We have entered the home stretch of HBO’s The Night Of, and after last night’s sixth episode (of eight), it seems clear that the drama is not about who killed Andrea Cornish, but about whether Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan will be convicted of the crime.
Did Naz do it? For the purposes of the story that Steven Zallian and Richard Price are telling, it doesn’t matter, except to elicit disappointment and sadness in the viewer once Naz’s guilty conviction is announced. Ultimately, whether Naz committed the murder or not, that’s what’s going to happen. This is not a story about the guilt or innocence of Naz. This is a story about the criminal justice system.
That is to say, there won’t be a Perry Mason moment. There will be no “A-ha! The step-dad did it!” nor will there be a courtroom twist in which it is revealed that Duane Reed murdered Andrea Cornish. Reed and the step-father do provide plausible alternative explanations, but in a criminal trial, an alternative explanation is only useful if the defendant can provide a strong defense for himself.
Naz has almost no defense. Barring additional exculpatory evidence — like a video camera in the deer head that captured another man walking into the apartment, which is a possibility that some have suggested — Naz has a weak affirmative defense. He has no alibi. He had opportunity. He was drunk and high on the night in question. He was inside Andrea Cornish’s home. He had sex with her. He ran not once, but twice — the first time, when he saw Andrea’s dead body, and the second when the police found the alleged murder weapon on him.
In the prosecution’s case, all of the evidence against Naz will be presented. Chandra hasn’t done anything on cross examination to weaken that evidence. When the prosecution is done presenting its case, the jury is going to have a very clear idea of who killed Andrea Cornish. It will take a very strong defense to erase that idea.
What can Naz say to rebut the prosecution’s case? That he is a good guy, except for that time he pushed a kid down the stairs? That he blacked out on the night of the murder and has no memory of killing Andrea? “I don’t remember” is not a defense that will fly with a jury.
In the absence of a smoking gun that’s not likely to avail itself, Naz’s only clear path to a not guilty verdict is by pointing the finger at someone else. Could Duane Reed have done it? Sure, he could have. But is the jury going to believe that a random passerby killed Andrea Cornish, or that a man who was in Andrea’s apartment, had sex with her, and had her blood all over him did it? It could’ve been the step-father, too, and he certainly has motive — he is sketchy looking, would inherit Andrea’s apartment, and has a history of conning older women. That’s a plausible alternate theory, but it’s not as plausible as the guy who got drunk and high with Andrea Cornish and ran from the scene of the crime holding the knife that allegedly killed her.
I don’t think Naz did it, and he seems to be slowly piecing together memories from the night of the murder that may answer the question of who actually did. Even if someone else did it, however, it wouldn’t matter, because that person is not on trial. Naz is, and the evidence against him is damning. For better or worse, that’s how the criminal justice system works. It’s not about putting five potential suspects on trial and convicting the most logical suspect. It’s about putting one man on trial and building a case against him to the exclusion of everyone else, including perhaps the actual murderer.