Hope Schab likely never expected to testify in a murder trial, particularly one that eventually gripped the nation, when she decided to teach high school students in Baltimore, Maryland.
Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old Woodlawn High School student, was discovered buried in a shallow grave in Baltimore’s Leakin Park, nearly one month after she’d gone missing on January 13. Investigators ultimately concluded that she’d been strangled to death, and her former high school sweetheart, Adnan Syed, was sentenced in 2000 to life in prison plus 30 years for killing her.
Nearly 15 years after Syed’s conviction, the case came into the national spotlight in 2014 as the subject of the true crime podcast, “Serial.” Since then, all the moving parts of the case have come under the microscope — and that includes the role played by Schab.
Schab, described Lee as a good student and someone she felt close to during HBO’s new docu-series, “The Case Against Adnan Syed.”
“She was like a daughter to me,” Schab recalled during the HBO special.
“She always had some cute little outfit on. Her hair was long and shiny and beautiful,” Schab said.
Lee was Schab's student intern. According to Rabia Chaudry's book “Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial" and Schab's own account, she was more than just a mentor to Lee: she became entwined in her investigation.
The French teacher was approached by a detective after Lee went missing, but before Syed's arrest, and she was asked about Lee and Syed's relationship.
“I was asked by the detectives being that I was younger in age and close to a lot of the circle she ran in if I would make up some questions that I could give to the girls to kind of ask around to see if any of the magnet students knew what was going on” Schab said in the new HBO documentary.
She testified that she made a list of questions, one of which was if Syed and Lee would meet for sex and where. She gave the list to Debbie Warren, a classmate of the former couple, to ask her friends. Warren stuck the list of questions in her agenda book.
Syed once borrowed that planner and discovered the questions.
“He came to me and wanted to know why I was asking questions about him,” Schab said.
Syed told the French teacher to stop prying, according to the book. “And he said, ‘please don’t do that because I don’t want my parents to know my business.”
A new season of “The Undisclosed” podcast, which is run in part by Chaudry and investigates the criminal justice system, began on Monday. It follows the HBO series on Syed. Colin Miller, a law professor at the Univ. of South Carolina School of Law and one of the cohosts of the show said, “That is definitely one of the most troubling parts of this investigation to me, that in effect this teacher was deputized.”
He added that it seemed inappropriate that a woman who was close with the children because of her age but who also acted like a mother-figure to them was asking such questions to students.
“That’s not ideal at all to do for an investigation. It places the students in an awkward position, the teacher in an awkward position and it just creates credibility issues there for the investigation.”
Schab said she cried alongside students after Lee’s body was found, but thought Syed's reaction was unusual.
“I have a clear recollection of going up to Adnan and hugging him and just saying ‘I’m so sorry,’ and I wrapped my arms around him but I got a very just stern [reaction] and I don’t know if that was a cultural thing or if I should have hugged him. I don’t know if it was something to read into or not but it wasn’t reciprocated back.”
She said she took his reaction “personally.”
Chaudry claims that the official police report doesn't mention that Schab was allegedly asked by police to question Syed. "But both Schab and Debbie Warren will testify to this less than a year later," she wrote in her book.
Chaudry said her recent podcast about the episode that Schab’s demeanor when she testified at Syed’s trial for the state seemed much more “forceful and suspicious of Adnan,” but noted that in the documentary she “seemed to have pulled back from that.”
“To me, she almost seemed a little bit sheepish about the whole thing, like she was kind of trying to explain how it happened or why it happened.”
At Syed's trial, Schab testified that she investigated Syed’s whereabouts around the school to check on his alibi which she said she was “told to do,” and she testified that Syed approached her to stop. But what the hosts of “The Undisclosed” claim is that that’s not why Syed approached her. They assert it’s because Syed found a list of invasive questions inside Warren's school planner.
“Hope Schab was instrumental in convincing the jury Adnan acted suspiciously. Now her tune has changed,” Chaudry tweeted this week.
Oxygen.com's attempts to contact Schab for comment were not successful.
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