August 2015Volume 103Number 8Page 56

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Serial Adviser

Gina DiVito
Gina DiVito

Illinois lawyers who are fans of the spectacularly popular WBEZ-distributed podcast Serial may have heard a familiar name in the season one credits - DiVito. And no, it wasn't prominent Chicago lawyer and former appellate justice Gino DiVito. It was his daughter Gina, an appellate advocate in her own right. Gina spoke with the IBJ about her Serial experience. (New to Serial? See the description below.)

IBJ. How did you get involved in Serial?

DiVito. I am currently assigned to the Criminal Appeals Division of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Julie Snyder, co-creator and executive producer of Serial, is my sister-in-law. Specifically, she is the sister of my husband, Martin Snyder, who is also an attorney. She is also one of the smartest people I've ever met.

IBJ. So, as legal questions started coming up, Julie said, "Hey, my sister-in-law works in the state's attorney's office, let me ask her." Or words to that effect. And she called you off and on throughout the series?

DiVito. Yes, that pretty much sums it up. It was easy for Julie to ask a quick question or give me a call. It got exciting for me as the show was airing to get a question, because I was just as much a fan as everyone else.

I think having a sister-in-law in the criminal appeals division gave Julie, who's not a lawyer, a handy person to bounce things off of. I helped her streamline finding something in the record and could answer questions about whether or not something that occurred during the trial was normal.

IBJ. What were some of the specific questions she asked you?

DiVito. For instance, Julie asked if it was normal for a prosecutor to recruit an attorney for a witness [Jay Wilds] who was also [entering into a plea agreement.] The answer: not at all normal. She asked why the prosecutor and Jay would not talk to her. And I could only speak from the perspective of how things occur here, but we have to be very careful about what we say regarding cases. We represent the people, and when we speak on their behalf, we want to make sure we don't make mistakes.

She also asked why Jay was charged as he was, and was that normal, and I believe my answer was that it seemed very strange, and that here he would have been charged with more most likely, but that state criminal laws vary.

IBJ. You think Adnan did it, right?

Gina. Yes, I believe Adnan is guilty. Although I am not going to lie and say that during the last episode I did not have a roller coaster of emotions. I mean, it's always possible that there is what I like to call The Fugitive scenario, where the most obvious suspect did not commit the crime. And sure, it would be amazing and fascinating if this was one of those scenarios.

But I do not think that was the case here. A jury found Adnan guilty. Also, seemingly nice people can murder their ex-girlfriends and maintain their innocence their whole lives - I've seen it.

The officers assigned to the case collected evidence that included an eye witness account from Jay. He saw Hae dead with Adnan. The detectives working the case want justice, they did not want a murderer out on the street. And keep in mind that Jay helped bury the body, for goodness sake.

In Illinois, one eye-witness is enough for an identification, and when you murder your girlfriend and then show the body to a friend and ask him to help bury her, that testimony is going to be pretty damning.

IBJ. Serial was such a huge hit with millions of listeners. Was it exciting to be part of a media phenomenon?

Gina. Yes, of course. It was so much fun to talk about the justice system with my famous sister-in-law. It was fun to have my name mentioned on the show, and super interesting to hear what all my friends thought of Adnan after they heard my name. Even in yoga class, I am having discussions about Jay, Hae, and Adnan! "Namaste." "Adnan did it." "No he didn't!"

What Is Serial?

The first season of the podcast Serial investigated the 1999 Baltimore murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee and whether Adnan Syed did it (he was convicted of the crime). A spinoff of WBEZ's widely distributed This American Life, Serial won a Peabody Award among other honors and got tens of millions of downloads on iTunes.

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