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#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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

#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.

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

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.

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

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: Yes, innocent people in jail have been incredibly unlucky

Lucky people do not end up jailed for life plus thirty years. Why do we need to state the obvious? You’re either guilty or innocent and unlucky.

This is what makes jailing innocent people for life so tragic. It is the culmination of a set of unlucky events.

The convicted knew the victim.

The convicted is the victim of a snitch or state witness with a plea bargain.

The convicted was stoned at the time of the murder, hadn’t eaten all day and can’t remember what he was doing.

The convicted was turned in by someone with a grudge or had heard a rumor.

The convicted left his car and cell phone with an untrustworthy friend.

The convicted had a track coach that didn’t take attendance.

Bad luck happens. It happens frequently enough that there’s an Innocence Project.

So, Serial came to a kind of conclusion today. Sarah Koenig says that as a juror, she would have to acquit even if she thought Adnan was guilty. But she doesn’t exonerate him because she still has doubt.

I don’t have that much doubt. I think the kid was just a convenient suspect without a reasonable alibi. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of one, if not two, people who were clearly lying. The only persons with a motive in this story are the police department and the prosecutor, Kevin Urick, who wanted to pin this murder on someone and to clear their books.

The recollections of Don and Jay’s other friend who were interviewed are interesting but say more about the actions of the state than Adnan. Don says the prosecution was angry that he didn’t make Adnan look like a creep on the witness stand. Jay’s friend says Jay was terrified but it sounds to me like he was more afraid of the cops since they were coming for him. The rest might have been a figment of his overactive imagination. The Pakistani connections could have been to a sticky black tar of THC for all we know. It’s hardly unusual.

I’m sticking with one of my original theories. The Baltimore police department wanted to wrap up this case, found an incredibly unlucky suspect and constructed a narrative to make him guilty. They threatened Jay, probably gave him information, intentionally or not, and ignored any other exculpatory evidence.

I don’t have any problems understanding why a high school kid would lend someone else his car or cell phone. Adnan sounds like he lent his car out to Jay frequently, maybe to make contact with those Pakistani connections. As for the cell phone, back then, and still today, you couldn’t bring your cell phone or pager to class with you. Teachers would confiscate them and you sometimes had to get your parents to get them back for you. It made perfect sense to me that you would leave your phone in the car while you were in school.

Sarah solved the Nisha call issue. I think we’ve all done butt dials, especially before the days of flip phones and smart phones. We often found ourselves questioning our bills or finding ourselves still connected to a call long after we had hung up.

But in the end, all the state had against Adnan was circumstantial evidence, a lying witness and a weak motive. Serial talked about that motive today as well but Adnan was never in love with Hae. Hae wrote about that in her diary. She loved him but it was disproportional to his feelings for her. He liked her and was fond of her but didn’t love her. Well, not like Don did anyway. It was a teen romance, they broke up, he found other girls to snog and made one of them, Nisha, the first entry in his speed dial. That’s not a person who has been pining over unrequited love.

Yes, Jay and Adnan probably did something that morning besides shopping. I’m guessing they scored something very powerful that wiped out Adnan’s memory synapses for that day. But in the end, there were many thousands of people in Baltimore that couldn’t account for their whereabouts January 13, 1999. Except for their lack of acquaintance with the victim, they could have all been murderers. In fact, one of them was. We just don’t know which one.

So, you know, Sarah, I’m just not buying it. I believe he’s innocent and I can’t resurrect my doubt until I see some physical evidence that suggests otherwise. The state hasn’t got it.

Sir William Blackstone said in 1765, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer“. Blackstone’s principle is a cornerstone of criminal law. That’s why we presume people to be innocent until proven guilty. John Adams expanded on that principle and predicted the state we are in now:

It is more important that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world, that all of them cannot be punished…. when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, ‘it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.’ And if such a sentiment as this were to take hold in the mind of the subject that would be the end of all security whatsoever

It’s a tragedy that so much of our American justice system seems determined to thwart that principle these days. We are so intent on throwing people into jail that guilt or innocence doesn’t much matter.

What Serial and Koenig have done is give Adnan the thorough grilling that he didn’t get in his trial. And what we come find there are lies, innuendos, discredited cell phone testimony and not much else. What we find is a normal teen, a compassionate and good friend who made some seriously unlucky decisions one day in January 1999.

I vote to acquit Adnan. Release him already.

Serial: Both Sides Now

Serial fans are now the topic of New Yorker cartoons.

Yep, I do this.

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

Episode 10 of Serial dropped on Thursday. This episode, titled The Best Defense Is A Good Defense, was about Adnan’s trial and the performance of his lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez. Sarah Koenig reviewed the tapes of the trial, transcripts and motions, and came to some rather surprising conclusions.

Koenig says that while there was some pretrial misinformation that was prejudicial to Adnan, especially with respect to anti-Muslim sentiment, she doesn’t feel that he lost his trial specifically because of it. Some of the excerpts of this section were painful to listen to. Adnan is an American but he was portrayed as a flight risk fleeing an honor killing. In actuality, Adnan’s upbringing was similar to my own, which just goes to show that a smart kid in a house with two extremely strict and religious parents will find a way to be a normal teenager no matter what the religious affiliation. And when I say “normal” I don’t mean “bad”. Adnan did some things I didn’t do in high school but I don’t consider any of it outside the norms. In short, Adnan had fully adapted to western culture in a way his parents probably had not.  In the end, that’s primarily the way the jury saw it too even though there was some residual cultural biases. So, no, the jury didn’t convict Adnan simply because he was a Muslim from Pakistan but we can’t rule out the notion that there was some association that affected the way they perceived the motive the prosecution presented.

Then there is Cristina Gutierrez, Adnan’s lawyer. Koenig’s take on her varies quite a bit from Rabia Chaudry’s memory to the extent that Rabia wrote a more extensive rebuttal on her blog Splitthemoon. Rabia and Koenig are on the same side but I expect that Koenig knew she would be ruffling some feathers. In the end, I think they roughly reach the same conclusion but Koenig’s is more objective because she wasn’t in the courtroom at the time and didn’t get the feedback that Adnan’s community provided, nor was Koenig able to gauge the juror’s reactions at the time of the trial.

As to whether Gutierrez deliberately threw the trial as Rabia asserts, Koenig says she doesn’t think so. But both Koenig and Rabia conclude that Gutierrez was not in peak form, and her illness and distraction probably lead to a less effective presentation for the jury. One frustrating finding was that the first trial ended in a mistrial when an alternate juror overheard the judge calling Gutierrez a liar. At that point, the jury had heard Jay’s testimony and when polled afterwards, would have acquitted Adnan at the time the trial abruptly ended. During the second trial, the prosecution cleaned Jay up and coached him better and Cristina seemed to have lost her edge.

But the segment of this podcast that affected katiebird and myself most was when Adnan tells us that he advises new inmates to “take the deal”. He tells them that even if they are innocent, they are better off pleading guilty to something for a reduced sentence. Maintaining your innocence and not showing remorse (for something you haven’t done) is a sure fire way to remain in prison for the rest of your life. The takeaway message that we both got was that the system is stacked against the innocent because if you were totally innocent, you wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place. You wouldn’t be sitting in a courtroom. No one gets accused of murder if they are completely innocent. Therefore, your best bet of living a life outside of prison someday is to give the justice system what it wants: closure and repentance. Then you can serve out your 20 years and be out just in time for the rest of your middle age.

This is scary for Americans who were brought up thinking that you are innocent until proven guilty. The system definitely doesn’t work that way, especially for those who are not wealthy. But even for Adnan, whose community was able to help him pay for an attorney with a stellar reputation, getting convicted of first degree murder based almost exclusively on the wildly inconsistent testimony of a prosecution witness with a sweet deal and no physical evidence, was incredibly easy. And it shouldn’t have been.

In the end, I think this is what Serial is about. It’s not about the nature of truth, although that is important. It’s not about culture, ethnicity or race, though I don’t think we’ve heard the end of that portion of the case. I do think race might have been a factor as far as how Jay was perceived by the jury. It’s about the borglike authority of the investigation, prosecution and penal system. The unidirectional nature of a system with plea deal check valves is very frightening. You enter it presumed guilty and never truly exit from it. The system is allowed to buy witnesses and fabricate a narrative without physical evidence in order to reach a predetermined outcome. Your whole life may hinge on whether your lawyer is feeling well enough to put on a good defense. Every American should pay attention to how a life can be completely unravelled when getting to the truth is less important than getting a conviction at any cost. If it could happen to Adnan, if could happen to anyone.

Koenig says that Adnan’s future freedom hangs by a thread at this point. There is one appeal motion pending in January to address some final issues about whether Gutierrez did all she could to reduce Adnan’s sentence. After that? Who knows. It could be back to prison for the rest of his life with no possibility of parole.

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As you may have guessed by now, I am firmly team Adnan. I’ve been pretty convinced that he was not guilty since about episode 4 on Inconsistencies of Jay’s testimony. More and more, I am leaning towards the idea that Jay might not have been involved in the crime at all. Susan Simpson, the lawyer blogging at TheViewFromLL2, is also leaning towards a not guilty conclusion for Adnan based on Jay’s testimony as well but she does feel that Jay was involved because Jay was spinning tall tales all over Baltimore before the body was found that Adnan killed Hae. Yeah, imagine that. You are hanging out with this guy, blithely unaware that behind your back he is telling his friends that you killed your ex-girlfriend.

But I remember a couple of episodes ago that Jay’s friends said that he was a habitual liar. Oh sure, he would never lie about something big but he did have a habit of telling lies just for fun. Some of these lies later turned out to be partially true. But I’m beginning to think that Jay has an overactive imagination. Maybe he should be writing crime fiction. Or maybe he really did have something to do with it. With an almost complete absence of physical evidence tying either Jay or Adnan to the crime, it’s difficult to say but I’m throwing Adnan’s involvement out. I don’t think he had any clue what happened to Hae. More and more, it looks like he was condemned by bad luck, loose lips and a corrupt judicial system.

Serial: Cold Turkey

In case you didn’t know, Serial is taking Thanksgiving off, the ungrateful wretches, so there will be no episode 10 today. But don’t despair, there are a couple of good fixes for those of you who are starting to get jittery.

Fix number one is at a blog called TheViewFromLL2 from a George Washington University Law School alum named Susan. She has two really excellent posts up about Serial. Her first post is a timeline of the prosecution’s case against Adnan Syed based on cell phone records. A couple of days ago, I hypothesized that neither Jay nor Jenn knew anything about the murder but were coerced by police into making false statements. After reading the timeline, I have to admit that at least Jay was probably involved in Hae’s burial in Leakin Park. The cell phone evidence is strongest here and it’s pretty certain that the cell phone was in the park at the probable time of Hae’s burial. So, there’s that. Read the whole thing. It’s fascinating and, rather than solidifying the case against Adnan, it just looks really damning for Jay. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a serial killer involved but it does mean that Jay probably knew the killer. Or was the killer.

The second post from Susan is one where she analyzes Jay’s statements to police and testimony in court based on four criteria that are essential to determining whether a witness is credible. Jay’s testimony fails pretty badly. (How can you tell when Jay is lying? When his mouth moves.) Susan is very detailed and a bit geeky and I find her posts very compelling and convincing. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system relies on juries that aren’t detail oriented or geeky. Juries seem to be very vulnerable to subjective evidence.

Fix number two is from Rabia Chaudry at Splitthemoon. Rabia is a family friend of the Syeds and an immigration lawyer. She’s the one who first contacted Sarah Koenig about the case and got this whole thing going. In her latest post, Where It All Began, she has put up some documents that she acquired from a FOIA request that helps clear up who pointed police to Adnan, especially the mysterious Asian male, aged 18-24. We now have a name and relationship to Jay. Again, all roads seem to lead back to Jay.

It’s not looking good for Jay. He knows things. A lot of things.

Serial: I think I figured it out.

Leakin Park

I intentionally got Katiebird hooked on Serial. Now, I feel like a pusher. “Go on, try it. Are you afraid? All your friends are doing it.”

But yesterday, it all came together for me. Katiebird is still wending her way through the evidence so I’ll go first on a theory of what’s going on with Serial and then Katiebird can tell me where I’m wrong.

I’m working off of a couple of concepts here. The first is that it is very difficult to construct and be consistent with an elaborate lie. If the events never really happened, the mind has to fill in gaps, explanations, timelines. It’s hard to keep all the details straight because it is a constructed memory, not a real one.

The second concept is that of confirmation bias.  Rabia Chaudry, Adnan’s friend and longtime advocate, touches on confirmation bias in her blog. Basically, that is the tendency to look for evidence that supports your theory and throw out evidence that doesn’t. Fox News encourages confirmation bias but it’s hardly the only offender. In general, if you are a consumer of cable news, you are introduced to confirmation bias to one degree or another on an hourly basis. That’s why I don’t watch cable news.

If you have been a faithful listener of Serial, you will have been exposed to all the information you need at this point to come to a completely new and novel explanation of this crime. I’ve gone back and listened to all of the episodes and multiple clues have been dropped in every single one that helps cut through all of the confusion of the timelines and locations and motives. But recently, like, yesterday, I came across a reference on Reddit to another case that brought all of the information into sharp focus.  The item in question is the case of Ezra Mable.

Ezra was a bit player in the Baltimore drug scene until he spent 10 years in prison for the killing of a major Baltimore drug lord. Eyewitnesses actually pointed to a different guy but the cops built a case for sending Mable to jail. They did this by intimidation of witnesses, threatening to take their children away in one case, and constructing an alternative reality that made Mable look guilty. Mable spent the last 10 years in prison getting to the truth. Don’t ask me how he did this from prison. He’s not an educated man but he was determined to prove his innocence. Last year, his conviction was overturned and a whole slew of detectives and prosecutors were accused of misconduct including detective William Ritz. Detective Ritz was also on the Hae Min Lee case. Ritz has since resigned from the Baltimore Police Department after Mable’s conviction was overturned.

Another piece of information came up in the 1998 murder of another Woodlawn teenager. Jada Denita Lambert was found raped and strangled in a nearby park about six months before Hae Min Lee’s disappearance. The murderer, Roy Sharonnie Davis, was already in prison on another charge when DNA from the crime scene was found to match him in 2002.

Ok, let’s go back to the beginning of this story to see if adding corruption and a serial killer makes more sense to the chronology of events than the nonsensical timeline that Jay gave the cops. In this scenario, Hae Min Lee leaves school about 3:00pm to pick up her cousin at daycare but is kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Maybe this happens in the parking lot of the school or at another stop along the way. Katiebird says Hae stopped for gas. The assailant forces Hae to drive to the I-70 park and ride near Leakin Park. He then takes her into the woods via the Gwynnes Falls Trail (see the Leakin Park map), attempts to rape her and strangles her.

Hae’s body is found almost a month later. The cops ain’t got no clues. It could be a serial killer. But if they tell the Lee’s that, they’ll never hear the end of it. The community will demand a full, lengthy investigation and in all likelihood, the crime will never be solved. It will be just be endless years of the Lees getting on their nerves. Serial killings don’t look good on end of year performance evaluations and when you don’t have a motive or any connections to the victims, they’re a pain in the ass to solve.

Enter the old boyfriend.

Pinning it on either Don or Adnan will solve all their problems. Don has an airtight alibi. Adnan does not. Adnan’s whole future depends on one track team coach taking attendance that day. Track team coach doesn’t.

Now, here’s where I speculate all kinds of corrupt police skullduggery. The cops fake a call to the office tipping off Adnan as the killer. They immediately subpoena Adnan’s cell records and find Jenn Pusateri as a person of interest. They bring her in for questioning and threaten her. She gets a lawyer and tells some elaborate lie that Jay helped bury Hae’s body. Then they bring Jay in. They spend hours with him off tape before they start recording his story. Serial hired an expert in police investigations who says that this is probably where there was a deal made with Jay.  Supposedly, Jay tells them where Hae’s car is parked.

I used to think that knowledge of the location of Hae’s car is what solidified Jay’s involvement but now, I don’t buy it. It certainly makes the possibility of a serial killer fade into the background though, doesn’t it? Hae’s car is a serious piece of misdirection. I’m going to bet that the cops found Hae’s car shortly after they found her body. They weren’t that far apart.

The reason why Jay’s story and timeline make no damn sense is because it was constructed in the interrogation room in order to frame Adnan. Oh sure, they can claim that Adnan was the killer because he doesn’t  have an airtight alibi. But that’s all they’ve got. No alibi and this convoluted story of two teenagers driving around all afternoon getting stoned and looking for a place to bury the body in the trunk.

In the Ezra Mable case, the Baltimore PD is accused of “losing” exculpatory evidence that would have proved Ezra’s innocence as well as failing to investigate the guy who really committed the murder. In Hae’s murder case, Jay and Jenn were never given a polygraph, Jay’s house, car, possessions, phone records were never searched. Now, why would you fail to do that? I’ll tell you why. The investigators had no reason to think there was anything to uncover there- because they never did anything wrong. They were just two people who happened to be caught up in the scheme who were pressured to give evidence against Adnan. And they might have had some good reason to suspect that the cops were going to bust them on drug related activities. (There goes Jay and Jenn’s financial aid packages and her sorority membership.) But, in general, the whole story that Jay gives doesn’t make sense because it never happened.

One vital clue to Jay’s cooperation in this case is that he didn’t serve any jail time. It was probably part of the deal. Give us what we want and we’ll see to it that you don’t go to jail for being an accessory after the fact.

So, there you have it. These are the pieces of the puzzle that made sense to me. It’s a simpler explanation that doesn’t require me to reconcile a lot of conflicting timelines. It doesn’t force me to concentrate on subjective evaluations of character that distract from the lack of physical evidence. It resolves the issue of Hae’s car. It explains why Jenn says she didn’t know anything about a murder the first time she meets with the cops but lawyers up the next day when she starts spinning a tale. It explains why Jay doesn’t want to be interviewed. Maybe they can’t get him on being an accessory to murder but perjury is still a pretty serious crime.

It also explains why Sarah Koenig says that Hae’s murder may never be solved satisfactorily. The serial murderer is dead. The forensic evidence from Hae’s murder site may not be available. We may never know where Adnan was on the day of Hae’s death but I’m betting he was at track. There’s no physical evidence tying him to the crime and plenty of reasonable doubt now. I predict he’ll be home for Christmas. The likelier outcome is that Koenig and Glass will win a slew of awards and podcasts will become the new “thing”, even though some of us have been podcast junkies for years now.

Whether Adnan will track down Jay and beat the s^&* out of him is another question. Koenig reports that Adnan is a perfect gentleman in prison, well liked and has won awards for being a model prisoner. But he’s probably learned a thing or two while he’s been incarcerated for 15 long years. We’ll see.

I’m anxiously awaiting Katiebird’s analysis.