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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Serial: How to Commit Effective Perjury in Eleven Easy Steps

The rumors of Serial’s end have been greatly exaggerated — and between Jay’s recent interview with the Intercept, the release of the trial transcripts from the first trial, the upcoming appeal hearing in Adnan’s collateral appeal, and the work being done by the Innocence Project, new information is coming out faster than I can keep up with. I’ll have a more comprehensive post up in a day or two discussing some of those things, but for now, I wanted to address a specific subject: not what lies Jay has told, or why he told them, but how he was able to come up with those lies in the first place.

Because one of the primary arguments raised by those who support the prosecution’s case is that Jay’s testimony, although troubling due to its inconsistencies, is nevertheless indicative of Adnan’s guilt, because it would have been impossible for Jay to have invented a story out of thin air that was sufficient to convict Adnan of first-degree murder. And that is absolutely correct — there is not a chance in the world that Jay could have come up with the testimony he gave at Adnan’s trial, given only a single shot to do so. Jay needed many, many tries in order to cobble together a somewhat believable story. More than that, he needed someone to supply him with additional information about Adnan’s alibi and the prosecution’s physical evidence, and who could identify and correct all the parts of Jay’s stories that were either demonstrably false or else ineffective at incriminating Adnan.

Luckily for Jay, the state of Maryland was happy to help him out with that. Based on the transcripts from Adnan’s first trial, we now have something closer to a complete picture of how the story of the prosecution’s star witness evolved.

1. Jay’s Statements Prior to Police Questioning, January 13 – February 28, 1999: After Hae’s murder and burial in Leakin Park, Jay told at least four friends about his role in covering up the crime. He told different stories to at least three of them — Jenn was given the version about Hae being killed in Best Buy, Chris was given the version about the car salesman and Hae being strangled at the Woodlawn library before the trunk pop later occurring at the pool hall, Tayyib was given the version about Adnan asking Jay for help with the murder and Jay telling him that he would only help with the cover up. At least one of those friends, Jenn, provided Jay with feedback  on the believability of that story, and “told him there were security cameras in the parking lot and at the entrance” of the Best Buy (Episode 8). Consequently, out of fear of what those security cameras might show, Jay attempted to change his story, trying out several more renditions of the trunk pop claim before eventually settling on the story he gave in his first interview, which was that the trunk pop occurred at a strip. (After all — a strip is the last place anyone is going to have a security camera!)

Of course, this attempt at crafting his story ended up backfiring a bit on Jay — because the police got to Jenn first, and she told them the story Jay had first tried out on her, which was that the murder and trunk pop occurred at the Best Buy.

2. Jay’s First Pre-Interview, February 28, 1999: We do not know the contents of the first story Jay gave to the police, because it was not recorded. When the police brought Jay in to the station during the early hours of February 28th, he and the detectives talked for about an hour before the tape recorder was turned on. As a result, here is everything we know about the contents of that first statement:

Detective: During the first interview there were a lot of inconsistencies
Jay: Yes.
Detective: And there are too many to go over but you kind of disassociated yourself from all the information you provided in this interview.
Jay: Yes. (Int.1 at 24-25.)

In other words, Jay’s first attempt to explain how Adnan was responsible for Hae’s murder was a complete failure. It had “a lot” of inconsistencies — and for a story to have a “a lot” of inconsistencies in comparison to his first recorded statement, it must have been damned near incoherent.

3. Jay’s First Recorded Interview, February 28, 1999: After the pre-interview, the detectives and Jay talked through his story until Jay came up with a better version, at which point the tape recorder was turned on. Jay admits he was lying in his first story, but swears that he is telling the truth now.

4. Jay’s Telephone Conversations with Detectives, February 28 – March 15, 1999: Jay acknowledges that the detectives contacted him by phone to ask him “questions challenging what [he] had said” in the first interview (12/15/99 Tr. 158). In doing so, the police alerted Jay to the problems they had found with his story, and gave him the opportunity both to correct those statements, and to talk with potential witnesses (i.e., Cathy, Jeff, Jenn, Mark) and find out whether they had been contacted by police, and if so, what they had said.

5. Jay’s Second Pre-Interview, March 15, 1999: After determining that essentially the entirety of Jay’s first police statement was nothing but a pack of lies, the cops make a surprise visit to Jay and take him down to the police station for another round of interviews. During a three hour “pre-interview,” which was unrecorded, the detectives showed Jay the cell phone records for Adnan’s cell phone, and explained to him why they knew his earlier stories had been false.

CG: And you knew that on the 15th of March, you still felt considered like a suspect; right?
Jay: Yes.
CG: They had at that time, because they shared with you your acquaintance Adnan’s cell phone records; did they not?
Jay: Yes.
CG: Okay. And in fact, they asked you about numbers on the cell phone records; did they not?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: And they asked you to describe numbers on a cell phone printout; did they not?
Jay: Yes, ma’am. (12/15/99 Tr. 142.)

Jay later seemed to be about to acknowledge that the police “presented” him with the cell phone records prior to the interview:

CG: Well, you’ve already told us, [Jay], that you recall that they had the cell phone records; correct?
Jay: That wasn’t until the 15th, wasn’t it?
CG: No, sir.
Jay: That was the 28th?
CG: That’s what you answered, sir. Do you now not recall?
Jay: The police presented me —
Urick: Objection.
The Court: Sustained. (12/15/99 Tr. 162.)

Urick, however, jumps right in before Jay can elaborate — it seems like he is not particularly keen on having Jay explain exactly what the police did to assist him in correcting his statements.

6. Jay’s Second Recorded Interview, March 15, 1999: Three hours after Jay arrived at the police station, the tape recorded was finally turned on, and Jay gave his second recorded statement.  When confronted with his lies, Jay freely admitted to the cops that he had been lying in his earlier stories, but swears to them that he was telling the truth now.

According to Detective MacGillivary, Jay managed to do a lot better at the second interview. He testified, at the second trial, that he and Detective Ritz had “noticed that [Jay] statement did not match up to the records,” but that “[o]nce confronted with the cell phone records, [Jay] ‘remembered things a lot better’” (Brief of Appellant at 11). Great work, boys.

Of course, the only things Jay “remembered [ ] a lot better” during that interview were the things that the detectives had identified as being false, and told him he needed to change. All of those lies that the detectives hadn’t caught? Jay stuck by them, now with the knowledge that the cops had not been able to disprove what he had said. On the other hand, all the parts of his story that did conflict with the evidence he was happy to abandon, and he adopted a new version of events in their place, telling new lies to replace the lies that had already been uncovered:

CG: Now, the second time that you spoke to them, the time when they confronted you with your earlier lies, you told us you then told them the truth; correct?
Jay: The second time?
CG: The second time —
Jay: Not the complete truth.
CG: on the 15th of March; correct?
Jay: No, ma’ am, I did not.
CG: You didn’t tell them the whole truth?
Jay: No, ma’am, I did not.
CG: You again lied to them; correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: At a time when they had it on tape; correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: You lied the first time and you attempted to correct some of those lies, right?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: But you again lied about other things, isn’t that correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am. (12/15/99 Tr. 192.)

So the version of events Jay gives in the second interview is still not the truth, but it is a much improved lie compared to his first version of events. (He even almost succeeds in telling a story that does not involve either Hae’s car or Adnan’s car randomly disappearing!)

7. Jay’s Written Itinerary, March 18, 1999: Although no copy of this document has yet been released, and it is not entirely clear if Adnan’s defense counsel was aware of its existence at the time of the first trial, on March 18th, three days after Jay’s second interview, Jay provided the cops with a written itinerary of every place he and Adnan went on January 13, 1999:

When Jay took the cops on this ride on March 18, to map out the timeline, he told them that after they left the Park and Ride, they went in search of weed. He says that’s when he called his friend Patrick. (Episode 5.)

This is the route that Dana and Sarah try to recreate, and which they ultimately dismiss as a fool’s errand.  But it was certainly a productive trip for Jay, because it allowed him to see, in real time, exactly what parts of his timeline did not match up with reality:

The next stop after Best Buy [according to the March 18th itinerary] is the I-70 Park and Ride, where Jay says they leave Hae’s car for a few hours. It’s just a large commuter parking lot. Jay says he follows Adnan there, Adnan is driving Hae’s car.  . . . When Jay took the cops on this ride on March 18, to map out the timeline, he told them that after they left the Park and Ride, they went in search of weed. He says that’s when he called his friend Patrick. And this is where things start to get off course. There is indeed a call to Patrick on the call log. But it’s at 3:59 p.m. So right away, we have a time problem.

By trial, though, Jay has sorted that out, so that his story better matched the call log. He testified that he called Jenn Pusateri first, at 3:21 to find out if Patrick was home. Jenn testified that, no, Jay would not have called her to find out where Patrick was.  That’s just not a thing that would have happened. But in any case, there is a call to Jenn at 3:21. Jay says that when they didn’t find Patrick at home, they switched course and headed up to Forest Park to buy weed. Dana and I drive that same route. (Id.)

The March 18th itinerary is, incidentally, the very last time Jay tells a version of events that involve a trip to Patapsco State Park. One can only assume that when forced to actually live out the story he was trying to tell, he realized just how ridiculous the Patapsco State Park trip was, and wisely chose to abandon it.

8. Jay’s Phone Calls and Meetings with the Police, Ongoing, February 28, 1999 – April 13, 1999: Jay had numerous other (apparently unrecorded) meetings and phone calls with the police during the course of the investigation. Jay testified that throughout the entire time police were hauling him in for “official” interviews, they were calling him up to chat about smaller problems with his story, and asking him to correct problems with it:

Sometimes they would come and say, “We need to speak with you at this time,” but never an extensive conversation (12/15/99 Tr. 90).

We do not know the specifics of these little chats, as Gutierrez declined to ask about them, but it is safe to assume the conversations either involved questioning Jay about discrepancies in his story (thus alerting him to the parts he needed to change) and seeking clarification about other parts of the case (thus alerting him to other details it would be helpful for him to provide).

9. Jay’s Third Interview, Unrecorded, April 13, 1999: On the day that the grand jury indicted Adnan for Hae’s  murder, the detectives brought Jay in for a third official sit-down interview. The timing of the third interview is no coincidence — as of April 13, 1999, the prosecution had the advantage of having heard all of the testimony presented before the grand jury, and were no longer only relying on Jay’s crazy stories. They now had a much clearer idea of where all Jay’s previous statements had gone wrong, and exactly where Jay’s statements conflicted with that of the prosecution’s other witnesses:

CG: Were you again confronted [on April 13th] about other inconsistencies about what you had said on either the 28th that was taped or on the 15th of March that was taped?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: Okay. And you again attempted to explain to the detectives what all of these inconsistencies were, correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am. (12/15/99 Tr. 187.)

Once again, the police presented Jay with a to-do list of all the problems in his story that he needed to fix. But it was not just conflicts with the statements from other witnesses that the detectives needed to have Jay correct — they also needed to make Jay change his story so that it fit the location data from Adnan’s cell records. By that point, the poor beleaguered detectives must have realized that their location data — with its extremely valuable Leakin Park pings — was going to be rendered completely worthless by their star witness’s testimony — with its failure to match the location data in most relevant respects. Either the location data was right or Jay’s statement was right, but it was painfully obvious they could not both be right. And since they needed both for their case against Adnan, that had to be remedied:

CG: And, sir, when you spoke to them on the 13th what things did they ask you about?
Jay: Just specifics of where the cell phone was. (12/15/99 Tr. 194.)

In his testimony at the first trial, however, Jay had something even more interesting to say about the statement he gave to the detectives, during this unrecorded interview:

CG: And that’s why they again attempted to confront you with those lies a month later on the 13th, which was a Tuesday, of April, isn’t that correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: So you lied to them on the 28th; correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: And you lied to them on the 15th of March, correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: And, of course, on the 13th of April you lied to them about other things, did you not?
Jay: No, ma’am, I did not. (12/15/99 Tr. 193.)

Wait, what?! Jay committed to the April 13th story as the truest story of them all? The story in which “[Jay] told police that [Adnan] had killed the victim in Patapsco State Park, and that [Adnan] paid him to help”? (CoSA Opinion, at 9.) That is what Jay is going to claim he did not lie about?

I have no idea what was going on at trial, because, somehow, Gutierrez did not follow up in questioning Jay about why his April 13th story is the Most Truest story of them all. Did the prosecution fail to disclose the contents of this unrecorded interview to the defense, and Gutierrez had no idea what Jay was saying? Or was Gutierrez so incompetent she knew about it, and did not think to question Jay about it? Because this sure looks like it must have been either a Brady violation or ineffective assistance of counsel — either Gutierrez did not have the April 13th story, or else she screwed up, one or the other.

It is clear, however, why the April 13th statement remained unrecorded. Because once Jay started spouting off his story about Adnan paying him to assist him with cleaning up the murder he committed in Patapsco State Park, the police sure as heck were not going to be turning on that tape recorder and allowing all that bad evidence to be permanently recorded. Best to forget that the whole April 13th interview ever happened.

Jay himself appears to have been aware of why the detectives chose not to record the April 13th statement — and consequently, aware of the fact that the detectives were assisting him in preparing his story for trial, by looking the other direction when he screwed it up too badly:

CG: [On April 13th,] [t]hey hadn’t caught up to all of the lies, particularly the new ones that you told them on the 15th,  had they?
Jay: I have no knowledge of that, ma’am.
CG: Right, because they didn’t — they confronted you but they didn’t tell you all of the things that you knew you had lied about
Urick: Objection.
CG: Correct?
The Court: Overruled.
Jay: No, ma’am, they did not.
CG: No, they didn’t because they hadn’t caught them all; correct?
Jay: Hmm, I’m not aware of that.
CG: You don’t know whether they caught all of your lies or not?
Jay: Pardon me?
CG: You don’t know whether they caught all of your lies or not?
Jay: I’m not aware. That’s their job. I’m not —
CG: So it’s their job to catch you up in your lies; correct?
Jay: That’s their job to recite what I say, yes.
CG: It’s easier for them to catch you in lies that they record, is it not?
Jay: Yes, ma’am. (12/15/99 Tr. 192-94.)

And if Jay lies in a police statement, but the tape recorder was not turned on at the time, does the lie really count for impeachment purposes?

10. Jay’s Meetings with Urick, September – December 1999: At the first trial, Jay testified that he met with Urick on two occasions (12/15/99 Tr. 58). The first meeting would have been on September 7th, when he arranged for Jay to have an attorney and negotiated a plea deal. The second time would apparently be a meeting to discuss Jay’s testimony at trial.

Although it is unclear exactly when it occurred, it was likely during Jay’s second interview with Urick that he was provided transcripts of his recorded police statements:

CG: And you know that there’ s a transcript made of what you told them [during the February 28th and March 15th interviews], isn’t that correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: Because you’ve had an opportunity to review the transcripts of both occasions that were recorded in which you lied to the police, isn’t that correct?
Jay: Yes, ma’am.
CG: Yes. And you have in, fact, reviewed the transcripts of both occasions, isn’t that correct?
Jay: No, ma’am. (12/15/99 Tr. 211.)

The only reason you give a witness transcripts of their prior statements, at least under these circumstances, is so that they can be prepared to give better trial testimony. Jay denies that he actually made use of this opportunity, but since he has lied about everything else, there is no reason to believe he is not lying about this too. Besides, whether or not he actually reviewed the transcripts, he fact that he was provided with the chance to do so is significant, and shows how the prosecution was working with Jay to “correct” the testimony he would give at trial.

11. Jay’s First Trial Testimony: By the time of trial, Jay had told his story dozens upon dozens of times. Between the first story he tells and the last, all but perhaps three or four details have been changed, and a great deal of new evidence and data that Jay did not have at the time of his first statement — the phone log, the location data, the statements from other witnesses — have been provided to him, and incorporated into the statement he tells at trial, under oath.

Everything he said in that last version was a complete lie, of course. He said so last week. The whole timeline, the whole trunk pop thing, when Adnan made phone calls and where he was when he did — Jay just made it all up, because he liked his imaginary version better than the truth. It was a pretty good lie, though, all things considered.

And perjury on the scale that Jay has admitted to is not something that just happens overnight — it’s something that takes a great deal of practice and teamwork to achieve.


Serial: The Maryland Court of Special Appeal’s Unpublished Decision Denying Adnan’s Appeal in 2003

One of the legal aspects of Adnan’s case that Serial gave little attention to (no attention to?) was the outcome of Adnan’s initial appeal, which was rejected by an unpublished opinion in 2003. The parties’ briefs in that appeal have been available online (see here for copies of appellant’s brief and appellee’s brief), but the actual decision handed down by the court was not. As a result, although we knew that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals (CoSA) had rejected Adnan’s arguments (several of which appeared to have a strong legal basis, although might not have necessarily warranted reversing his connection), we had no way of knowing the court’s reasoning for its decision.

After jumping through a few bureaucratic hurdles, I requested a copy of the opinion from the Maryland archives, and it finally arrived last week. Unfortunately, I was also out of town for all of last week, so the opinion got a little waterlogged while it was hanging out in my mailbox. It’s still legible, albeit slightly worse for the wear:

Syed v State - MD CoSA Opinion - No. 923-00 - cover

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Serial: Why the Nisha Call Shows That Hae Was Murdered at 3:32 p.m.

In my previous posts on Serial, I’ve avoided writing about whether Adnan was responsible for Hae’s murder, and have focused instead on whether the state’s evidence showed that Adnan was responsible for Hae’s murder. (Spoiler: It doesn’t.) From a legal perspective, that’s the more interesting question. Moreover, for the most part, I don’t believe we can figure out what “really happened” — the state’s evidence was just too incomplete. The number of unknowns is so high that the existing record can easily support a dozen possible theories of how Hae was murdered, with no reliable way to distinguish which among them is most accurate.

At least for this post, however, I’m going to stray a bit from the legal theme, and make a proposal for what I believe “really happened.” I think that the best interpretation of the currently available evidence is that Hae was murdered at approximately 3:30 p.m., and that the Nisha Call was a pocket dial that occurred during the killer’s assault.

While there is (obviously) insufficient evidence to show this conclusively, I am reasonably comfortable in assuming that this is what happened, unless and until further evidence is made available to contradict it. Note, however, that this is only an explanation for how Hae was killed. I am not making any sort of claim as to who was responsible for Hae’s death, and there is no way to prove that with the evidence available. All I am arguing is that Hae was murdered at approximately 3:30 p.m., and whoever killed her was in possession of Adnan’s cell phone.

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Serial: An Examination of the Prosecution’s Evidence Against Adnan Syed

In previous posts, I’ve dissected both Adnan’s cell phone records and also Jay’s statements to the police and his testimony at trial. This post, rather than focusing on any single piece of the state’s case, is an attempt to assemble and review all available evidence that supports the state’s case against Adnan. If any readers think there is evidence that I’ve left off, please let me know — all reasonable evidence will be added. My goal is to have as complete a record as possible, with links to the available primary documents. Even for those of you who don’t agree with my analysis, hopefully it will be still be helpful to have a collection of the known evidence collected in one place.

Where relevant, I have also noted which of the three categories the state’s evidence falls into: (1) evidence that the prosecution could and did use against Adnan at trial; (2) evidence that the prosecution could not use against Adnan at trial, but somehow was able to get admitted at trial anyway; and (3) evidence that the prosecution could not use or did not have at the time of Adnan’s trial, but which we have now because it has been made available on Serial. That way, people can evaluate the case against Adnan in light of both the evidence that the prosecution should have been able to use at Adnan’s trial, and also in light of all evidence that is currently availability, regardless of its admissibility for trial purposes.

Summary of the State’s Case

There was no physical evidence linking Adnan to Hae’s murder. It should be noted that this was not because of any lack of effort on the state’s part; in developing a case against Adnan, investigators compared soil found on Adnan’s boots to soil samples where Hae’s body was found, looked for Adnan’s fingerprints in Hae’s car and at the crime scene, tried to match fibers and hairs found at the crime scene with Adnan’s hair and clothes. But all of that came up empty.

And by itself, that might not mean anything. Sometimes criminals are really careful about not leaving trace evidence behind, or just get really lucky. But that does mean that the state’s evidence against Adnan did not consist of any evidence that could show a physical link between Adnan and any of the crime scenes. Instead, the state built its case out of three main pillars: Jay’s testimony, Adnan’s cell phone records, and evidence suggesting that Adnan is the kind of person who could have killed his ex-girlfriend in a vengeful rage.

The first two points I have already addressed in detail (in posts outlining the lack of any objective basis for concluding that Jay’s testimony was credible; the contradictory and dreamlike nature of Jay’s statements concerning Hae’s burial; the indications from the transcripts of Jay’s police interviews that hist statement was coached by detectives; and a comparison of the data from Adnan’s cell phone records and the witness statements). While I have also provided a brief (well, sorta brief…) summary of those topics below, please check the prior posts for the complete discussion on those issues.

That leaves us with the third type of evidence in the state’s case against Adnan: evidence suggesting that Adnan is the kind of person who could have killed Hae. This category include evidence based on witness’s perceptions of an individual’s behavior or character, when that perception had been informed by the perceiver’s knowledge of that individual’s possible involvement in a crime. It includes, for example, evidence that is introduced to show that someone’s reactions to an event were not what his or her reaction “should have been,” or that the way someone had been acting was odd or shady, or that someone was “the kind of person” who might commit a crime.

And I’ll go ahead fully disclose my biases now: as far as I’m concerned, this sort of post hoc, perception-based evidence is the modern day successor to phrenology and tarot card readings. Because I don’t care what kind of person Adnan is or was; I don’t care if he stole candy from babies, or smoked a bowl of weed every morning, or if he bullied kids for their lunch money. I also don’t care if he pauses too long (or not long enough) when answering questions, or if he shows insufficient anger about being imprisoned, or if he was born a Pisces with Jupiter rising. None of that has even the slightest relevance to the question of whether he killed Hae. If Adnan had previously tried to kill someone he was in an intimate relationship with, or even used physical violence against them — well, I would care about that, that would have some relevance, but as far I know there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest anything along those lines. And by the same token, I don’t care what kind of person Jay is or was, either. I don’t care if he has a criminal record, I don’t care if he dealt drugs, and I don’t care if he tried to stab a friend because the friend needed to know what being stabbed felt like. (And I definitely do not care if he owned a rat-eating toad.)

So while I have tried to list all of the state’s evidence against Adnan in this post, I make no promises about giving any serious consideration to “evidence” consisting of things such as “I can tell that Adnan is a sociopath because he once described his facial expression to someone he was speaking to on the phone” is not going to make the cut. You are, of course, free to disagree with me on the significance of that kind of evidence. However, any time the state’s case is based upon a suggestion that Adnan was a “bad person,” and therefore could have been capable of killing Hae, I would encourage you to consider whether or not that sort of amateur psychoanalysis can truly serve as a replacement for evidence demonstrating that Adnan actually killed Hae.

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Serial: More Details About Jay’s Transcripts Than You Could Possibly Need

Full disclosure: this post is something of a cop-out, since I probably will not have time to write another substantive post until this weekend. But while I already addressed a lot of the oddities in Jay’s police interviews, in my previous post about Jay’s descriptions of how Hae was buried, people have been asking about  the rest of Jay’s transcripts. So even though, at this point, I am beating a horse that is extremely deceased, I have cleaned up some of my notes on the rest of Jay’s transcripts. But you’ve been warned — unless you happen to have an interest in the smallest details of Jay’s police statements, this post is not for you.

Also, I want to preface this by noting that, from the comments I have received on my previous posts about Jay’s questionable trial testimony, it would appear there is a large segment of Serial listeners who find all of this irrelevant and pointless. A common response seems to be, “Well of course Jay lied about everything — we already know that. But the fact Jay was never able to tell the truth about what happened does not mean that Adnan is innocent, it just means Jay helped Adnan kill Hae.” And I promise that I am getting to that; there is definitely an important discussion to be had about everything in the prosecution’s case that was not based on Jay’s testimony.

But the fact that Jay lied throughout all of the statements he gave cannot be dismissed as blithely as some people would seem to like. First, although Jay’s lies are often excused on the basis that they were only told  either to minimize his role in the crime, or to protect Jenn, that simply cannot explain the bulk of Jay’s lies. Yes, some of his lies do appear to have been directed at protecting Jenn, and that is an important piece of the puzzle. (And I would fully agree that all of Jay’s lies are designed to protect himself from being charged with a more serious crime.) But most of Jay’s lies are not about things that could alter his culpability for any crimes — in fact, Jay’s statements grow steadily more inculpating as his interviews go on. (Alhough, if anyone would like to theorize about why lying about Patapsco State Park was so crucial to Jay’s defense, please be my guest.)

Second, while it is true, like I mentioned earlier, that one witness’s fabricated testimony cannot be used to prove Adnan’s innocence, by the same token that fabricated testimony cannot be used to prove Adnan’s guilt, either. Because once you agree that Jay’s story is unreliable, inconsistent, and manufactured, then the only way to conclude that Adnan is guilty is to discard everything in Jay’s statements that is inconsistent with the theory that Adnan and Jay worked together to kill Hae (which is a lot of things to discard), and to also assume the existence of a whole host of additional facts that were not contained in Jay’s testimony, or anywhere else.

But once your theory of the case is based on accepting only those parts of Jay’s testimony that are consistent with Adnan’s guilt, and by speculating about the existence of additional sets of facts to which Jay has never testified — well, how is that any different from simply writing a piece of fiction? By using that approach to Jay’s testimony, it is possible to invent a narrative that supports the guilt of just about any individual connected to Woodlawn.

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Serial: Plotting the Coordinates of Jay’s Dreams

A few days ago, the transcripts were released from Jenn’s recorded police interview (from 3:45 p.m. on February 27, 199), Jay’s first recorded police interview (from 12:30 a.m. on February 28, 1999), and Jay’s second recorded police interview (from March 15, 1999). I’ve been trying to update my earlier post on how the witness statements compare to the cell phone records, based on the new information.

But it’s slow work. Because good god, Jenn and Jay’s statements are a complete train wreck. Trying to create a timeline out of their statements made me truly understand what Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvis were talking about, in Episode 5, while trying to track Jay’s movements on the day of Hae’s murder:

Koenig: I’m trying to think of an analogy of what the uselessness of what we’re trying to do by recreating something that doesn’t fit, it’s like a– like trying to plot the coordinates of someone’s dream or something . . .

Chivvis: I think they call that a fool’s errand.

Because here are a couple of quick examples of what we’re dealing with from these transcripts:

Jay: [Adnan] wanted me to revisit the body.

Detective: And when did that conversation take place?

Jay: Um prior to Hae Lee’s death. (Int.1 at 27.)


Detective: What happened after the conversation with the officer?

Jay: Um ah he ah he got kind of frantic and we had to go back and get the car, we went back and got the car and ah then we went back to my house. I gave him a shovel, gave him a pick. He ah.

Detective: When you go back to your house , who drives, drives Hae Lee’s car?

Jay: We didn’t have Hae’s car then.

Seriously now. What am I supposed to do with that? Adnan and Jay discuss revisiting Hae’s body, and this conversation occurs prior to Hae’s death? Jay and Adnan “went back and got the car” and went to Jay’s house, but then they didn’t have Hae’s car when they were at Jay’s house?

There are dozens of these chronological paradoxes in Jay’s police statements. (And just to make things even more fun, Jenn’s statements during her interview are equally incomprehensible.) As a result, I’m not even sure a meaningful comparison of the various police statements can be done at all — it’s completely impossible to set down a definitive narrative of “this is Jay’s story in the first interview” or “this is Jay’s story in the second interview,” and then look at the differences between them. Because the stories Jay tells in his police interviews have more continuity errors than a bad 90’s sitcom.

And all of these bizarre claims aren’t just misstatements or slips of the tongue that we’re talking about here. Or, if they are, then that alone is grounds for tossing out the entirety of what he told the police — because if that’s the case, Jay is so hopelessly confused that we cannot assume he actually meant any of what he said. If every chronology he gives might have been nothing more than another misstatement, how can we know that anything Jay says is “the truth”?

But of all the things that didn’t happen the way Jay says they happened, there is one thing that didn’t happen the most: his stories about how Hae was buried in Leakin Park. To get an idea of how irreconcilable Jay’s statements are, that is a good place to start.

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