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.