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#Serial: What Susan Said

Before I get started, my condolences to those people at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo whose colleagues were brutally slaughtered by extremists today. I sincerely hope that the people who are responsible are caught and punished. Unfortunately, it is an attack like this that tends to bring out the worst instincts in us. We are already assuming it was a Muslim extremist group but do we actually know this for sure? The vast majority of Muslims are just average people, good neighbors and colleagues. They’re not inclined towards fundamentalism, extremism or terrorism. They’ve got better things to do with their time, like soccer practice, homework and grocery shopping. It’s the fundamentalists of every religion that give everyone else a bad name.

I predict a backlash in France. The more motivated elements of French society will seize on this opportunity to capitalize on nationalism and radical conservatism. We’ve seen it happen here after 9/11, and with the deepening economic crisis in Europe, there are already plenty of stirrings of activity from the far right wing. Let’s hope Hollande can head this off early.

****************************************************

Lawyer Susan Simpson at TheViewFromLL2 has been analyzing the case of Adnan Syed that was related in the podcast Serial. In case you aren’t familiar with Serial, Adnan Syed, a 17 year old high school student from Baltimore, was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. There is no physical evidence tying Syed to the crime. The conviction rested on the testimony of Syed’s friend, Jay, who borrowed Syed’s car and cell phone on the day of the murder.

Susan is one of the most thorough and detailed people I have read on this case. She has very carefully picked her way through Jay’s interrogations and testimony, as well as his most recent interview to The Intercept. She says he’s lying about almost everything. But what I find very curious was one paragraph in her latest not-to-be-missed blog post, How to Commit Effective Perjury in Eleven Easy Steps. This recent post shows how police perhaps unintentionally fed Jay information about the crime to shape his narrative into one that could be presented before a jury. Essentially, they prompted Jay when parts of his story didn’t match what they either knew or could corroborate with the cell phone records.

It is at this critical point that Susan makes the argument that Cristina Gutierrez, Syed’s lawyer, should have made at his trial.  Here’s the money quote from Susan that should have gotten Syed acquitted:

According to Detective MacGillivary, Jay managed to do a lot better at the second interview. He testified, at the second trial, that he and Detective Ritz had “noticed that [Jay] statement did not match up to the records,” but that “[o]nce confronted with the cell phone records, [Jay] ‘remembered things a lot better’” (Brief of Appellant at 11). Great work, boys.

Of course, the only things Jay “remembered [ ] a lot better” during that interview were the things that the detectives had identified as being false, and told him he needed to change. All of those lies that the detectives hadn’t caught? Jay stuck by them, now with the knowledge that the cops had not been able to disprove what he had said. On the other hand, all the parts of his story that did conflict with the evidence he was happy to abandon, and he adopted a new version of events in their place, telling new lies to replace the lies that had already been uncovered.

Did you catch that? It’s subtle. But when I finally got it, I gasped a little.

Here’s what Susan is saying. Jay told a story. He was in the habit of telling stories. All of his friends say he was a prolific and talented bulls#*!!er. They never knew when to take him seriously. I’m not going to speculate as to whether Jay was actually involved in the crime because, as far as I know, there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime either. Well, Deirdre Enright’s  Innocence Project may find something but we have nothing to pin this on Jay at the moment. As far as we know, all the stories he was telling people about Adnan strangling Hae might have been him testing out the plot of the murder mystery he was planning to write one day to show all those snooty magnet kids.

In any case, the police had no physical evidence tying anyone to the crime. All they had was an anonymous phone call, a theory and a bunch of cell phone records. They shaped Jay’s testimony where they were able to disprove his lies and inconsistencies. They left alone the basic premise of Jay’s story that Adnan killed Hae because they were unable to disprove it.

Now, that’s weird. So, essentially, because they were unable to disprove that Adnan killed Hae, he had to be the one to kill Hae. Have I got that right? Because that’s the premise that everyone, including Sarah Koenig, has been working with. Koenig flirts with this reality a bit in her discussion with Jim Trainum on the concept of “bad evidence”. To be honest, I didn’t catch how critical the distinction was either at first. The cops don’t want to push too hard against their star witness so they don’t make too much effort to disturb the central tenets of Jay’s story. But they’re perfectly happy making Jay lie over and over again about everything else until he tells the story that the cops want to hear that fit their story.

As for physical evidence, apparently, that wasn’t very important to the police. They didn’t check it for Adnan’s presence through DNA testing and they didn’t do a very thorough search of Jay or Jenn’s property. It looks like they didn’t want to disprove their theory at all and it comes through in the interrogation interviews*.

This is a text book example of confirmation bias but Cristina Gutierrez apparently did a piss poor job pointing it out. In the end, there is nothing that proves Adnan was anywhere near the scene of the crime when it happened. There’s no motive for either Adnan or Jay, though if I were to guess, Jay would have a bigger grudge against Hae or any magnet student, perhaps even his girlfriend Stephanie. In fact, snagging the beautiful, smart, athletic Stephanie was his way of sticking it to the magnet program. She became his trophy. Anything or anyone that threatened to take away his valuable possession, and his self-esteem associated with owning it, might have had to be dealt with swiftly. In fact, regardless as to whether Jay had motive and means to kill Hae (seems like a stretch), there is no doubt in my mind that he had plenty of motive to pin the deed on Adnan.

What Susan writes shreds any credibility that the police have with respect to the case. They haven’t got the goods on anyone. All they had was a kid with a slippery alibi, an alibi witness that didn’t get called and not a whole lot else.

Oh, and they have Jay, who supposedly knew where the car was. But at this point in time, given all we know about how Jay’s testimony was shaped, while we don’t know what was covered in the missing hours of untaped interrogation, can we be sure that they didn’t somehow tell him via 20 questions the location of Hae’s car as well?

It makes me sick thinking that a 17 year old was sent to prison for life based on this poor investigation, poor lawyering and bamboozled jury.

*One other weird thing: I read the testimony of the medical examiner at Adnan’s trial and I’m confused about why they couldn’t fix Hae’s time of death based on the contents of her stomach. We know that she stopped to buy hot fries and apple juice before she left school that day. Presumably, we can find out what she had for lunch. I just read last night about the mysterious as yet unidentified body found on a beach in Australia in 1948. The police knew what he had for dinner (It was a pasty eaten 3-4 hours before death). We know what the Alpine Ice Man had for his last meal 5000 years ago. (It was Ibex)

Hae Min Lee’s body was decomposing but given that it was very cold outside, it was relatively well preserved. The medical examiner could identify bruising, pettichae under her eyelids and the absence of spermatozoa in her vagina. But they couldn’t figure out what was in her stomach and intestines in order to establish the time of death?? I find that beyond troubling. Someone wasn’t doing their job.

 

 

 

 

10 Responses

  1. Juan Cole had a good piece about the attack. http://www.juancole.com/2015/01/sharpening-contradictions-satirists.html

    This happened a few blocks from my house, but I was across town at the time. It’s hard to overstate the impact here. Cabu has been an institution since the 60s and Wolinski has been around that long too. Charb, Honoré and Tignous are also fixtures of the French press. The shooters wiped out a whole generation of political cartoonists in 10 minutes.

    • Woah! You live that close? That must be disturbing and horrifying. Keep us in the loop about what is going on there.

      • Actually, I’ve been home sick on doctor’s orders so I am no better informed than anyone else.

        • I ventured out for the first time today. Rue Nicholas Appert, where the offices of Charlie Hebdo were located, is blocked off but at the corner is a sea of flowers, candles, pens, pencils, brushes in several large shrines and thoughts and drawings taped up on the walls. There were numerous people there observing a moment of silence, some weeping, and the news media was still present. There is another pile of flowers and candles on Richard Lenoir and Chemin Vert for the police killed.

  2. I was thinking about the situation in France. It seems as if it would be better to think of these extremists as gangs rather than Islamists. They seem to use the Islam thing as an excuse to be thugs. Like white supremacists, or Mexican gangs or Asian gangs or Russian mafia. All gangs of thugs using some ideology, or ethnic excuse to excuse themselves for being losers. The one guy wanted to be a rapper. Some Islamist! They just wanted to be special or famous. I think it really has less to do with the Koran than an inability to be relevant. Losers and whiners and thugs and pretend religious inspired BS fools.

    • You may be on to something. I’m not the only person who has connected the tendency of the ultra religious to narcissism. They’ve been encouraged to believe they are special, that their strain of religion is purer and more special, and that everyone else’s beliefs and lives fungible. It’s not unique to Islamists. But they’re the ones who are violently acting on their narcissism at the moment.
      Who knows, next week it could be one of our own homegrown Christian fundamentalists. I could see it happening. Remember David Koresh. He didn’t go on the offensive but you gotta wonder why his compound was jam packed with guns and ammunition.

  3. I mean to look at these groups as gangs…almost totally exclusive of any religious beliefs. The beliefs almost seem like extraneous aspects that they use to excuse their behavior. They are like the Afghan warlords. They just like the war stuff. That is all they get off on. It is an extension of “playing Cowboys and Indians” but the dudes are Muslims who have no future like millions of other guys who have dropped out. They want to be special, famous, rich, important, respected, etc. Unfortunately they are zeros. And the only way they think they can fulfill their specialness is to kill people who actually have a life and have some meaning in their lives. They can’t accept their loser status so they have to find some one else to blame and take a tantrum. So sad and depressing. The bigger the tantrum, the bigger the response.

    • I know what you mean. But even gangs have to have some unifying force. Even the most religious can be extremely hypocritical. Narcissism on that level requires a good cover. Religion is very good at providing cover.

  4. When the French President says that Islam and the terrorists are not connected, well, I know why he is doing that (he doesn’t want anti-Muslim violence) but it isn’t actually true. It is just part of the general way in which religions are supposed to be given credit for their positive aspects (or at least what are claimed to be their positive aspects) but are never to take the blame for the negative aspects. No, most Muslims aren’t terrorists. But quite a few terrorists are Muslims, and that fact is not mere happenstance, anymore than it is an accident that it isn’t atheists who attack abortion clinics.

    Believing you stand with god usually means in practice belief that god stands with you, and that is inherently a dangerous thing, because it doesn’t allow for the possibility of being wrong. That we don’t still have the Inquisition is because of the constraints placed by secular authorities around religion in the West over the last few hundred years, not because Christians woke up one day and decided to be tolerant. The problem is that in the Muslim world most of those constraints don’t exist. Yet. The future, as the saying goes, lies ahead.

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