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      by Tony Wikrent North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus Strategic Political Economy Economist Mariana Mazzucato has demonstrated that the real driver of innovation isn’t lone geniuses but state investment. [Wired, via The Big Picture 10-19-19] ….Mazzucato, an Italian-American economist who had spent decades researching the economics of innovation […]
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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: Both Sides Now

Serial fans are now the topic of New Yorker cartoons.

Yep, I do this.

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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.

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

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.