A Follow-Up Post On Cellphone Borrowing, Track Practices, and Wednesdays

In yesterday’s bonus episode of Undisclosed, I mentioned that I agreed with Colin about how Jay’s borrowing of Adnan’s car and phone appeared to be directly tied to their involvement in weed dealing, and further that, based on the calling patterns from the cell records, it appeared that Jay had been regularly borrowing Adnan’s car/phone on Wednesdays during the time that Adnan should have been at track. Since I’ve gotten a few questions about it today from listeners curious about it, I figured I’d put up a quick summary of the records I’m referencing.

First off, though, I should note that any “drug dealing” at issue would be the type of “drug dealing” that necessitates the use of scare quotes — there is no suggestion that anything more serious was going on here than teenagers providing pot to other teenagers. Moreover, based on Jay’s statements in his first police interview, whatever he was involved in was clearly some small time stuff, based on the total dollar amounts involved:

Jay Int 1 - p 66 - 67

(Side note: I wish the police had actually gotten a copy of this check, but I guess they knew it looked really bad for their “Adnan blackmailed Jay into helping with a murder” story.)

So with that in mind, here’s what the phone records show:

Days on which (a) Adnan had a cellphone1; (b) Woodlawn had track practice2; and (3) Adnan was eligible to be at track practice3:

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 26
  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 1
  • Feb. 2
  • Feb. 3
  • Feb. 4*
  • Feb. 5

Days on which Adnan should have been at track practice, but on which there was phone activity inconsistent with Adnan being at track practice4 from 3:30 to 5:00pm:

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 1
  • Feb. 3

Days on which Adnan should have been at track practice, but between 3:30 and 5:00pm there were calls made from Adnan’s phone to Patrick, “a guy [Jay] bought marijuana from a whole lot” (2/04/00 Tr. 134):

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 3

Days on which Adnan should have been at track practice, but between 3:30 and 5:00pm there were calls made to NHRN Cathy (who was Jay’s friend, and did not know who Adnan was):

  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 3

Days on which Adnan’s phone made calls originating on either L689B (a.k.a. “the Leakin Park tower”) or L653C (tower on Edmonson Ave., south of Leakin Park):

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 27

Weed dealers (a) who sold weed to Jay; and (b) who, according to AT&T’s maps, Jay had to drive through L689B and L653C’s coverage areas in order to get to their houses:

  • Patrick.
Map - LP Area

Woodlawn HS depicted top left. Leakin Park is the grassy area to the center/right of image. Cell towers are marked by triangles. Blue line marks Cooks Avenue, which is mentioned repeatedly in Jay’s stories, and which both L653C and L689B could provide coverage for.

In sum, there is a correlation between (a) Wednesdays that Adnan should have been at track and (b) times when the phone activity shows calls to people only Jay would be calling. Similarly, there is also a correlation between (a) days that Adnan’s phone made calls to a weed dealer that lived near Leakin Park, and (b) days that Adnan’s phone made calls originating on L689B and L653C.

You can draw your own conclusions as to what else this pattern of activity may represent, but it does show that Jay being in possession of Adnan’s phone on a Wednesday afternoon during track practice would not have been an unusual event during this time frame.

-Susan

1 Adnan got his cellphone on January 12th, and available cell records run through February 18th.

2 There were track meets — and therefore no track practices — on January 12th, 25th, and 28th, and Woodlawn High School was either on a break, had a snow day, or was on a half-day exam schedule on January 14th, 15th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 29th.

Additionally, I’ve only considered here the time period from January 12th – February 5th, due to the fact that Adnan does not appear to have regularly attended track practice following that date. The track meet on January 28th was the last regularly scheduled competition, and although the track season technically continued after, only the school’s top athletes would be competing in the remaining championship meets, Adnan not among them. So although Adnan continued to make sporadic appearances at practices following the last regular season meet, his attendance is reported to have significantly dropped off and it does not appear he went much or at all after the first week of February.

3 Per a track coach interviewed by the detectives, students who had missed school were not eligible to participate in athletics programs that afternoon. Adnan was out of school for a religious holiday on January 19th, and marked as absent on the 25th. He is also marked as absent on February 4th according to one record, but no absence is marked on another, so it’s not completely clear if he was eligible for track that day.

4 January 26th and February 4th also show some activity during these time periods, but not activity would be inconsistent with his attendance at track on those days, so I’ve not included them on this list. On January 26th, there was a call to check voicemail at 4pm, and on February 4th, there was a 10 second call to Adnan’s friend Peter at 4pm. Both calls were on towers that would be expected for a call made from Woodlawn High School.

What the Crime Scene Photographs Show

Previously, on both Undisclosed and our blogs, Colin, Rabia, and I have discussed the significance of the medical examiner’s findings concerning livor mortis. To recap, Dr. Korell’s autopsy report concluded that Hae’s body had fixed anterior (frontal) lividity, and that she had been buried on her right side. She testified to these same facts at trial:

CG: So that, that would tell you that the body was face down when the livor was fixed.
Dr. Korell: Right.
CG: Would it not?
Dr. Korell: Yes.
CG: Okay. Because that would mean the blood would pool on the front of the body .
Dr. Korell: Correct.
CG: And that wouldn’t happen if the body post-death were on its side.
Dr. Korell: Correct. (2/02/00 Tr. 79-80.)

Of course, there’s a problem here. If the body were buried on its right side sometime during the 7:00pm hour, this would preclude the anterior lividity described by Dr. Korell, which means that Jay’s story is dramatically and provably false with respect to the events of January 13, 1999.

Although the 7:00pm burial story would be disproven if looking solely at the autopsy report, two critical questions remained about the report’s validity.

First, was Dr. Korell correct about the anterior lividity? The autopsy photographs were in black and white, which is far from ideal, but multiple forensic pathologists were able to conclude,  after reviewing the photographs and autopsy report together, that Dr. Korell was correct in finding anterior lividity. All found that the lividity was anterior and even on both sides, meaning that the body was laid out flat, not leaned to one side or the other, at the time lividity fixed.

Second, was Dr. Korell correct that the body had been buried on its right side? The autopsy report concluded that it was, but because the State had never permitted the defense to obtain copies of the crime scene photos, we could not independently confirm this. However, there is no reason to think that this part of the report was in error. The autopsy was performed by two pathologists: Dr. Korell and Dr. Aquino.

1 - Aquino

And, although Dr. Korell had not been present at the crime scene, Dr. Aquino was:

2 - Crime Scene Report

(Progress Report, 6/10/99)

As one of the pathologists conducting the autopsy had personally observed the body at the Leakin Park crime scene, he was able to personally assess and report the positioning of the body. His conclusion that the “[t]he body was on her right side” was based on his own observations, not second-hand information from investigators. But did Dr. Aquino somehow make a huge blunder in his autopsy report, writing that Hae had been found on her right side, when really she had been laid out on her front?

In theory, this question should have been trivial to answer. In theory, there should have been crime scene photographs, body diagrams, and reports by crime scene technicians and the forensic anthropologists who performed the excavation, which would have described in detail the positioning of the body and other key facts about the crime scene. In theory, these basic facts should have been part of the record from Day One of the investigation.

In practice, however, there was nothing. No diagrams, no notes, no photos. Aside from the autopsy report, the position in which Hae’s body was found was a black hole as far as the case files for both the police and the defense were concerned. It was not until nine months after the incongruent findings in the lividity had first been noticed that the crime scene photographs were finally obtained by MSNBC, in connection with The Docket’s latest Serial special.

Before explaining what the photographs show, however, let’s review the failures that resulted in a situation in which the defense was denied access to any evidence concerning how Hae had been positioned at the burial site, and why it has taken so long to get conclusive answers to what should have been some of the most basic facts about the case.

The Investigatory Record

It is notable that not a single document in the police record describes the position in which Hae’s body was found. In fact, not one of the reports provided anything beyond the most generalized descriptions of the crime scene. The following is the entirety of available record that was produced to the defense before trial:

4 - 6-10 Report

(Progress Report, 6/10/99)

5 - 2-09 Report

(Crime Scene Narrative, 2/09/99)

(Progress Report, 2/16/99)

(Progress Report, 2/16/99)

(Police Report, 2/09/99)

(Police Report, 2/09/99)

(Surveyor's Map)

(Surveyor’s Map)

(Evidence Diagram)

(Evidence Diagram)

There’s not a single word in any of them which describes how the body was positioned in relation to the ground. Based on these reports, the only facts discernible at all as to how the body was found at the crime scene are that it was:

  1. Partially buried;
  2. Behind a 40′ log;
  3. Approximately 15′ from the west end of the log;
  4. With the head pointing towards the south, and feet pointing towards the north; and
  5. Located either 127′ or 114′ north of N. Franklintown Road (depending on which map you’re using).

Later, on August 2, 1999, the prosecution produced the following memo to the defense, which was described as the “oral report of Dr. Rodriguez,” the forensic anthropologist who disinterred the body:

Oral report of Dr. Rodriguez

Oral report of Dr. Rodriguez

This brief, triple-hearsay memo was the only report ever provided to the defense concerning the forensic findings at the crime scene. It is a prosecutor’s summary of another prosecutor’s notes of a conversation that she had with the forensic anthropologist five months previously. This document exists because in February 1999, prosecutor Vicki Wash spoke to Dr. Rodriguez, and she took notes of what he said. In July, prosecutor Kathleen Murphy wrote a summary of Wash’s notes, and then gave that to the defense.

So whatever Dr. Rodriguez found in his examination of the crime scene, his analysis was filtered through two different prosecutors before Adnan’s attorneys ever got a chance to see it. There is no way to know if Wash’s note were accurate and included everything of importance, and no way to know what Murphy’s “summary” of those notes left out. As a result, we have no idea if the oddities in this short report are truly things Dr. Rodriguez said, or if they are merely the result of a mistaken transcription by either Wash or Murphy in their various iterations of the report. Green plant material underneath — does plant material remain green if buried underground for a month? Orange fiber found on body, blue fiber found beneath body — but wait, why did the trace analysis unit conclude that there was a red fiber, a colorless fiber, and a pink-orange fiber found on the body? Is Rodriguez’s orange fiber near the shoulder Van Gelder’s red fiber near the head, or was it Van Gelder’s pink-orange fiber from a root? And what about the blue fiber, should we just assume it’s the colorless fiber that testing was done on?

Van Gelder's Trace Analysis Report

Van Gelder’s Trace Analysis Report

Prior to trial, the only other evidence of what the crime scene looked like that was handed over to the defense came from Mr. S’s police interviews. On the night of February 9, 1999, one of the detectives wrote down the following based on what Mr. S had said:

Mr. S's Police Statement

Mr. S’s Police Statement

Mr. S also provided the following sketch:

Mr. S's Sketch

Mr. S’s Sketch

And that’s it. Nothing whatsoever concerning whether the body was on its side, back, or front. Almost nothing concerning how it was buried. And inconsistent information concerning even the location of where the body was found.

Discovery

From the beginning, the prosecution was playing games with what information it turned over concerning the burial site. Although initial discovery was (eventually) handed over by Urick on July 2nd, that discovery was decidedly lacking. Five days later, Gutierrez wrote to Judge Quarles outlining the numerous deficiencies in the State’s production:

  1. Any and all sketches, diagrams, and photographs of the crime scene, to include the victim as welI as any evidence collected.
  1. A legible crime scene log. The log provided was cut-off.

. . .

  1. All police reports, only incomplete reports were provided.
  1. A copy of Det. Bradshaw’s follow-up investigation report. The report in the materials provided is cut-off.

. . .

  1. A copy of any report or documents prepared by Dr. Rodriguez, the forensic scientist at the crime scene.

. . .

  1. Autopsy photographs. The photocopies provided are not legible.

. . .

16. The Medical Examiner’s log with any and all notes made by any personnel concerning the collection of the body.

In addition to the materials that were simply not produced at all, crime scene logs and reports were only partially produced, and the quality of the autopsy photos was so horrible that they showed nothing beyond a rough outline of the body.

The State’s response denied that any further records concerning the crime scene existed:

14 - Amended States Disclosure

In other words, information concerning the burial site had simply never been recorded by anyone. The prosecution’s position was that no one had, at any time, made any diagrams or took any notes of how the body was found at the burial site. Dr. Rodriguez and his team, who had been specially brought in from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., in order to assist the BPD with the recovery of the body, had failed to document any aspects of the crime scene.

It is worth noting that this is absolutely insane. No investigation should ever, under any circumstances, be conducted this way. There are two possibilities here: either the prosecution falsely represented to the defense (and to the court) that no such documents existed, or else Dr. Rodriguez and his team neglected the most basic aspects of a proper forensic investigation and failed to document any of their activities. See, e.g., Hutchins v. State, 339 Md. 466, 475, 663 A.2d 1281, 1286 (1995) (“The State [ ] ha[s] an obligation to disclose [ ] any written reports or statements and the substance of any oral reports and conclusions of [any ‘experts consulted by the State’] regardless of whether or not the State expected to call [those experts] to the stand to testify.”).

The only further information provided concerning Dr. Rodriguez’s (or Dr. Korell’s) findings consisted of the following disclosure on October 1st:

15 - Amended State's Disclosure

Nothing else was ever produced about the crime scene. No diagrams, no analysis, no notes, no reports. According to the prosecution, Dr. Rodriguez was brought in from Washington to conduct a forensic recovery that BPD was unequipped to handle, but failed to write down a single thing concerning his work.

Obtaining the Crime Scene Photographs

Without any documentation of the crime scene, the only remaining way to determine how the body was positioned is through the crime scene photographs. That catch was that the defense did not have any crime scene photos; Urick had refused to ever provide copies, and instead only permitted the defense to briefly view the photographs prior to trial.

Gutierrez, to her credit, relentlessly and repeatedly sought the photographs, such as in the following letters to Urick:

Defense Letter to the State, 8/5/99

Defense Letter to the State, 8/5/99

Defense Letter to the State, 9/7/99

Defense Letter to the State, 9/7/99

Defense Letter to the State, 1/6/00

Defense Letter to the State, 1/6/00

But it didn’t work. Other than the brief two-hour viewing that Urick permitted prior to trial, and during the trial itself, the defense never had access to these photos.

However, at trial, the prosecution introduced into evidence a series of eight photographs of the burial site, which Dr. Rodriguez described in his testimony. These photographs were acquired from the court last month, and, finally, we were able to definitively confirm what we have known for months: the lividity findings combined with the burial position preclude the possibility of a 7:00pm burial.

These photos were shown to Dr. Hlavaty, who was interviewed in Episode 5 of Undisclosed. After reviewing the newly obtained images, she was able to confirm that the body was positioned on its right side. Because the photos were in color, she was also able to confirm, once and for all, the presence of lividity on the anterior surface of the torso.

In addition to the lividity findings, though, it is worth noting that these findings are also highly significant in terms of what they show about the crime scene. In particular, the body was not at all concealed to the degree that I had expected, based on the trial testimony and police reports that I have been reviewing since Serial ended. The majority of the body is above the level of the forest floor, and is concealed primarily by a pile of loose soil and dead leaves that have been thrown into a pile on top of it. Much more of the body was exposed than I had expected, as well.

My reaction to the photographs was, in fact, much the same as Mr. S’s reaction was to the crime scene. The first thing you notice is that the earth has been disturbed; it is blatant and would be hard to miss. A pile of leaves and dirt have been thrown into a pile, and the forest floor surrounding the pile is bare dirt, as if someone had scooped up all the leaves in arms’ reach to add to the pile. After looking at the dirt and leaf pile, the most striking features are the glossy black hair, and below that the white of Hae’s jacket collar, as well as the completely exposed foot sticking out from the pile of leaves. Large portions of the left knee and hip are also exposed, although the color and texture of the taupe stockings allow those portions to blend in better with the surrounding brown and tan leaves.

The Pressure Marks

The photographs also provide confirmation that Hae’s body was laid out frontally after death because of what they show concerning the pressure marks. Lividity causes discoloration in the areas of the body where the blood has settled due to the effect of gravity, but in addition to the areas of discoloration this process also leaves pressure marks that appear as white patches on the skin. Pressure causes compression of the blood vessels, which results in blood being unable to settle in those areas, and therefore no discoloration occurs, even in a location that is otherwise the lowest area of the body.

In this case, the pressure marks found on Hae’s body provide further evidence that Hae had been buried after lividity had become fixed. First, there are the marks found on Hae’s shoulders: a series of three are similar-sized pressure marks, two on the right and one on the left, at roughly the same level of the body and roughly the same shape. I have made a diagram depicting theses marks’ approximate location:

The areas marked in white are pressure marks with unambiguous and distinct borders. The areas marked in beige are also pressure marks, but their shape is less clear from photos.

The areas marked in white are pressure marks with unambiguous and distinct borders. The areas marked in beige are approximate representations of the pressure marks, but their shape is less clear from photos; the beige should be interpreted to show location and general shape, rather than exact appearance.

The pressure mark on the farthest right of Hae’s shoulders was the most distinct, with clear, straight borders, and its shape is that of a distinct double-diamond pattern:

The dimensions are very precise. Based on the ruler provided for scale, the double diamond mark is:

  • 2 1/2″ inches from top to bottom
  • 1 1/8″ across at widest
  • 5/8″ across at narrowest

The two diamonds on the right shoulder are 2″ apart from point to point, and 1″ apart from the fattest part of the diamonds.

There is also a divot in the center of the rightmost diamond. Its placement makes it appear artificial, as if it were part of the construction of the item. This is especially so when combined with how symmetrical and straight the edges are; whatever it is, I do not think it’s organic.

There is no way to determine if this pressure mark was due to contact with an object in that shape, or if, for example, the object was bar-shaped and the double-diamond pattern is simply a result of greater pressure against the clavicle and shoulder and lesser pressure in-between. The other two marks (one other on the right shoulder, closer to the neck, and a third one on the far left shoulder) do appear roughly similar in shape and size, but their shape is not as distinct as is the one on the far right, as the borders are not as defined and they are not as clearly depicted in available photographs.

Dr. Hlavaty could not identify a possible source based on the marks, but she did confirm that they were pressure points that demonstrated anterior lividity. Although others have suggested that the marks may be caused by bra straps, the pressure marks do not line up with how the bra was on the body, and do not seem to be consistent with pressure marks that would have been caused by that. Whatever their source may be, there was nothing found at the Leakin Park crime scene that could account for the existence of these marks, and the body’s position did not cause these areas to be exposed to any greater pressure than the surrounding areas were subjected to.

The second significant pressure mark is the one found on the far left anterior surface of the torso, starting at a point slightly above the navel and ending at a point slightly below it. Tracing over the pressure mark gives the following zigzag shape:

19 - Pressure Mark

This pressure mark falls at the same level as the waist of Hae’s pantyhose, which had been twisted about; the pressure mark resulted from the constriction of the pantyhose where the waist had bunched due to twisting.

The location of this mark is significant in that it confirms that, when lividity fixed, the lower left side of the body’s abdomen was flat against whatever surface the body was resting on, causing blood to pool there. If lividity had fixed while the body was in the position in which it was found, no lividity could have developed in the lower left anterior of the torso.

What the Newly Obtained Crime Scene Photographs Show

For obvious reasons, we will not make copies of the photographs available to the public, and it is my very deep hope that no one else takes it upon themselves to publish them. Hae’s family doesn’t deserve that, and there is no excuse for such an action. However, the information contained in the photographs is important for Adnan’s case, and a subject of legitimate interest. In order to provide access to this information, while not making sensitive and potentially upsetting photographs available to the public, I have created a model to show the positioning of Hae’s body at the crime scene, as well as the portions of the body that were exposed when it was discovered by Mr. S.

I have taken every effort to make the model as faithful to the photographs as possible, so that when viewed from the same angle the model’s position matches the positioning shown in the photographs. A few caveats are in order, however: (1) In order to show the visible collar, the area of the neck has been obscured; (2) the positioning of the left hand is not shown in the photographs, and could either be palm up or palm down; it is depicted here as palm down; and (3) although all of the hair is depicted in the model, only the top portion of it was actually exposed as the crime scene was initially found; the lower portions were not visible until later stages of excavation. Also note that currently displayed images have been updated slightly from their original depiction when this was first posted.Model 2

Areas of the model marked in blue show the portions of the body that were exposed to the air, and which were visible in photographs prior to any recovery work had been done: the right foot, the left knee, the left hip, a portion of the right wrist and hand, the collar of Hae’s jacket, and the back of her hair.

Orange has been used to mark two of the more prominent pressure marks that would be visible based on the positioning of the model: one on the left shoulder, and one on the left lower torso. The marks on the right shoulder would have been obscured.

Model 5Model 6Model 14Model 4Model 10Model 9Model 13 Model 12 Model 11

Not all of the body was placed below ground; some portions of the body rested on soil at the same level as all of the surrounding forest floor. However, a portion of the body — primarily the torso — rested in a recessed area. In order to depict these conditions, I have used wires to hold the clay up, although in the photographs, these limbs are supported by the soil at the edges of the recessed areas, or by the forest floor itself.

According to Detective MacGillivary, there was a “natural depression” near the log, which is what the body had been placed in.  Although Dr. Rodriguez’s triple-hearsay oral report describes the area as being “dug out,” he never makes this claim in his trial testimony, and simply describes that where she was placed was “very shallow.”

This shallow depression was longer than it was wide, and only large enough to fit parts of the torso. The right knee is resting directly on the forest floor; the exposed areas, mark in blue, show where dirt and leaves had fallen off the sides of her leg, exposing all of it to air except for the lowest inch or so, which is obscured by leaf litter. The left hip is similarly exposed, with the sides uncovered by dirt and leaves due to the effects of gravity, although debris often remained directly on top of the body part. The right foot was entirely exposed and jutted at an angle into the air. The left arm was covered in leaves and not visible; although it was the highest part of the body, the leaves and soil were piled deepest over that area. The right elbow was the lowest part of the body, but is bent sharply so that the hand reaches upwards towards the surface. There was only a single rock placed on any part of the body, and that is the rock referenced in Dr. Rodriguez’s report that was placed on top of the hand. The positioning of the right hand, which indicates that it may have been in rigor at the time of the burial, makes me suspect that the rock was placed in order to hold the hand down, as otherwise rigor would have caused it to stick up well above the forest floor. With the rock on it, only a sliver of the back of the hand, where it meets the wrist, is exposed.

Additionally, it should be noted that the body was not “against” the log as it has sometimes been described. These photos show the model’s position with reference to the log and the rock:
Crime Scene - With Log - Rear View
Crime Scene - With Log - Westward View

Based on the crime scene photographs, there is no possibility that Hae was buried in Leakin Park prior to the fixation of lividity. This puts the earliest estimates of her burial at no sooner than 8-12 hours after death, and quite possibly longer. This means that, if Hae was killed shortly after leaving school, the burial could not have taken place before approximately 10pm.

-Susan

Serial: Lies, Damned Lies, and Closing Arguments

Note: Rabia Chaudry (Split the Moon), Colin Miller (Evidence Prof Blog), and I started a podcast. It’s called Undisclosed, and it follows Adnan Syed’s case and current appeal. New episodes will be released every other week, on Mondays, and in case that is too long to wait, on the off-weeks we will be releasing short addendum episodes with updates and previews.

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Before reading the post below, I recommend at least listening to Addendum 1, as some of the new information covered there is discussed in this post. And be sure to check us out next Monday, for Episode 2


In closing arguments, the prosecution “is entitled to considerable latitude in summation to argue the evidence and any reasonable inferences that can be drawn from that evidence.” United States v. Green, 25 F.3d 206, 210 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting United States v. Werme, 939 F.2d 108, 117 (3d Cir. 1991)). However, this latitude does not permit a prosecutor to make false and factually unsupported claims during closing arguments, as “[i]t is a fundamental tenet of the law that attorneys may not make material misstatements of fact in summation.” Davis v. Zant, 36 F.3d 1538, 1548 n. 15 (11th Cir. 1994). Accordingly, prosecutors have an “obligation [ ] to avoid making statements of fact to the jury not supported by proper evidence introduced during trial,” as “the interest of the Government in a criminal prosecution ‘is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done,’ and that ‘the average jury . . . has confidence that these obligations [of fairness and accuracy] will be faithfully observed.'”  Gaither v. United States, 413 F. 2d 1061 (D.C. Cir. 1969),  (citing Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935)).

In the case against Adnan Syed, this obligation was not respected. Prosecutors Kathleen Murphy and Kevin Urick displayed a reckless disregard for the truth in their closing arguments to the jury, both by making material misrepresentations about the physical evidence and by misstating witness testimony. For many of the misrepresentations made in closing, it is difficult to see how the prosecutors could have been unaware of the falsity of their arguments. Regardless of whether those misrepresentations were made intentionally or not, however, the prosecutors in Adnan’s case were “exceedingly reckless, and paid too short shrift to the prosecutors’ ‘obligation’ to seek a conviction only on the basis of facts in the record.” United States v. Mageno, 762 F. 3d 933 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Gaither, 413 F.2d at 1079).

Below, I have set forth (in blue) a selection of claims made in the State’s closing arguments, by Murphy, and rebuttal closing, by Urick, and provided an analysis of the accuracy of their representations to the jury.

Continue reading

Serial: The Above Average Investigations of Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary

Two big updates before today’s post:

First, Rabia Chaudry, Colin Miller, and I will be launching a new podcast to cover all the new developments in Adnan’s case. The first episode of Undisclosed will be released on April 13th, so check us out then.

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Second, Rabia and I were back on The Docket this morning, this time for a special on the Science of Serial. Clint Van Zandt and Dr. William Manion joined us to discuss the crime scene analysis and the autopsy report:

The Science of ‘Serial’ Part I: Crime Scene
Physical evidence is missing from the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee according to crime analyst Clint Van Zandt who states the murder, method of transportation and body disposal are not linked. Attorneys Seema Iyer, Rabia Chaudry, and Susan Simpson discuss.

The Science of ‘Serial’ Part II: Autopsy
Forensic Pathologist Dr. Bill Manion has problems with livor mortis when determining an approximate time of death of Hae Min Lee. Attorneys Seema Iyer, Rabia Chaudry, and Susan Simpson discuss.


The murder of Hae Min Lee was investigated by Detectives William Ritz and Gregory MacGillivary. To date, three defendants who were convicted of murder pursuant to investigations by either Ritz or MacGillivary have since been released from prison, after it was determined that they had been wrongfully convicted.

Those defendants are Ezra Mable, Sabein Burgess, and Rodney Addison. As the civil complaint filed last week by Burgess aptly summarizes, the convictions in all three cases were

the result of the Baltimore Police Department’s policies and practices of pursuing wrongful convictions through reliance on profoundly flawed investigations. In a race to clear murder cases, the Department cut corners and rushed to judgment.

The problems in the underlying investigations ranged from simple incompetence — such as failure to interview obvious witnesses or to properly preserve forensic evidence — to intentional distortions of the evidentiary record — such as the fabrication of witness reports. In each of these cases, the investigators’ tunnel vision led them to either ignore or avoid evidence that contradicted their chosen theory of the case, and to withhold any exculpatory evidence they accidentally stumbled upon. Moreover, in both the Mable and Burgess cases, allegations have been made of deliberate wrongdoing by police officers who prioritized clearing cases over identifying the actual perpetrators of the murders they were investigating. Improving the detectives’ numbers became a higher goal than identifying criminals and building solid cases against them.

Cleared

The prioritization of good statistics over good investigations can be seen not just in the resulting false convictions, but also in the resulting murder charges that were so unsupportable that they never resulted in prosecution by the State. Even though these cases were voluntarily dismissed by prosecutors who determined there was an insufficient basis to try the defendant, each charge was nevertheless recorded as a “cleared” case for purposes of the detective’s track record. For example, from 1998 and 1999, Detective Ritz was involved in at least 42 investigations which resulted in charges of first- or second-degree murder. Of those 42  murder charges, however, 15 were nolled or otherwise dismissed voluntarily by the State after it was determined that the evidence was insufficient to permit the prosecution to proceed. This “charge them all and let the prosecutor sort them out” style of policing was a major cause of a schism that developed between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the BPD. It was also a major contributor to each of the false convictions discussed herein. Continue reading

Serial: The Question of Don’s Alibi

As a preface, I want to be very clear: this post is not about Don. Rather, it is about the the State’s investigation of Don, and the failure thereof. Nothing herein is evidence that Don was involved in Hae’s murder, because the fact that an alibi went unverified does not mean that that the alibi was untrue. As a result, while there is no reason to believe Don was not at the Hunt Valley store on January 13, 1999, the flipside is that the police did not have reliable evidence from which they could conclude Don was at the store that day, either.

Don was not involved in Hae’s murder. Although there was evidence that, at the time of the original investigation, should have caused the police to take a special interest in Don — e.g., Debbie’s statements to the police about Hae’s plans, and the note found in Hae’s car — it appears now that the evidence did not actually suggest that Hae was on her way to see Don at the time of her disappearance. Back in 1999, however, the police did think that — and their failure to investigate Don as they should have is probably a big part of the reason why all the uncertainty about the wrestling match never got sorted out at the time of trial.


In investigating Hae’s murder, the police ignored any line of inquiry that did not directly lead towards building a case against Adnan. Their investigation of Don was a perfect example of this; they made the minimum possible effort to have him “ruled out” as a person of interest, and did little or nothing to investigate whether he might have relevant information concerning Hae’s disappearance. (A similar tactic was used with Mr. S. Although Mr. S failed a polygraph when asked if he was trying to withhold information from investigators, he was re-tested a few days later, and “passed” the polygraph once it was reduced to a single question, which was whether he knew the method in which Hae had been killed.)

Don and Adnan should have been of equal interest to investigators. Both had recently been in romantic relationships with Hae, and both should have had their alibis vetted.

Don and Adnan were not treated similarly by investigators, however. While Adnan was the focus of extensive investigation by both the Baltimore County and the Baltimore City Police, the investigation into Don was at best cursory (and, in the case of the Baltimore City Police, nonexistent). Although the police alleged that Don had been excluded as a suspect due to a confirmed alibi, this can only be said to have been “confirmed” under the loosest possible interpretation of that word.

Don’s alibi was that he had been at work on the day of Hae’s murder. Although he usually worked at the LensCrafters in Owings Mills, Don said that on January 13, 1999 he was  working at a different store, in Hunt Valley. However, the police did not speak to a single person from the Hunt Valley store, nor did they  obtain any employment records that could confirm his alibi. Instead, the police asked a single employee from the Owings Mills Mall location whether Don had worked at Hunt Valley that day, and although she stated that he had, her source for that information may have been Don himself.

Nothing more was done to investigate Don’s alibi until September 1999, when Adnan’s defense attorney filed a subpoena under seal requesting that LensCrafters produce all employment records for Don from the relevant time period. On October 4, 1999, LensCrafters produced records that showed Don had not worked on January 13, 1999.

Thereafter, Prosecutor Kevin Urick had a phone conversation with the LensCrafters legal department. Although the defense’s ex parte subpoena had been filed under seal, he somehow learned of it and obtained his own copies of the documents that LensCrafters had produced to the defense.  Two days later, following Urick’s phone conversation with the LensCrafters legal department, LensCrafters suddenly found an “additional time keeping record” that showed Don had, in fact, worked on January 13th. However, in a separate cover letter issued directly to Urick (and which LensCrafters did not include in its production to Gutierrez), LensCrafters went out of its way to notify Urick that the “General Manager on 1/13/99” was “also Donald’s mother” (emphasis in original). Moreover, a review of the newly-discovered timecard shows that there are several oddities that call its authenticity into question.

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Serial: Unless Hae Was Lying to Don, the Note Found in Her Car Was Not Written on the Day of the Murder

As a manager for the Woodlawn wrestling team, Hae handled the scoring for their matches, and she traveled with the team when they had matches at other high schools. At Adnan’s trials, as well as in the podcast, it was assumed to be an established fact that Woodlawn’s wrestling team had a match against Randallstown on the afternoon of January 13, 1999, and that Hae was supposed to have been there.

As with so much else in this case, however, the “established fact” that Hae was going to a wrestling match is unsupported by the evidence. Hae was planning on going to work at LensCrafters that day instead.

Hae was Scheduled to Work at LensCrafters at Owings Mills Mall

On the afternoon of January 13th, Hae was scheduled to work at the Owings Mills Mall LensCrafters, from 6 to 10 p.m. On the LensCrafters’ employee schedule for that day, Hae was marked as “no call no show” — the first such time that had happened in the three months that she had working there. Hae did not have a practice of failing to show up for her scheduled shifts, and we know that, at least as of January 12th, Hae was intending on going to work that day, because “Don said he and Hae had made plans to meet up later that night of the 13th after her work shift ended at 10 p.m.” (Episode 12).

The wrestling match story does not seem to have come from Hae’s family. On January 13, Hae’s brother told Officer Adcock that he was “not aware if his sister had any engagements after school.” This doesn’t mean all that much, since it seems safe to assume that Hae’s little brother did not have detailed information about the schedules for her extracurricular activities, but it does mean he wasn’t the one to tell the police about any wrestling match she may have been at. Officer Adcock’s report also notes that he “[a]ttempted to contact the victim Lee’s high school with negative results,” which means he did not receive any information from the school  about where Hae might have been that afternoon. Officer Adock did speak to Hae’s manager at LensCrafters, however, and she reported that Hae had failed to show up for work as scheduled.

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Serial: Phone Records, Bank Records, and Alibi Witnesses

The following post is a collection of a few points of interest that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in other forums, but have not yet addressed on my blog. In order to make everything available in a central location, I’ve expanded on those topics below, with links to source material.

The 5:13 p.m. Phone Call

In addition to the 33 calls that were disclosed in the phone records introduced at trial, additional records, provided by Abe Waranowitz but not introduced into evidence, disclosed the existence of an additional, previously undisclosed phone call made from Adnan’s cellphone on January 13, 1999.  AT&T’s dropped call records from January 13th show that a call made to or from Adnan’s cellphone was dropped, apparently due to reception issues:

Radio Release - Drop Call - 513pm call

The 5:13 p.m. call does not show up on Adnan’s phone bill, or on the cellphone records obtained by the prosecution, so there is no way to know if it was an incoming or outgoing call, or who might have been on the other line. The 5:13 p.m. call does, however, provide a more detailed context for the 5:14 p.m. call, which was an incoming call to voicemail. Adnan’s cellphone received or made a call at 5:13 p.m. that was subsequently dropped due to poor reception, and then (presumably) the person who had been on the other end of the line tried to call back at 5:14 p.m., but was sent to voicemail instead, as the phone did not have reception at that time.

The tower from which this call was dropped was L651A, which covers Woodlawn and the area around Woodlawn High School. The previous call, at 4:58 p.m., had originated on L654C, which roughly covers the area of Jay’s mother’s house — however, as an incoming call, that could also be an artifact of the unreliability of location data for incoming calls, making it uncertain where the phone had been before. These records indicate that the 4:58 p.m. call was likely from Adnan asking Jay to pick him up at 5:30 p.m., which was the typical time that track practice ended. After receiving the call, Jay (along with the cellphone) then migrated up towards Woodlawn to pick Adnan up, so that, at 5:13 p.m., the phone was in the area covered by L651A.

The Real Nisha Call

The real Nisha Call was not the 3:32 p.m. call on January 13th, but a call that occurred at 7:17 p.m. on February 14th. That call — unlike the call made to Nisha on January 13th — is consistent with the cellphone records, with Nisha’s testimony concerning the nature of the phone call, and with Jay’s work records.

The Real Nisha Call

The Real Nisha Call

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