Serial: The Maryland Court of Special Appeal’s Unpublished Decision Denying Adnan’s Appeal in 2003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 was the outcome of Adnan’s initial appeal, which was rejected by an unpublished opinion in 2003.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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