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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.

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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.

#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 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.

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.