. 13, 1999, the night Lee, a high school student in Baltimore, was murdered.
Pusateri’s police interviews and court testimony (along with Wilds’ own) were instrumental in convicting Syed of the killing. Pusateri and Wilds were close friends, and their matching stories helped put away Syed for life for Lee’s murder. Although parts of Wilds’ account would change as the case carried on, Pusateri would ultimately tell a court that Wilds told her that Syed confessed to killing Lee, and that Syed had shown him Lee’s dead body after the murder.
But an older Pusateri seems to be questioning Wilds’ version of events several years after the fact.
“[Jay] was a good storyteller,” Pusateri says in “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” a new HBO docu-series about the case. “He would make you believe your shirt was green if it was blue.”
Both “Serial” and “The Case Against Adnan Syed highlight Pusateri’s discussions with police and in-court testimony, examining what it meant for Syed, as well as her tight relationship with Wilds in their teen years.
Episode four of “Serial,” titled “Inconsistencies,” goes into detail about both issues. “Serial” host Sarah Koenig noted that Pusateri and Wilds had “known each other since elementary school and they were in the same class at Woodlawn [High School],” where Syed was a student as well. They both graduated a year before Syed in 1998.
The docu-series, however, gets Pusateri herself on camera to discuss her relationship with Wilds. “Me and Jay we were pretty inseparable, we were pretty tight,” Pusateri says in the second episode.
Their close friendship would ultimately drag Pusateri into Lee’s murder case: Phone logs showed that several calls between Pusateri and Syed’s cell phone (which Wilds was allegedly using on the night of the murder) had taken place, and Wilds claimed he spoke to Pusateri after he and Syed supposedly buried Lee’s body in Leakin Park.
These connections led to police tracking down Pusateri for questioning. Initially, as “Serial” pointed out, she lied during her first interview — essentially denying she knew anything — seemingly out of fear.
“I guess at first, you know, like, I ran from it,” Pusateri says in the docu-series. “You know, I didn’t really want to face it — was hoping I could just do anything to make it go away.”
But on Feb. 27, 1999, investigators interviewed Pusateri again, this time with her lawyer and her mother.
During that sit-down, Pusateri said that Wilds told her Syed “strangled [Lee],” and that Wilds “said that Adnan said that Hae broke his heart.”
Pusateri also provided more details about her interactions with Wilds after the murder — most notably Wilds tossing the dirty clothes and boots he wore that night, as well as dumping the shovels he and Syed supposedly used to dig Lee’s grave — which eventually lead to the police interviewing Wilds and then using his interviews to help justify their case against Syed. Perhaps most crucially, however, Pusateri told the cops that Wilds called her that day and told her to come get him at Best Buy.
This highlighted a major inconsistency in Wilds’ story: He flip-flopped between telling the police that he saw Lee’s dead body in the trunk of her car either behind rowhouses on Edmonson Ave or the parking lot of Best Buy.
“I really thought that everything I knew was like hearsay, because I didn’t see anything, I didn’t experience anything,” Pusateri says in the docu-series. “Everything was told to me by someone else.”
Still, despite the holes in Wilds’ recollection, Pusateri seemed to have believed her friend’s version of events before. In episode eight of “Serial,” Koenig mentions a conversation she had with Pusateri at the time of the recording.
“I spoke to [Pusateri] briefly at her work, she works at a discount store. She wasn’t rude, but she was totally uninterested in talking to me. She had nothing to hide, she said, she just did not want to talk about that time in her life, period,” Koenig says. "She did answer my one big question, though, and her answer was yes. She believed Jay then, and that hasn’t changed in the intervening years.”
But that belief seems to have been shaken in the years since, considering what Pusateri says on camera in the docu-series.
“I thought he told me it happened at Best Buy,” she says. “Jay obviously picks and chooses what he tells, and at this point it’s created such a mess.”
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