Cellphone Maps for the Docket’s Serial Special – February 13, 1 p.m. EST

For those who have seen the Docket’s one-hour Serial special — available to watch online on Shift by MSNBC (part 1) (part 2) — you’ll find below the fold a complete set of the maps that we discuss during the show, to help you follow along with Jay’s non-chronological testimony concerning Adnan’s cell records.

And, courtesy of an anonymous commenter, here is a gif of all the maps combined:

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Serial: The Burial in Leakin Park Did Not Take Place at 7:00 p.m.

The Docket –  February 13, at 1:00 p.m. est, : Just a quick note — Rabia Chaudry and I will be appearing on MSNBC Shift’s the Docket tomorrow, for a one-hour Serial special. You can watch online, it should be a good show! Unfortunately, former prosecutor Kevin Urick had to cancel and will not be joining us – but hey, that just means there will be more time for us to actually discuss the evidence in this case.


On February 16, 1999, less than a week after Hae’s body had been found in Leakin Park, a grand jury had already been convened to investigate whether Adnan should be indicted for her murder. At that point, the only evidence to suggest Adnan had been involved in her murder (or, at least, the only evidence that the prosecution has ever chosen to disclose) consisted of an anonymous phone call that was placed on February 12th, by an “Asian male 18-21 years old,” who “advised investigators [they] should concentrate on the victim’s boyfriend[,] Adna Ansyed.” With this flimsy evidence as a starting point, a grand jury began investigating Adnan, and issued a subpoena for his cellphone records.

When investigators received the location data associated with those phone records, they thought they saw something very important: the 7:09 and 7:16 p.m. calls had originated on tower L689, in Leakin Park. On the strength of these two little numbers, from the print out of a cellphone billing record, the state’s entire case was born. Adnan was in Leakin Park at 7 p.m., burying Hae’s body — or so the story goes — because the cellphone records showed he was in Leakin Park then, and Jay said he was in Leakin Park then. Case closed. From that point onward, the detectives believed that it was settled fact that Hae had been buried in the 7:00 p.m. hour, and all further evidence that they obtained was filtered, shifted, or disregarded, in whatever way was necessary to fit that theory.

And that meant filtering, shifting, and disregarding a lot of evidence. As a result of their fixation upon the 7:09 and 7:16 p.m. phone calls, the investigators and the prosecution overlooked the fact that all the rest of the evidence in the case showed that Hae had not been buried in Leakin Park shortly after 7:00 p.m., but rather had been buried at a much later time — long after the “Leakin Park phone calls,” and long after Adnan and Jay had gone their separate ways that day.

a. The Medical Examiner’s Findings

In claiming that Hae had been buried at 7 p.m., the prosecution either overlooked or ignored the fact that this timeline was contrary to the medical examiner’s findings with respect to livor mortis. As Hae’s body was found to be positioned on its right ride at the burial site in Leakin Park, and as the pattern of lividity found by the medical examiner showed that Hae had been left on her front for an extended period of time after her death, her body was not buried until at least eight hours after her death, and most likely even longer than that.

Hae’s body was positioned on its right side:

When Mr. S led investigators to the burial site in Leakin Park, they found Hae’s body was laid out on its right side, in a shallow depression behind a log, and covered over with dirt and large rocks. The positioning of the body was confirmed by the report of the medical examiner:

The body was found in the woods, buried in a shallow grave with the hair, right foot, left knee, and left hip partially exposed. The body was on her right side. (Autopsy Report.)

In accordance with the prosecution’s MO in this case (and, presumably, many other cases during this time period) there are no written records aside from the autopsy report which documents the position of Hae’s body at the burial site. Although a forensic anthropologist, Dr. William Rodriguez Ill, Ph.D., was present at the crime scene to oversee the disinterment of Hae’s body, he never produced any written reports of his findings or observations. This was part of the state’s litigation strategy, pursuant to which those involved in the investigation refrained from committing their findings to paper whenever possible — because if an investigator’s findings were not preserved in writing, then the prosecution could not be required to produce that writing to the defense.

As a result, everything we know about Dr. Rodriguez’s analysis of the crime scene comes from oral statements that he made in the months after Hae’s body was found. His first statement was made to Prosecutor Kathleen Murphy, on July 31, 1999, and following his statement, Murphy took notes concerning the portions of it that she deemed to be worth writing down. The result was a brief, five-line memorandum, which had the following to say about how Hae had been buried:

Rocks piled on her. Area had been dug out. Dirt over it. Large rocks on body, one on hand. Keep animals from dragging body off. Way body is exposed – animal activity.

Soil samples: typical of wooded area, highly organic. Collected plants, green plant material underneath. Couldn’t tell if tool used.

Notably, the fact the body was positioned on its right side was absent from the prosecutor’s brief memo. However, although Dr. Rodriguez also avoided ever testifying at trial as to how the body had been positioned at the burial site, his testimony did indirectly confirm that Hae had been buried on her side:

Dr. Rodriguez: Well, here we see in this photograph a number of the leaf debris has been brushed away. We can see we’re beginning some excavation to trowel out around the body producing its outline. You can see the leg here bent at the knee (1/28/00 Tr. 164).

If the body had been laid out frontally, in a way that could have been consistent with the livor mortis findings, then photographs would not have been able to depict the leg “bent at the knee” unless the leg had been sticking straight up in the air — a fact which I assume would have been noted, had that been the case.

Additionally, evidence that Hae’s body had been buried on its right side also comes from Jay’s initial statements to the police, and his descriptions of how Hae had been buried. Although Jay’s statements are useless when its comes to figuring out the truth of what happened on January 13, 1999, they are very useful when it comes to figuring out what the investigators knew about the crime, and when they knew it. Based on Jay’s first interview, the investigators knew that Hae had been buried on her right side, because they made sure that Jay specified those facts in his statement:

Detective: She’s face down, what side is she laying on?
Jay: Her right I think.
Detective: Right side?
Jay: Yeah. (Int.1 at 17-18.)

The detective’s obvious coaching of Jay’s statement shows that the detective, at least, knew that the body had been positioned on its right side.

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Serial: The Prosecution’s Bad Faith Withholding of Crucial Evidence Before Adnan’s Trials

Adnan was deprived of a fair trial by two failures of the criminal justice system: (1) a prosecutor who failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in time for meaningful use by the defense, and (2) a defense attorney who did not fight hard enough to obtain this exculpatory evidence, or to review and prepare for this evidence when she was unexpectedly given a reprieve in the form of a mistrial.

In this post, I have provided an outline of the discovery that occurred before Adnan’s first and second trails. It shows exactly what and when Adnan was informed of the nature of the evidence against him — and, in particular, how the prosecution attempted to go to trial against Adnan without having disclosed either the identity of it star witness or his inconsistent statements to the police, or the fact that it intended to use cellphone location data to show that Adnan was responsible for Hae’s murder.


 

February 28, 1999:

  • Adnan is arrested.

April 13, 1999:

  • Grand jury indicts Adnan for Hae’s murder.

May 17, 1999:

  • The defense files an omnibus request for discovery from the prosecution. The state’s responses are due within 10 days of the request, plus an additional three days to allow time for mailing.

At this point, the only information the defense has been given about Hae’s murder is the (extremely limited) information contained in the indictment and in the warrants. Here is the full extent of the information that the defense was given:

On 09 February 1999, at approximately 2pm., the Baltimore City Police Department responded to the 4400 block N. Franklintown Road, for a body that had been discovered by a passerby. Members of the Armed Services Medical Examiners Office responded and disinterred the remains. A post mortem examination [ruled the] manner of death a homicide. Subsequently, the victim was identified as Hae Min Lee. . .  On 27 February 1999, your Affiant along with Detective William F. Ritz had the occasion to interview a witness to this offense at the offices of homicide. This witness indicated that on 13 January 1999, the witness, met Adnan Syed at Edmondson and Franklintown Road in Syed’s auto. Syed, who was driving the victim’s auto, opened the victim’s trunk and showed the witness the victim’s body, which had been strangled. This witness, then follows Syed in Syed’s auto, Syed driving the victim’s auto, to Leakin Park, where Syed buries the victim in a shallow grave. Subsequently, this witness then follows Syed, who is still driving the victim’s auto, to a location where Syed parks the victim’s automobile. Syed then gets into his car and drives the witness to a location in Baltimore county where the digging tools are discarded in a dumpster.

The defense has not been informed of (1) how Hae was killed; (2) where Hae was killed; (3) when Hae was killed; (4) the identity of the state’s witness; (5) the correct day that the witness was interviewed; (6) where Hae’s car was left; (7) when Hae was buried; (8) where exactly Hae was buried; (9) how the body was found and who Mr. S is; (10) where the trunk pop took place according to the state’s other witness; (11) the existence of a second witness; or (12) where the “digging tools” and other evidence was disposed of.

[Note: Notice how they say “digging tools” there? That’s because in Jay’s first statement, he claims he and Adnan used “a pick” and “a shovel” to dig the hole. Only later does Jay change his story and claim they used two shovels and no pick.]

May 30, 1999:

  • Deadline for the prosecution’s responses to the defense”s discovery requests. The prosecution fails to produce a single document to the defense.

June 3, 1999:

  • Trial is set for October 13, 1999.

June 16, 1999:

  • The prosecution files a motion for an extension of time in which to provide discovery, asking the court for an additional 30 days in which to provide its responses. As the basis for this request, the prosecution cites to “vacation and travel plans.”
  • Due to the prosecution’s failure to provide any discovery whatsoever, the defense attempts to contact the Medical Examiner’s office directly in order to obtain a copy of the autopsy report.

June 23, 1999:

  • The medical examiner informs the defense that he has been instructed by the prosecutor’s office not to release a copy of the autopsy report to the defense, and that he will only be able to do so with the prosecution’s permission.

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Serial: The Prosecution’s Use of Cellphone Location Data was Inaccurate, Misleading, and Deeply Flawed

Note: In order to provide context for this post on the prosecution’s use of cellphone evidence, Rabia has given me permission to post transcripts from the testimony of Abraham Waranowitz, the prosecution’s expert witness:


The significance of the cellphone evidence that was presented at Adnan’s trial was extremely limited in scope. By the prosecution’s own admissions, the location data from Adnan’s cellphone billing records did not show the cellphone’s location at any particular point on the day of Hae’s murder. Instead, the nominal purpose of the location data was simply to demonstrate that the prosecution’s theory of the case was not disproven by the cellphone records. The prosecution’s expert witness did not prove that the phone actually was or probably was at any location – his testimony was introduced as evidence that it was at least feasible for the prosecution’s case to be accurate.

The prosecution failed in accomplishing even that limited goal, however, for the reasons discussed below. The use of the cellphone data at Adnan’s trial was a jumbled, contradictory mess. The evidence was both used in a misleading fashion, and also factually inaccurate. Whether attributable to confusion or design, the prosecution misreported the expert’s findings in a way that caused the results of his testing to appear consistent with Jay’s story.

It should be noted from the outset that the inaccuracies, flaws, and distortions contained in the prosecution’s cellphone evidence should be attributed to the way that evidence was presented at trial, rather than to the underlying testing performed by the expert, Abraham Waranowitz. Waranowitz’s testing was not the problem. He conducted testing of the performance of AT&T’s wireless network in accordance with the prosecution’s representations (and misrepresentations) about the locations of sites that were relevant to the case, and at trial he testified as to his limited conclusions based on that testing. As Koenig discussed on Serial, “the way the science [was] explained [ ] is right” (Episode 5) (emphasis added). The expert witness presented the science fairly — but the prosecution abused it. Take, for example, this claim made by Prosecutor Kathleen Murphy in closing arguments:

[Waranowitz] also told you that the phone picks the cell tower based on signal strength in the area. He told you, too, that this map shows you — these bright colors each represent areas in which a given tower’s signal strength is strongest. And in these areas, the cell phone is going to talk to the given tower. (2/25/99 Tr. 61-62) (emphasis added).

The prosecutor’s claim was simply false. Waranowitz never said any such thing. Instead, Waranowitz fairly presented the fact that coverage maps are estimates, based on factors that fluctuate and cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty – but in closing arguments, the prosecutor nevertheless presented the cellphone data as conclusive evidence of the phone’s location at the time of a call.
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Serial: Evidence that Jay’s Story was Coached to Fit the Cellphone Records

There is one part of Jay’s story that has been bugging me for a while now. Jay claimed in his first police interview that, after dropping Adnan off at track, he went home to wait for Adnan to call to pick him up once practice was over. In Jay’s second police interview, however, and in his testimony at the first trial, his story changes. Jay claims that after dropping Adnan off at track practice, he went to Cathy’s house, where he hung out with Cathy and Jeff for half an hour or so, until Adnan called him to ask to be picked up.

But this story is obviously a lie. Moreover, it is an incredibly dumb lie, because it is easily (and thoroughly) contradicted by Cathy, who is a reliable and credible-seeming witness. According to Cathy, she got home around 5pm that day, and a little while later, Jay and Adnan showed up together. There is no mention whatsoever of Jay making a previous trip to visit her, while Adnan was at track, and in fact, according to Cathy’s timeline, it would have been impossible for Jay’s “first” trip to her apartment to ever have occurred. Even worse, it does not match the cellphone records. There is no way that Jay could have made a trip to Cathy’s after dropping Adnan off at track, not if the cellphone records (or the laws of space-time continuum) have even a shred of meaning.

So this bugged me. A lot. It was a lie that had no apparent explanation, and that made Jay’s story even more impossible and absurd than it already was. Most of Jay’s weird timeline-based lies have obvious explanations for how they evolved, but this one didn’t.

For background purposes, here is what Jay said during his first interview:

Ritz: What happens after you drop him off at school, is there come a point in time when you go back to school and pick him up?
Jay: Yeah, uh huh.
Ritz: How do you know what time to go back to school?
Jay: He called me on the cell phone.
Ritz: Do you recall what time he called you?
Jay: Um maybe like six forty-five, something like that.
Ritz: When he calls you at six forty-five, where exactly are you?
Jay: Ah I think I was at my house.
Ritz: You’re at home?
Jay: Yes.
Ritz: You leave home, you go back over to school to pick him up?
Jay: Uh-huh. (Int.1 at 11-12.)

And here is what Jay said in the second:

Ritz: Were did you drop him off at school?
Jay: In the front.
Ritz: Were do you go?
Jay: I go, I was on my way home, but then I stopped off at G[i]lston Park and ah, ah, I smoked another blunt before I went home. And then, I, I think I may have, may have gone yeah, I went to Cathy and Jeff’s. And [Adnan] called me from the cell phone there and then I left Cathy’s and Jeff’s to hang out. (Int.2 at 20-21.)

And here is why the lie about Cathy’s apartment makes no sense: Jay’s statement in the first interview matches the location data from the cellphone records, while Jay’s statement in the second interview does not. It is generally accepted that Adnan’s call for a pickup from track practice occurred at 4:58 p.m., and this call pings L654C — which would be completely consistent with Jay being at his house (well, one of his houses, anyway) at the time of that call:

Call pings L654C.

4:27 and 4:58 calls ping L654C.

As you can see, Jay’s house is easily in range of L654C. Cathy’s apartment, on the other hand, is absolutely not.

Yet in between the first interview and the second, Jay changed his story — despite the fact that Jay’s claim from his first interview, in which he said that he was at his house when Adnan called him to be picked up from track, is one of the only times that he actually managed to tell a story that matched the location data (even if his timing was about two hours off). So why, then, did Jay change his story in the second interview, to tell a version of events that was even more demonstrably false than his first story, and even more in conflict with the location data from the cellphone records?

Because the police told him to, that’s why. The police falsely believed that L654 was located three farther miles south than it really was, and so they made Jay change his story to match their incorrect location data.

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Serial: The Failure of the Prosecution’s Cellphone Theory, In One Simple Chart

The prosecution’s case against Adnan can be summed up in three words: Leakin Park Pings. Again and again, the prosecution argued (and is still arguing) that Adnan’s guilt can be shown simply from the fact that his cellphone pinged a cell tower in Leakin Park at the same time that Jay, eventually, told police that Hae had been buried. Based on this claim, the prosecution invited the jury to stack speculative inference upon speculative inference: that the phone pinging L689B meant the phone is in L689B, that the phone being in L689B meant that the phone was at Hae’s burial site, that the phone being at Hae’s burial site meant Adnan has the phone. Because, the prosecution asks, what are the odds that the cellphone would ping the Leakin Park tower at the same time that its witness would say that the phone had been in Leakin Park, with someone who was burying Hae’s body?

Well, I have no idea what the odds of that are, and neither did the jury. Because the prosecution never presented any evidence whatsoever concerning the possible locations from which a phone call could ping the Leakin Park tower. The jury was only informed that the burial site was a location from which the cellphone might ping that tower — but there was no mention made whatsoever to the thousands of other locations from which a call could ping that tower, too.

But the tenuousness of the prosecution’s argument is not due merely to its claim about the precise location of the phone within L689B. It is also due to its claim that the cellphone was even in L689B’s territory at all. Because if the tower pings were capable of demonstrating the tower range in which the cellphone was located at the time of a call, as the prosecution claimed, how come the tower pings gave the wrong location for 16 of the 22 calls for which the prosecution’s evidence showed the location of the phone at the time of the call? And if the tower pings are only accurate 27% of the time, according to the prosecution’s own theory of the case, then how can we possibly assume that the tower pings just happened to be accurate for the Leakin Park tower pings, even when they are inaccurate in the overwhelming majority of all other calls?

Below is a table showing the tower pings for each call in comparison to the prosecution’s claims about the location of the phone at the time of each call. As you go through the table below, it may help to refer to this rough map of tower ranges:

Edit Map 2-page1

Tower ranges show the territories for which the labeled tower is the closest tower/antenna. Note: This map does NOT correspond with the territory that a given cell tower’s signal may cover. It shows only the geographically closest tower for a given location.

 

 

Call

Tower

Alleged Location of Cellphone

Distance from Pinged Tower

10:45

(Jay)

L651A

Woodlawn High School (L651A)

Cellphone is in range of pinged tower.

12:07

(Jenn)

L688A

Jenn’s House (L654A)

Cellphone is five ranges east of pinged tower.

12:41

(Jenn)

L652A

Jenn’s House (L654A)

Cellphone is four ranges west of pinged tower.

12:43

(Incoming)

L652A

Jenn’s House (L654A)

Cellphone is four ranges west of pinged tower.

2:36

(Incoming)

L651B

Jenn’s House (L654A)

Cellphone is one range south of pinged tower.

3:15

(Incoming)

L651C

Jenn’s house (L654A), according to Jay’s testimony. Prosecution does not address this call in its statements.

Cellphone is two ranges south of pinged tower.

3:21

(Jenn Home)

L651C

I-70 Park’n’Ride (L689C/L689B)

Cellphone is two to three ranges east of pinged tower

3:32

(Nisha)

L651C

Forrest Park (L689A), according to Jay’s police statements. The prosecution avoids introducing testimony about location of Nisha Call at trial.

Cellphone is three ranges east of pinged tower.

3:48

(Phil)

L651A

Jay has no statements concerning the location of this call. However, under the prosecution’s timeline, the phone
is necessarily (at least) three ranges east of the pinged tower at time of call.

Cellphone is three ranges east of pinged tower.

3:59

(Patrick)

L651A

Jay’s police statements place phone at I-70 Park’n’Ride (L689C/L689B) or Forrest Park (L689A)

Cellphone is two to three ranges east of pinged tower.

4:12

(Jenn)

L689A

Jay testifies that he does not
remember this phone call.

 

N/A

4:27

(Incoming)

L654C

Cathy’s house (L655A), where Jay goes to after dropping Adnan at track

Cellphone is two ranges east of pinged tower.

4:58

(Incoming)

L654C

Cathy’s house (L655A), where Jay goes to after dropping Adnan at track

Cellphone is two ranges east of pinged tower.

5:14

(Incoming Call to Voicemail)

-

Incoming calls to voicemail do not
provide location data

N/A

5:38

(Krista)

L653C

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call

N/A

6:07

(Incoming)

L655A

Cathy’s house (L655A)

Cellphone is in range of pinged tower.

6:09

(Incoming)

L608C

Cathy’s house (L655A)

Cellphone is one range west of pinged tower.

6:24

(Incoming)

L608C

Cathy’s house (L655A)

Cellphone is one range west of pinged tower.

6:59

(Yaser)

L651A

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call, but based on 7:00 pm call, phone must necessarily be in Leakin Park (L689B)

Cellphone is two ranges east of pinged tower.

7:00

(Jenn Pager)

L651A

Leakin Park (L689B)

Cellphone is two ranges east of pinged tower.

7:09

(Incoming)

L689B

Leakin Park (L689B)

Cellphone is in range of pinged tower.

7:16

(Incoming)

L689B

Leakin Park (L689B)

Cellphone is in range of pinged tower.

8:04

(Jenn Pager)

L653A

Edmondson Avenue (L653A, L653C, L654A)

Cellphone is in possible range of pinged tower.

8:05

(Jenn Pager)

L653C

Edmondson Avenue (L653A, L653C, L654A)

Cellphone is in possible range of pinged tower.

9:01

(Nisha)

L651C

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call.

N/A

9:03

(Krista)

L651C

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call.

N/A

9:10

(Krista)

L651C

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call.

N/A

9:57

(Nisha)

L651C

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call.

N/A

10:02

(Yaser)

L698B

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call.

N/A

10:29

(Saad)

L651C

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call.

N/A

10:30

(Ann)

L651C

No testimony as to location of phone at time of call.

N/A

The result? Out of the 30 calls that were made or received on the day of Hae’s murder, there were 22 calls for which the prosecution’s evidence identified the location of the cellphone at the time of the call. Of those 22 calls, only six pinged the tower that covers the range where, according to the prosecution, the cellphone was located. Of those six calls, one occurred while the cellphone was indisputably, according to the testimony of several witnesses, at Woodlawn High School (10:45 am), one occurred while the cellphone was indisputably, according to the testimony of several witnesses, at Cathy’s apartment (6:07 pm), and four occurred while the phone was allegedly in Leakin Park and when Hae’s car was being ditched (7:09, 7:16, 8:04, 8:05).

But isn’t that rather odd? Why is it that the location data for the cellphone is only accurate when we either have multiple non-Jay eyewitnesses who could testify as to the phone’s location at the time of the call, or when the phone was at a location where it absolutely must have been in order for the prosecution’s case against Adnan to hold up?

Could it possibly be that, for the 7:09, 7:16, 8:04, and 8:05 calls, the investigators refused to accept Jay’s story until he gave them an answer that fit their theory of the case? And that for every other call that was not directly incriminating, the investigation did not bother with making sure that Jay’s story actually fit the narrative they were pushing? Because based on the prosecution’s theory of the case, the only apparent explanation for the cellphone records is that the towers pings magically became more accurate from 7:09 to 8:05 p.m., even though they were overwhelmingly unreliable for the rest of that day. Well, either that, or else the prosecution selected a narrative that happened to fit the cellphone records in a way that made Adnan look guilty.

The prosecution’s entire case has gone into a fatal loop. Why are the cellphone records accurate? Because Jay says so. Why is Jay’s testimony accurate? Because the cellphone records say so. Why are the cellphone records accurate? Because… and so on, and so on. Except for one teeny little flaw in that premise: the cellphone records do not actually match Jay’s testimony, and Jay’s testimony does not actually match the cellphone records. So how can two things that do not match one another verify the accuracy of each other?

In other words: instead of asking, “What are the odds that the cellphone would ping Leakin Park if the phone was not there?”, the question we should really be asking is, “What are the odds that the incriminating portions of the prosecution’s theory of the case conveniently match the cellphone records, when everything else does not?”

-Susan

Edit: I should note that the maps I am using present the prosecution’s case in the strongest light possible — I am giving them every possible benefit of the doubt with the idealized territory of L689B.

But that is not how real life works. I am no graphic designer, so you’ll have to forgive the MS Paint rendition, but below is a representation of the signal range for L689 (in red), based on a signal range of two miles. Also included is a representation of the signal range for L653 (in blue). There was no evidence presented at Adnan’s trial concerning the possible range of any of the towers, so I adopted the two-mile figure based on the conservative estimate often used by law enforcement. The radial lines in the southern half of L689 show the direction of the B antenna (“L689B”). Note that the majority of L689B’s signal range, based on the two-mile assumption (which would appear to be consistent with the closest-territory range of L689A and L689C), is not in Leakin Park at all, but in the neighboring territory.

L653 and L689 ranges - 2 mile radiusAnd here is a map showing an actual coverage map (h/t /u/gentrfam). Note that this map does not even show the extent of the overlap of these ranges, although it is a good illustration of the random nature (and noncontiguous blobs of coverage) that real life cell towers provide:

 

Serial: How Prosecutor Kevin Urick Failed to Understand the Cellphone Records He Used to Convict Adnan Syed of Murder

This week, the Intercept released Part 1 of its interview with Kevin Urick, the prosecutor at Adnan’s 1999 and 2000 trials. Part 2 of that interview had been scheduled to be released on Thursday, but due to what appear to be some editorial issues over at the Intercept, it has yet to be published. Since I am tired of waiting for it to come out, however, I am going to go ahead and address Urick’s claims in the first part of the interview now.

Urick describes Adnan’s case “as pretty much a run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder.” When asked about whether he harbored any doubts as to the outcome of the case, he told the Intercept,

Urick: No. The reason is: once you understood the cellphone records–that killed any alibi defense that Syed had. I think when you take that in conjunction with Jay’s testimony, it became a very strong case.

Right away, we have a problem. “Once you understand the cellphone records,” Urick says, Adnan’s guilt becomes clear — but Urick himself never understood the cellphone records he used to convict Adnan of first-degree murder. His belief in Adnan’s guilt is based upon a false understanding (or, perhaps, a false professed understanding) of what the cellphone records shows in this case. Although he made numerous factual errors throughout Adnan’s first trial, perhaps the three of the most significant were: (1) his claim that Jay’s statements matched the cellphone records before the call logs and location data were shown to him; (2) his claim that Adnan “checked his voicemail” at 5:14 pm; and (3) his claim that the 7:09 and 7:16 pm calls are proof that the phone was in Leakin Park.

Let’s start with the corroboration issue. Here is what Urick said in the Intercept interview:

Urick: The problem was that the cellphone records corroborated so much of Jay’s testimony. He said, ‘We were in this place,’ and it checked out with the cellphone records. And he said that in the police interviews prior to obtaining the cellphone evidence.

That is simply a false representation of fact. As I discussed extensively in my previous post on the evolution of Jay’s perjured testimony, Jay’s statements to the police did not match the cellphone records before he was shown them. Flat out did not match, full stop. What Urick said in the Intercept interview is not true, as anyone can see for themselves, if they go through Jay’s first and second police statements. Particularly in the first interview, before Jay was ever shown either the call log or the tower data, when not a single call “check[s] out” with his statement.

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