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Lighter Notes

Jaysus this week has been depressing. Let’s lighten things up around here.

For those of you who are Serial fans, Adnan Syed may be getting a new trial. Based on the evidence that was presented in a hearing a few months ago, his conviction was vacated. I think that’s a fancy way of saying, “technically, you’re innocent but we’re not done with you yet”. It’s hard to believe he could have been convicted in the first place based on such flimsy evidence -and that’s probably why I have never been selected as a juror. I’m just a f&*(ing pain in the ass with questions and not going along with the crowd. Anyway, hope he’s home soon.

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

It’s hard to believe that anything about Hillary’s email can be considered light hearted but it always amuses me when I listen to Poltical Gabfest where David Plotz, John Dickerson and Emily Bazelon twist themselves into knots over them. You can hear the frustration in their voices over the 8 years of a very secret presidency where the press that elected Obama has been fed nothing but eensy-weensy nuggets of nothing. It’s a bit ironic that the only person who we have any tinge of scandal about is Hillary and that only because the Republicans have been relentless over Benghazi. I’m sure everyone who is anyone in Washington has a private email account where they squirrel things away and it probably comes with a lot of encryption and poison pills these days.

Bazelon was uncharacteristically flummoxed over the legal reasoning why James Comey did not pursue Hillary for “gross negligence”. But I think we can all logic this out.

1.) There was no criminal intent and no evidence of any legal wrongdoing.

2.) Comey, knowing he was on the hook to deliver the goods, gives an unprecedented press conference to discuss his findings and why he isn’t going to indict. It’s the best he can do for Gowdy’s committee. There’s nothing to charge her with but he can smear her for carelessness and make her behavior look negligent and inexcusable.

3.) The problem is it wasn’t even gross negligence, which is why he was trying so hard to signal this to Gowdy et al during the hearing. He was telling them that the attack ad he gave in the press conference was as far as he could legally go. As I understand it, the State Department’s probe is going to pick up where it left off before it was so rudely interrupted and the truth about the emails is going to come out. Comey’s pronouncements were purely subjective statements that indicated the borders of his abilities to prosecute. He can’t get her for doing anything illegally with criminal intent AND he can’t get her for “gross negligence” because it doesn’t even make that threshhold either.

There’s nothing there.

Emily Bazelon, legal scholar, is smart enough to figure this out so I don’t know why she sounds so mystified about it. It’s staring her right in the face but she doesn’t want to admit it. The Comey press conference was a political hit job. It was a PERSONAL email server with nothing important on it and while the State department might have rules and guidelines, no laws were broken and no one even knew it existed until Benghazi went looking for gotcha emails.

Why do we need to see what’s in her personal email anyway, Emily? I mean, if there’s nothing classified in them of any interest, not even for the Chinese, why do we need to be snooping? I don’t think Emily has a good reason for this except that Hillary made it harder for them to do it and avoided FOIA requests. But then, the whole administration has been avoiding FOIA requests and has zipped it good and have left the media kicking the curb. They didn’t get any juicy scandal to report about for 8 long years. Later on in the podcast, they discuss a White House released description of Obama’s evening routines and note that there’s not even mention of Michelle and the girls in it. There are, however, details of exactly how many salted almonds Obama eats each evening. It’s exactly 7. It’s hillarious how the White House jerks the media’s chains especially after they were so extremely helpful getting him elected in the first place.

We tried to warn them but did they listen?

At one point, Bazelon likens Hillary’s behavior to that of Chelsea Manning’s. This shows just how disconnected the media has become over Clinton’s email. There’s no comparison between Manning and Clinton. Manning, regardless of how you feel about her motives, intentionally broke the law and leaked undeniably classified information of national importance. It’s not like apples and oranges, it’s like apples and platypuses. They’re not even in the same kingdoms.

Give it up, guys. If you pursue this, it’s going to depress your ratings. I guarantee that the only people who want this to come up in a debate between Trump and Clinton are the diehard Trump supporters and a small group of Bernie supporters experiencing a temporary psychogenic fugue state. The rest of us won’t watch the debates or will switch them off the minute the emails come up. There’s a resistant conspiracy culture growing around this issue that’s unhealthy and counterproductive going into the general election. The media has great power but it hasn’t been very responsible lately.

Yes, Emily, John and David, I’m talking about YOU and your colleagues. Grow up already.

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

Joy Womack, principal dancer for the Kremlin Ballet, is going to the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. Ballet fans know that Joy was one of the first American students to graduate from the Bolshoi ballet academy and then joined the Bolshoi itself as a soloist. But she never really got an opportunity to dance at the Bolshoi. She was in the company in the year when the director was splashed in the face with acid, an attack that was arranged by another dancer over the treatment of his girlfriend, an up and coming dancer. Joy herself was told that if she ever wanted to dance on stage, she would have to pay for the privilege. So, she left, and the Kremlin Ballet picked her up. In the last few years, she’s been working hard on classical repertoire, which bores me to tears, but whatever. She’s good at it. She’s gone through a lot of ups and downs, like alcoholic partners and unpleasant co-workers who take their anti-Americanism out on her. Plus, the pay sucks. She supports herself on her little company that makes Prima Bars.

Varna may change that. If she does well, it could give her more opportunities to dance as a guest artist for companies. I think that’s what she’s shooting for here.

Here’s one of her rehearsals for Varna with one of her more reliable and complementary partners, principal dancer Misha Martynuk and her ballet teacher, Zhanna. She’s the seated woman shouting corrections in Russian. They’re rehearsing the pas de deux for Le Corsaire first, followed by Diane and Acteon. Keep an eye out for the lift at about the 5:30 mark.  I’ve watched a lot of youtube videos of this pas and have never seen it done so effortlessly. Not even Vishneva and Acosta are this breathtaking.

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Serial update: What Susan Said

Ok, one more post on Serial. Hey, it’s Sunday.

If you are addicted to Serial, you really should be reading Susan Simpson’s blog at The View from LL2. Susan is a DC criminal lawyer. In her spare time, she’s been combing through the trial transcripts, police interviews, and FOIA requests to try to piece together what might have actually happened to Hae Min Lee. Is it likely that Adnan Syed, her ex-boyfriend, actually killed her? So far, and based on what she’s been reading, Susan is leaning heavily in the “Adnan didn’t do it” direction.

Her latest post is about Hae’s new boyfriend, Don, and his unbelievably sketchy “air-tight” alibi. Don’s story is that he couldn’t have killed Hae because he was working all day. He worked for Lenscrafters at the Owings Mills Mall where Hae worked but on the day Hae disappeared, he filled in a shift at the Hunt Valley Lenscrafters. But what Susan has found out is that the Hunt Valley Lenscrafter location didn’t need Don that day, the timecard showing Don was there was produced several days after the franchises produced his other timecards, the employee number on the Hunt Valley time card is different than his Owings Mills employee number, it was newer, and Don’s mother is the general manager of both stores. There are some performance reviews that show that Don was a problem employee. He seems to have been immature, hot-headed and had a history of fudging his time. Still, Susan explicitly says she doesn’t think Don was involved in the murder. She just thinks that with all this stuff from the store, the cops dismissed him too soon as a suspect while zooming in on Adnan with laser like intensity.

But the thing that got my attention is something Susan wrote in her comments section. This is about the timeline of the murder and the fact that Adnan has an alibi for most of his day but the cops keep coming back to him. Here’s what Susan said:

The state’s timeline wasn’t designed to reflect the truth, it was designed to prevent Adnan from being able to raise a defense. By having a timeline that could shift a million different ways, any alibi evidence can be rendered meaningless by simply shifting the times to something more convenient for the prosecution.

This is what is currently going on in the heads of the Adnan Guilty crowd over at Reddit. So, Asia has the 2:15-2:40pm time period covered and the track coach is pretty convincing when he says he saw Adnan at 3:30pm, even though he didn’t take attendance. (The track coach says he spoke to Adnan about Ramadan) But there’s that 50 minute window between the library and track. Fifty minutes! He could have intercepted Hae in the parking lot, driven her car somewhere secluded, strangled her, walked to a pay phone, popped the trunk for “neighbor boy”, no, wait, popped the trunk for Jay in the Best Buy parking lot, no, that’s not right either, popped the trunk for Jay at Jay’s Grandmother’s house, then rushed back to the school for track at 3:30pm.

Right.

What Susan is saying is twofold: 1.) Forget the timeline. The state is going to move that around to suit its needs. It wants Adnan to be the guilty party, therefore, if the only free period of time is when Adnan goes to the bathroom to take a pee, the state will find a way for him to murder Hae between unzipping his fly and tapping off. The state is convinced that Adnan did it so it will find a time. 2,) The state doesn’t actually have a theory of the crime. This is the more important thing, IMHO. If it can shift the timeline around in order to convict Adnan, that means it doesn’t know when the crime was committed. And because it doesn’t know when the crime was committed, it doesn’t know where, or by what means (manual strangulation, but how did she get the blunt force trauma to her head?), or when the car was moved or when the body was buried. That’s because the state has no physical evidence tying anyone to the crime or forensic evidence that pins down when the crime happened.

The state is making stuff up in plain sight and so far, no one seems to be getting this point. The state hasn’t got a case. It doesn’t have a theory, except Adnan did it. That’s all it’s got. It stopped investigating after it settled on Adnan. It didn’t follow up on Don’s time card, it didn’t ask the forensics experts about how long Hae might have been dead before she was buried, it didn’t check out other murders of young women in the area, it didn’t try to figure out how Hae was strangled in her car or even if the murder took place in the car at all, it didn’t check up on the wrestling match schedule (it turns out there wasn’t a wrestling match the day she went missing) or whether she had something else she wanted to do (she did). All of these other unknown unknowns? Not important to the state. It still has no idea what happened to Hae, who was there, how it was done, when it was done or for what purpose. All they’ve got is this ex-boyfriend. That’s it.

Ineffective assistance of council is only the tip of the iceberg here. Adan’s lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez should have pointed this out: The state still doesn’t have a clue and it keeps shifting the timeline around because it didn’t do its job. How can you even have a suspect if you don’t know where, when and how the crime even happened? This farce of a case was made up out of increasingly thin air and the state and the justice system threw a person behind bars on less than nothing.

Time for a Serial update

Where Lee met Davis?

Where Hae Min Lee met Roy Davis? The corner of Essex Rd and Liberty Rd in Baltimore, MD.

Katiebird is killing the world with Plague on her new iPad so I think I might have lost her temporarily when it comes to Serial. But there has been a lot going on lately with Adnan’s case against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune so I’m doing an update and revising (slightly) my hypothesis on how Hae Min Lee died.

First, a disclaimer: I am firmly in the “Adnan is innocent” camp. I haven’t seen any convincing or physical evidence tying Adnan to the crime. His conviction hinges almost exclusively on the testimony of a witness with a significant conflict of interest.

What has been going on lately is that Rabia Chaudry, Adnan’s family’s friend, and former immigration lawyer, has been speaking at different law schools and universities about Adnan’s case. Just search “Rabia Chaudry” on YouTube and filter by upload date. There are numerous appearances to choose from. Her purpose is to keep the story alive while Adnan’s case winds through the appeal process. She is also raising money to hire lawyers and private investigators so Adnan gets an opportunity to mount a vigorous defense.

The most significant outcome of the Serial podcast so far is that Adnan has been granted another appeal as a result of a hearing that happened last week. His lawyers were able to raise questions about the missing alibi witness, Asia McClain and whether Adnan’s lawyer effectively defended her client when she didn’t call Asia to the stand in the trial back in 2000. The appeal will be heard in June 2015. There are a couple of possible outcomes from the appeal. One is that nothing will change and the judges will rule against Adnan. The second is that he will get a new trial. That could drag things out a bit but I think by the time a new trial comes along, there will be enough evidence to show that the state doesn’t have a case against him. The third possibility is that the state could cut a deal with Adnan for something called an Alford plea. I think that’s a face saving deal for the state where they make the defendant plead guilty while maintaining his innocence. That could get Adnan released on time served but the conviction would still haunt him for the rest of his life. Rabia might be hopeful about this kind of deal but I wouldn’t want that hanging over my head for the rest of my life, especially because the case has been so public. People will always be wondering.

As far as evidence goes, DC lawyer Susan Simpson has been ripping through the state’s case against Adnan. The case was based on cell phone records and witness testimony. That witness was Jay and his testimony is pretty worthless by now. You can find Susan’s invaluable analysis of the “evidence” against Adnan at her blog TheViewFromLL2. Susan is meticulous and thorough. She is able to pull apart the evidence in a way that Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvas of Serial did not. That’s not to say that Sarah and Dana did anything wrong. They just had a different area of expertise. Susan has a very logical mind and she’s very good at data analysis. If I’m ever accused of murder, I want Susan as my lawyer. She doesn’t miss a thing.

Ok, so on to my updated hypothesis of how the murder of Hae Min Lee happened. You can read about my initial hypothesis here. I am starting with the premise that Adnan is innocent and was unaware of any of the events surrounding the death of Hae on January 13, 1999. Additionally, I am also supposing that Jay also had nothing to do with the crime. He just happened to be on the cops radar for another reason altogether.

Someone killed Hae. My best guess is that it was a serial killer and my best suspect is Roy Sharonnie Davis. Davis is currently serving a sentence for the murder of Jada Danita Lambert, another young Woodlawn woman who died about 7 months before Hae. Lambert’s body was found in Herring Run Park about 30 minutes east of Woodlawn HS and there’s a gas station not far from this park where Hae’s credit card was used. So, here’s my best guess as to how the whole thing went down:

Hae Min Lee is at the school until almost 3:00pm on January 13. She talks to several reliable witnesses who say they remember her being there. She speaks to her co-coach for the boy’s wrestling team who reports that Hae says she is not taking the bus to the wrestling match. She is driving herself there. She has other things to do in the meantime, the first of which is picking up her cousin from daycare.

Hae leaves the school at about 3pm and heads to Campfield Early Learning Center. (Consult the Serial Podcast Locations map to follow the route).  She can take two possible routes to get from Woodlawn HS to the daycare center. One is the Rt 695 main artery running north-south. The other route is the back way through a residential area. If we think back to the Serial episode on “Route Talk”, we may remember that the area between the school and Rt. 695 is congested at that time of the day. If you’re in a hurry, you’d probably want to stay clear of that area. It takes almost 20 minutes for Sarah and Dana to go about 2 miles. So, let’s assume that Hae took the residential route.

Hae gets on Woodlawn Dr, makes a left onto Windsor Mill Road and a right onto Essex Road. That will eventually intersect with Liberty Road. Hae would stay on Essex and cross Liberty to get to the Campfield daycare. Along this route are two known addresses for Roy Davis. The first is at a place called Woodgreen Circle. Woodgreen Circle is a street behind Essex on the way to Liberty. The other known address is in the 7500 block of Liberty Road.

This is where I enter the realm of speculation but that’s Ok because that’s all the cops have with regard to Adnan’s involvement so my guess is as good as theirs is at this point.

I’ve tried to think of how Hae might have encountered Davis in this area and my best guess is that it happened in a gas station parking lot. I’m guessing that Hae was low on gas so she stopped to get some at the gas station at the corner of Essex Road and Liberty Road. There’s a Shell station at that corner along with some other stores. If you just want to get a few bucks of gas, you go in to the store to pay for the gas with cash before you pump it. Credit cards for high school students in 1999 are for emergencies only. I know because I had a teenager with a car living in my house back then.

Maybe she didn’t make it into the store because the gas station attendants should have remembered her. Maybe Davis encountered her in the parking lot, forced her back into the car and took her on a drive. Did he pretend he was a full service attendant? Did she roll down her window? Did he threaten her? Catch her off guard? Smack her on the right side of her head with something to scare her? Does he force himself into her car?

Somewhere between the corner of Essex and Liberty and the Crown Gas Station on the corner of Northern Parkway and Harford Road, Davis presumably killed Hae. If Davis wants to relive his previous experiences with Lambert, he heads east on Liberty towards Herring Run Park. He makes a left onto Northern Parkway. Then, after he kills her, he realizes that the car was almost out of gas so he stops to put a gallon in the car at the gas station at the corner of Northern Parkway and Harford Road. Otherwise, he’s got to get rid of the body and he’d be stuck in a stalled car at the side of the road. Someone might notice him walking away from the car that they later find contains a dead body.

We can all speculate why he chooses to bury the body in Leakin Park. It’s closer to home if he’s going to have to ditch the car. Is there a bus route on Edmonson Ave? Yes, there is and several routes come off of it going north towards Davis’ home. There might have been too many people around in Herring Run Park to dump the body there so he found somewhere closer to home where the notoriety of leaving a dead body there would look almost commonplace. He leaves the body face down in the car, waits until later that night and buries the body in Leakin Park. Then he ditches the car on Edmonson Ave and takes the last bus towards home.

I’m not the first person to speculate on this route or encounter with Davis. Reddit has a few adventurous types who stray far from the Adnan-Jay nexus of culpability. Koenig has probably thought of it as well. The reason why it has been underplayed may be that a.) Davis is still alive and it’s improper for Koenig to defame him before he’s officially a suspect (?) and b.) Davis is at the same correctional facility that houses Adnan and the last thing you want is for Adnan’s story to get the attention of a violent serial killer in jail with you. Yeah, that would keep me up at night too.

Meanwhile, Deirdre Enright’s Innocence Project at UVA is sitting on a DNA request. They’re hoping that the samples are not contaminated and biding their time.

Stay tuned.

#Serial: Maguffins

Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 8.00.15 AM

The green pin drop. The new focus of investigation?

Maguffin- a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot.

I’ve asked myself over and over again why I can’t quit Serial. I think it has to do with fear. If Adnan is innocent, and I think he is, then getting thrown in jail for life is something that could happen to any one of us. All it takes is a prosecutor who is willing to press for a conviction rather than the truth. Any warm body will do. All it takes is a missing alibi witness. As the country becomes more polarized and ideological, who is to say that more life ruining prosecutions couldn’t happen?

Maguffins don’t hurt either. A maguffin could be something tangible, like a Maltese Falcon. Or it could be the idea of a missing car. In general, it misdirects the attention of the sleuths. Serial could just as easily be called “The Case of the Missing Car”.

The argument against a third party or serial killer in the murder of Hae Min Lee was that Jay knew where the car was. That’s what also tied Adnan to the crime, very loosely, in my opinion. If Jay knew where the car was, that means he must have known who the killer was. Therefore, Jay’s story that Adnan committed the crime derives its legitimacy from his knowledge of the car’s location.

But what if Jay did not know where the car was. What if he failed to find the car for the cops on his first attempt. And while we’re at it, what if the cops knew where the car was all along and used Jay to corroborate the theory they had. Maybe they played a version of “hot- cold” with him until he “found” the car, just like they had refreshed his memory about what he did that day with the cell phone records log. If that’s what happened, i.e., Jay didn’t arrive at the location of the car independently, then his story means crap, even accounting for the crazy timeline of his multiple narratives presented to the cops and in his court testimony.

There are some new podcasts and links that suggest two possibilities with respect to the location of the car: 1.) The police found Hae’s car before they found her body and 2.) Jay failed to identify the location of the car on his first try. In other words, he did not know where the car was.

The first link is to Deirdre Enright’s interview with Coy Barefoot (real name) of Inside Charlottesville. This podcast is full of cluey goodness. Deirdre has said previously that Serial only revealed about 1/8th of the evidence in the case. In this podcast, she says her Innocence Project team is ready to file in the state of Maryland for the physical evidence to be tested for DNA. Yep, the whole motion is all wrapped up and ready to go- except, her clinic has been getting hundreds of phone calls from people. Some of them just want to tell her their theories. The rest are from people who have new evidence or information. This information is relevant to the case and it sounds like it is pointing towards an alternative suspect. So Deirdre is holding off on filing. It sounds like they are getting closer to cracking the case. And then at about the 6 minute mark, she drops a bombshell. She briefly recounts to Barefoot the summary of the case and then says that the police found the car before they found Hae’s body. At first, I thought she just messed up the timeline. But now, I think she let that piece of information dangle out there on purpose.

Then there is Rabia Chaudry at Splitthemoon. Yesterday, she participated in a Blogginheads.tv podcast about the case. She also refers to the car. She says that the first time that Jay takes the cops to the car’s location, he gets it wrong. He gets it right the second time. So, does Jay actually know where the car is? Because if he doesn’t, his credibility is pretty much shot. Rabia had the files for the case in her possession for 15 years but maybe she didn’t have all of them until recently. If she had, the appeals process might have gone differently. It sounds like either Deirdre, Rabia or some other source has found the document that shows when the car was actually found.

Susan Simpson of The View from LL2 was interviewed by Arms Control Wonk the other day. Susan is relentlessly anal when it comes to checking and cross checking Jay’s story. She and the arms wonks discuss geospatial analysis and she refers obliquely to one other important location (the green pin drop in the map above) associated with Jay that could be the key to the whole mystery of who killed Hae. I believe she also refers to Jay’s knowledge of the car’s location and that it’s not what it at first appears to be, i.e. confirmation that Jay helped Adnan.

Recently, she has been parsing Keven Urick’s interview with The Intercept. The Intercept has either posed as prosecution friendly or actually is prosecution friendly (my intuition says they’re faking it) and in doing so has given both Jay and Urick enough rope to hang themselves. Susan has ruthlessly slashed through all of their inconsistencies. Her latest post on Urick’s interview should put an end to any question of wrongful conviction. It looks like Urick had no idea what the cell phone records really meant. Or maybe he did and he was just counting on a jury that wouldn’t pay attention or would be swayed by a more emotional appeal. It worked for Urick. But it was just another notch on his belt. At some point, putting an innocent person away for life became less important than winning.

Taking the car off the table is a big relief to data nerds like me. Nothing else made sense while it was still front and center. That is why I didn’t really believe Jay knew where the car was. More than two decades in research does leave a mark. That piece of data just never smelled right. If Jay could be coached through the cell phone records, why not the car location? But it was always the convenient comeback of “Adnan is guilty” people who accept that Jay lied, the cell phone records made no sense and there is no physical evidence tying Adnan to the crime. “But Jay knew where the car was!” put an end to any other theory of the crime. Remove Jay’s claim and the case opens up and we can rigorously consider other possibilities. With Susan’s analysis, the cell phone records make more sense. It looks like Adnan really was at track like he says he was. Combine that with the Asia alibi letters and we can account for much of Adnan’s missing time that day. Then, expand on Jay’s personal connections and the calls that ping the Leakin Park cell towers also come into play in a more predictable way. Who knows, maybe Jay really did help bury the body at midnight.

While Jay was burying Hae, leaving her frantic parents in suspense for a month, Adnan Syed was. in all likelihood, fast asleep in safety and warmth of his family home, dreaming away his last hours of youth and freedom.

#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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

#Serial: Gobsmacked by Jay

Update: Part 3 of Jay’s interview with The Intercept is up. Talk about manipulation, Jay’s the master. That doesn’t mean he had anything to do with the actual murder or coverup but, wow. He certainly knows how to work a room. Oh, and the stuff he says about Stephanie is pretty interesting and a little bit menacing.

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As most of you who follow Serial know by now, Jay, the prosecution’s star witness in the trial of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, gave an interview to The Intercept. That’s Glenn Greenwald’s new digs. We like Glenn around here, especially with respect to his work on Edward Snowden’s revelations, although I’m betting he’s suffering some cognitive dissonance about his Obama vote in 2008.

Anyway, back to Jay. This time, he tells a completely different version of events to Greenwald’s colleague Natasha Vargas-Cooper. I haven’t read the whole thing yet but some of the new revelations from Jay are just bizarre and don’t match the timeline he gave the state during trial. For example, he says Adnan and he buried the body in Leakin Park at around midnight instead of earlier in the evening. That completely messes with the cell tower records that connected Adnan’s phone to Leakin Park earlier in the evening. He also said Adnan showed him Hae’s body at Jay’s grandmother’s house. So now Adnan has shown the body to him in about four different locations.

Then he completely trashes Sarah Koenig. Serial listeners know that Koenig bent over backwards to treat Jay fairly. She never even reveals his last name. As Adnan says in one of his last interviews with Koenig, she rakes Adnan over the coals for any tiny inconsistency, perceived change of emotion in his voice, and brings up embarrassing things he did when he was twelve, like stealing twenty bucks here and there from the mosque’s collection plates. Heck, my mom and her siblings stole stuff and did other naughty quasi illegal things when they were kids. If they get into trouble today, should we pull up and examine all the cottage cheese my mom took from the milkman’s truck when she was eight? But Koenig didn’t talk about all the things Jay did or Jenn did that might have gotten them into trouble with the law when they were younger. The only person whose character was under intense scrutiny was Adnan.

This is a big problem for us as human beings. Once someone is convicted of a crime, our whole perception of everything they have done since infancy is scrutinized for signs of malfeasance. If you are never convicted of a murder, your past and your word is sacred. This is the way Jay is behaving. How dare anyone drag him back into this period of time in his life that he would prefer to forget. He has a wife, you know. And kids. And they were crying when Koenig dropped by to ask him for an interview. His honor was besmirched, his reputation has been dragged through the mud. This. Must. Not. Stand!

So he gives The Intercept team yet another version of the truth.

What I find genuinely frightening, and I hope Glenn comments on it, is that you can be convicted of first degree murder and the state doesn’t have to prove that you were physically present when the crime was committed. It can rely solely on the testimony of a notorious fibber.  And that fibber doesn’t even have to say he saw you do it. He only has to tell police that you said you were going to do it. Last week. Or yesterday. Or maybe you didn’t say you were going to do it but somehow, you ended up with a body in your trunk. That you showed at four different locations.

The state is not required to check the body of the victim for traces of the accused’s DNA in order to convict someone of first degree premeditated murder. That to me is beyond shocking. I thought the rule in this country is that the state has to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise you are presumed innocent. But that’s clearly not what happened here.

I can afford to be charitable here. My theory has been that neither Adnan or Jay had anything to do with the crime, although Jay’s resentment of the magnet program for G&T kids appears to have grated on him for many years. If anyone had a motive to kill one of those kids and stick it to another one of those kids, it was Jay. That motive is more logical and compelling to me than Adnan’s inability to overcome the breakup blues. For that matter, there may have been a lot of kids at Woodlawn HS who could have hitched a ride from Hae on the day she died. One of them might have been pissed at Hae, or a budding rapist or serial killer. Why single out Adnan? There are presumably many former students who didn’t have an alibi.Or maybe it was someone from the local TV station that interviewed her that day. Or maybe it was a newly freed convicted rapist. The possibilities are endless but almost no one but Adnan was investigated.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that this case has been hanging over Jay for way too long. Whatever shred of conscience that wasn’t coerced out of him by fear and the police might have been revived by Koenig’s relentless pursuit of the Nisha call. By giving this new version of events, he may be deliberately destroying the state’s case against Adnan, giving him a “get out of jail free” card 15 years too late. But hey, better than life in prison, right?

But Adnan has steadfastly maintained his innocence even when it has hurt him, and may continue to hurt him. If he is released on appeal because of a plea bargain for time served or some legal technicality, the idea that he was determined to be not guilty but still might have done it will follow him for the rest of his life. And the agent of that taint has lied repeatedly about very important aspects of this case. The idea that Jay thinks he is above scrutiny while the target of his lies has to prove his innocence in perpetuity is outrageous. If this is justice, we’re all potentially at risk for some very bad things to happen to us. The justice system appears to be running amok and any one of us could be minding our own business and find ourselves in way over our heads.

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Here are some other interesting posts on the case and Jay’s new revelations:

Lawyer Susan Simpson at TheViewFromLL2 deconstructs the Court of Special Appeals hearing on Adnan’s post conviction appeal in 2003. She reveals some rather startling information about Jay’s “non-plea” agreement. There are some additional irregularities with the prosecution that are disturbing. The biggest problem that I can see is that once you have been convicted, your credibility is shot and no one in the justice system seems legally compelled to re-weight the burden of proof. Your task as a convict is Sisyphean. After reading this, I was convinced that there is something very wrong with this case and the manner in which the prosecution was securing the testimony of its star witness.

Rabia Chaudry at SplitTheMoon is rejoicing that Jay is telling new lies because he is ruining the state’s case against Adnan. But make no mistake, to prove Adnan never had anything to do with this crime, he’s going to need to pay lawyers, private investigators and forensic labs for DNA testing. You can contribute to Adnan’s fund here.

 

Serial Withdrawal? Here are a few fixes

Rabia Chaudry. She makes a hijab look hot.

Update below.

It’s been almost a week since the last episode of Serial but the story is not over yet. There are appeals in the works and petitions and fundraisers. The BBC is picking up Serial to rebroadcast over the radio in Britain. So, the case of Adnan Syed and the mystery of Hae Min Lee’s murder will be exposed to a much wider audience soon. I have no idea when it will reach a mainstream audience in America. No one in my work or family circle is listening to the podcast, which makes it harder to obsess about. Fortunately for me, I turned Katiebird on to Serial. Do I feel guilty? Not a bit.

For those of you suffering from withdrawal, there are a few ancillary podcasts that I would like to direct your attention to.

First up, Sarah Koenig talked to Terry Gross this afternoon on Fresh Air. No big surprises here, though we do get to know a little more about Koenig and her personal quirks. Normally, Gross is a terrific interviewer and she’s not bad here either. It’s just that the subject matter is more meta than substantial. One thing I get out of this interview is how careful Koenig was trying to be as far as defining her role and protecting the people she was interviewing. In many respects, she is breaking new ground journalistically and sometimes, her journalism had unintended spillover effects on other aspects of the case. Consider Koenig the anti Nancy Grace (thank god someone has stepped up to fulfill that role). Nevertheless, her reporting may have influenced potential witnesses and we don’t know yet if those influences have been positive.

Those spillover effects are discussed briefly by Deirdre Enright in this Soundcloud interview with the other members of the UVA innocence project team that worked on Adnan’s case. I learned the most interesting information from this podcast. For example, Deirdre says that Koenig presented about 1/8th of the known facts of the case in her podcast. Ok, now I’m dying to find out what the remaining 7/8ths consist of. She also hints at Jay’s involvement and says that there may be other people in his circle who wmay have been involved in Hae’s murder. It’s just one of several scenarios they’re exploring. That doesn’t directly conflict with Koenig’s belief that Jay did not kill Hae but it does suggest that there is a story we aren’t being told and that was only vaguely hinted at in the last episode. There’s more information on the physical evidence that was found at the scene. It’s really pretty stunning that it was never tested to exclude Adnan. Deirdre also suggests that journalism and the law are sometimes at odds with each other and probably need to communicate more. This podcast was toothsome.

Finally, Rabia Chaudry of Splitthemoon had TWO podcasts this week. Both were pretty good. The first was with Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist. I can almost hear a version of  “The Muslim and the Godless can be Friends” at the hoe down. But this interview didn’t touch on religion at all. Nothing earthshaking here except two cultures showing how to do it.

The second is a weekly interview that Rabia has been doing with digital journalism professor Peter Rorabaugh on YouTube. This one had some juicy tidbits. For example, the state doesn’t like to admit it might have made a mistake so it is starting to push back against Adnan’s advocates and Serial. Rabia says that while the UVA innocence project team is ready to file a petition to test the DNA of samples found at the site of Hae’s body, the state may refuse to hand over the specimens. She said the state hasn’t been helpful before. Also, all those prepaid calls from the Maryland Correctional institute were not supposed to be recorded. Rabia says it’s in the initial recording that we heard every week but like an Apple iTunes agreement, most people just skip right on past it to get to the prisoner on the other end. That seems strange to me since both parties seem to be in agreement about what to record and Serial footed the bill for the calls. I can’t see what interest the State has in preventing the calls from being recorded under these circumstances. I think Serial is just embarrassing to the whole judicial system and this is their way of striking back. We’ll see how serious it is.

Anyway, enjoy the podcasts. I can’t believe this is the end of the story. Indeed it isn’t. As the series spreads beyond the podcastsphere, more mainstream people will become addicted and keep interest alive. That’s great for Adnan. Rabia is raising funds for his post conviction appeals. He has to foot the bill for the DNA testing, his advocates and the private investigators they are planning to hire. So far, she has raised about $24000 but she’s going to need about 10 times that amount to mount an effective defense.

Stay tuned…

Update: Last night, Jay posted something to his Facebook wall indicating that he’s now willing to be interviewed and that he was going to expose Sarah Koenig. Sometime during the night, he took that comment down. I’m guessing that someone told him he really should consult a lawyer first. Here’s the comment that a redditor was able to confirm:

“For the followers of the serial podcast produced by Sarah Koenig: I will make my self available for one interview : 1st, to answer the question of the the people who I hope are concerned with the death of Hae Min Lee (the person who’s paid the ultimate price for Entertainment). 2nd, to out this so called reporter for who she truly is.”

Reddit is too much of a conspiracy theory free-for-all for me to take much of what they say seriously but some readers over there did make the very good point that it’s a little odd that a guy who allegedly knew Hae was going to die, did nothing about warning her or the cops, and by his own admission helped bury the body, would suddenly find it distasteful that Hae’s murder has become the subject of “entertainment”. And if he wasn’t telling the truth about how he callously allowed an innocent 18 year old girl to die, then he just as callously allowed his friend to take the blame, sending him to prison for the rest of this life. So, there should be a lot hanging over Jay’s head, one way or the other. It’s probably not a good idea to make threats about exposing the reporter, who has a lot of extra material she hasn’t revealed yet.

As for who Sarah truly is, I suspect she thinks she’s less cool than she actually is.  Anyway, Serial is over for now. Jay had his chance to tell his side of the story, or one of the many versions of his story, and he declined. Too late now.