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.
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.
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.
In 2002, Ezra Mable pled guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. His plea was motivated by the State’s representation that two eyewitnesses had seen him fleeing from the murder scene moments after the crime, as well as by the State’s failure to disclose mountains of exculpatory evidence. For example, both those eyewitnesses had identified another man — a drug dealer who worked with the victim — as the killer. In 2009, after nearly a decade in prison, Mable wrote his own Petition for Post-Conviction Relief. In an unusual move, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office joined him in moving for his release, which was granted in 2010.
In 2013, Mable filed a civil suit against, inter alia, the City of Baltimore, the Police Department, and Detective William Ritz for their roles in securing his conviction. Mable’s complaint summarized the events that led to his incarceration in a way that could equally apply to Adnan’s arrest and conviction:
[T]he Defendants [ ] resolved to focus entirely on Mr. Mable and did not attempt to determine the actual truth in their investigation or to develop a case based on truthful facts. Motivated by a desire to quickly solve Mr. Dukes’ murder and make an arrest in this highly publicized case, the Defendants adopted a theory, and then abused their investigation and authority to construct a case to fit it.
As Mable ultimately did not pursue his lawsuit, there is no record of how the defendants would have responded to his allegations . However, the fact that the State’s Attorney’s Office joined Mable’s Petition for release makes the following impossible to dispute: something was very, very wrong with his conviction. If a jailhouse motion in a ten-year-old murder case was able to convince the State’s Attorney’s Office to join his petition and request his release, the facts must have been overwhelmingly unfavorable to the State. Such an event simply does not happen in the absence of extraordinary circumstances.
It is also telling that, shortly after Mable was freed, one of the lead detectives on his case left the Baltimore Police Department. That detective was William Ritz.
The man Mable was convicted of killing, Kevin Dukes, was a drug dealer in the Cherry Hill neighborhood. Shortly before his death, Dukes had reportedly learned that one of his dealers, a man named “Eddie,” had been cutting the drugs supplied by Dukes, and pocketing the money from the extra sales. Relations between Eddie and Dukes devolved further, and
Mr. Dukes, thereafter, informed his friends that he was trying to procure a gun for protection because “Eddie was going to kill him for his drugs.” On the day of Mr. Dukes’ cold-blooded murder, he met up with his drug dealers for their weekly meeting. Immediately thereafter, Eddie was seen getting into Mr. Dukes’ motor vehicle where Mr. Dukes was found soon after, dead, shot multiple times at close range.
Detective Ritz, along with Detective Hastings, supervised the investigation into Dukes’ murder. After arriving at the crime scene, the officers quickly concluded that Dukes had been murdered while in the car. (As detailed in the complaint, however, the physical evidence is not wholly consistent with this theory.) Although the police did not find any witnesses at the crime scene, in the days following the murder they received numerous tips identifying “Eddie” as the shooter.
A few weeks later, two patrol officers ran into Eddie on the street. They determined that he was the man whom tipsters had identified in the Dukes murder and picked him up for questioning. However, when the officers got back to the station, their supervisors
advised [ ] that Eddie was not wanted as a suspect. Defendant Ritz was contacted and advised that Eddie had scars on his neck consistent with the reports the Defendants had received that Eddie was scratched on his neck just prior to murdering Mr. Dukes. However, Defendant Ritz, after acknowledging that there was a witness that stated that Eddie was scratched in the neck by Mr. Dukes just prior to the shooting, advised Defendant Roney to release Eddie. Eddie was never questioned and there was never any DNA test ordered.
Despite the reports that Dukes scratched his killer before his death, scrapings from his fingernails were not tested for DNA. In Mables’ complaint, it was noted that the Baltimore Police Department routinely ordered the crime lab not to conduct DNA tests:
In at least nine homicide, sex assault and burglary cases, Baltimore police detectives instructed crime lab technicians not to follow up on convicted criminals’ DNA found on evidence at crime scenes because they determined it was not relevant to their investigations, police said.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has requested a complete review of cases handled by the lab, saying that prosecutors and defense attorneys need to be made aware of all the evidence police collect.
But if the State had no forensic evidence linking Mable to the crime, no witnesses who saw him at the crime scene, and no evidence that he had any motive to kill Dukes, how did the State end up convicting Mable of Dukes’ murder? By inventing eyewitnesses. Two of them.
The first witness was Ms. Frazier. Early in the investigation, another woman informed the police that Frazier might know something about Dukes’ murder. Two months later, they
contacted Ms. Frazier, but she was not interested in meeting with them. In the days that followed, the Defendants repeatedly phoned Ms. Frazier and, when it became clear that Ms. Frazier was ignoring the Defendants’ attempts, they began to stakeout her residence.
Eventually, staking out Ms. Frazier’s residence, the Defendants were able to pull her motor vehicle over to the side of the road on a cold, pitch-black, mid-November night. Upon information and belief, they searched it for any incriminating evidence and recovered a quantity of illegal narcotics. It is, however, unclear whether the quantity of narcotics belonged to Ms. Frazier or whether the Defendants planted them in her motor vehicle during their illegal search.
On the side of the road, as the night was quickly turning into the next day, Ms. Frazier was presented with mug shots in a photo book full of black and white copies of black men’s faces. She was given a choice, either she could identify someone in the photo book as Mr. Dukes’ shooter or she would be arrested for the possession of illegal narcotics recovered from her motor vehicle. Upon information and belief, Ms. Frazier also had her children in her motor vehicle, which the Defendants seized upon by warning her that if she were arrested, the Department of Social Services would be notified and would take the children away from her.
Under this high-pressure, high-stakes roadside interrogation by the detectives, Frazier eventually picked a photo out of the book they provided her — a photo that turned out to be that of Mable. However, Frazier “signed the picture of another black man ten minutes later, who was noticeably lighter, was not chubby, had hair that extended beyond his ears, and was approximately ten years older than Mr. Mable. That second man was Eddie and she was sure he was the shooter.”
The following day, Frazier was interviewed again, and this time her statement was recorded. However, her “stated recollections were so basic that anyone who knew even the most minuscule amount about Mr. Dukes’ murder could have come up with her story.” She also stated that she had not clearly seen Dukes’ killer, informing the detectives that, “I saw the shooter get out of the passenger side of a gold vehicle but didn’t get a good look.”
Despite Frazier’s identification of Eddie as the shooter, and her statement that she failed to clearly see the killer, Detective Ritz
testified before a grand jury that two witnesses had identified Mr. Mable, one of which was Ms. Frazier. However, not only did Ms. Frazier not make a positive identification of Mr. Mable, but rather she stated that she didn’t get a good look at the shooter and identified Eddie nonetheless. These three exculpatory statements and others made by Ms. Frazier were never disclosed to the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, or Mr. Mable’s attorney.
The second “eyewitness” was Taylor, another local woman. There was no evidence that Taylor was even a witness to Dukes’ murder, but the detectives made her an offer similar to the one they made Frazier: make an identification in the Dukes murder and you will not be arrested for possession of narcotics.
Taylor’s statement, however, did not match Frazier’s, and Taylor was unable to provide basic details concerning what she had witnessed:
Taylor stated that she was at a friend’s house, but had trouble indicating where it was . . . Taylor’s story started out with her looking out a window. Then, her story changed to her looking out a screen door that faced north on Round Road. She stated that she observed someone parking Mr. Dukes’ motor vehicle on Round Road and not drifting down a hill as was stated by Ms. Frazier. Then, Ms. Taylor stated that she left the screen door. Less than a minute later, she claimed to have heard a series of gunshots, which made her return to the screen door “and that is when [she] saw the guy in those pictures [she] had identified running away from the car. . . .
She was [ ] adamant that the shooter exited Mr. Dukes’ motor vehicle through the driver’s side door, which would have required the impossible task of climbing over Mr. Dukes, who was seated in the driver’s seat of the Vehicle, slumped over to the passenger side. In stark contrast, Ms. Frazier was sure that the shooter exited from the passenger side of the Vehicle.
[ ] Ms. Taylor’s identification of the shooter from the photo array should not be a surprise: “Mr. Dukes was killed, supplied him, the guy I just identified the photo of, Eddie, and the other dudes be on Bethune Road selling weed.”
Despite Taylor’s alleged refusal to identify Mable as Dukes’ killer, Ritz and the other officers falsely reported that Taylor had in fact positively identified Mable:
When Ms. Taylor still maintained that she did not see Mr. Mable exit Mr. Dukes’ motor vehicle, but rather Eddie, the Defendants resumed threatening Ms. Taylor with arrest and prosecution for the possession of illegal narcotics. The Defendants again suggested that Ms. Taylor could avoid arrest by saying that she had seen Mr. Mable with a gun exiting Mr. Dukes’ motor vehicle. When she repeatedly told the Defendants that she never saw Mr. Mable with a gun or at all, the Defendants continued to badger and threaten her, and became angry.
With a total disregard for the truth, the Defendants reported that Ms. Taylor told them that she did in fact see Mr. Mable exit Mr. Dukes’ motor vehicle with a gun. The Defendants deliberately suppressed the fact that they had apprehended her, had lied to her to get her to say that she had seen Mr. Dukes’ shooter, had pressured and coerced her to make an identification of the shooter, which unfortunately for the Defendants happened to be Eddie, and lied in their report that Ms. Taylor positively identified Mr. Mable.
In the face of the prosecution’s claim that it had two strong eyewitnesses linking Mable to the crime — and due to the State’s failure to disclose the volumes of Brady material that showed the case against Mable was an illusion — Mable pled guilty to the murder, likely on the advice of his court-appointed attorney.
Why did Ritz and the other officers go to such lengths to incarcerate a man against whom they had no evidence? The charges against Mable do not seem to have been personal. Rather, it appears he was selected as the suspect in Dukes’ murder because Frazier happened to pick his photo out of the photo book Ritz and Hastings presented her with, even though Frazier would instead identify Eddie as the killer a few moments later. Ultimately, as Mable alleges in his complaint, the detectives decided to go ahead and prosecute Mable because “[t]he most important criteria for [the investigation] was that Eddie not be prosecuted.” Although Mable does not outright state as much, what the described circumstances seem to be point at is that “Eddie” was a confidential informant — and a highly valued one at that.
Sabein Burgess was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1995 and spent 19 years in prison before successfully proving his innocence in 2014. Last week, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting claims against members of the Baltimore Police Department involved in securing his conviction. Three of the defendants named in Burgess’ suit should be familiar to those following Adnan’s case: Detective Ritz, Sergeant Detective Lehmann, and criminalist Van Gelder. (It is worth noting that Lehmann was also involved in the Mable investigation.)
On the evening of October 5, 1994, Sabein Burgess left the home he shared with his girlfriend, Dyson, and her four children. When he returned, he found his girlfriend’s body in the basement. She had been shot multiple times. Burgess ran to tell a neighbor to call 911 before returning to try to assist Dyson by clearing blood from her airway. Minutes later,
. . . police arrived at the home in the 2700 block of Barclay St., and found the house’s basement door ajar with the smell of gunpowder wafting up the stairs, according to court documents. An officer ordered Burgess, who was downstairs with Dyson, to come out with his hands where the policeman could see them. Burgess was cuffed and his hands were swabbed for gunshot residue. http://truthinjustice.org/sabein-burgess.htm
The crime scene technician “swabbed the inside of the palms of both of [Burgess’] hands.” Burgess was then
taken to the police station where he was interrogated by the Officer Defendants. During that interrogation, the Officer Defendants told Plaintiff that he was going away for murder. When Plaintiff denied any responsibility for the crime, the Officer Defendants told him that they would find people to say that Plaintiff fired the gun that killed his girlfriend.
With no evidence linking him to the crime, Burgess was released. However, one month later, Daniel Van Gelder, of the Trace Analysis Unit, issued his findings from the gunshot residue (“GSR”) analysis, and concluded that GSR had been found on Burgess’ hands. Based on this forensic evidence, Burgess was arrested.
Van Gelder’s forensic findings and trial testimony were inaccurate and misleading for two primary reasons:
First, Defendant Van Gelder’s falsely reported that GSR swabs were taken from the “webbing” of Plaintiff’s hands – between the back of the thumbs and forefingers. But the “webbing” of Plaintiff’s hands were not swabbed; instead, the technician swabbed the inside of the palms of Plaintiff’s hands. That lie was important because Defendant Van Gelder used it to falsely state that the GSR results showed that Defendant either fired a gun or was adjacent to a gun that was fired. According to Defendant Van Gelder, there could be no other reason for GSR to show up on that part of Plaintiff’s hands.
Second, Defendant Van Gelder also falsely stated that any positive GSR finding from Plaintiff’s hands could not have been the result of the transfer of GSR particles from Ms. Dyson to Plaintiff when Plaintiff was cradling her in his hands after she was shot. That statement was not only patently false, but also had no legitimate basis in science.
The Burgess complaint notes that, in other cases handled by Van Gelder, his results had been similarly distorted so as to strengthen the significance of his findings:
[I]n the case of Tyrone Jones, the Laboratory misrepresented the findings of GSR testing. Defendant Van Gelder stated that he found 17 unique particles when in fact only one particle was found.
These issues go far beyond Van Gelder, however. In 2004,
[Baltimore Crime Laboratory] director Edward Koch, Sr. stated that only people who have fired guns will have unique gunshot particles in the web of their hands, an organizational belief that finds no support in legitimate science.
Even after GSR testing was moved to headquarters [and away from stations that had live firing ranges] an internal audit showed that the cleaning bucket, floor in the testing room and a police officer’s handcuffs all had GSR particles on them.
Unless that cleaning bucket had recently fired a weapon, the Trace Analysis Unit should have known that its expansive conclusions about the significance of GSR residue were not scientifically sound. Nevertheless, even in 2005, Detective Massey was still repeating the false claim that “the presence of gunshot residue [is] proof that [a defendant] fired a gun [or] was in close proximity at the time [a] weapon was fired.”
Because the detectives failed to find any evidence other than the GSR test that linked Burgess to the murder, the State’s case against Burgess ultimately boiled down to two facts: (1) Burgess was the victim’s boyfriend; and (2) he had the greatest opportunity to commit the crime. In other words, the prosecution’s theory of the case was “of course the boyfriend did it, who else would have?” A key component of the State’s success in securing Burgess’ conviction was its disregard for due process and Brady, by withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense. Although an eyewitness — Dyson’s son — had told police on the night of the murder that Burgess was not responsible, the police falsely reported that all of the children were asleep at the time of the offense:
Notwithstanding their threats to Plaintiff, as early as the night of the murder, the Officer Defendants knew that Plaintiff was innocent.
That night, the Officer Defendants spoke to Ms. Dyson’s children. Ms. Dyson’s son came out of his bedroom after he heard someone at the door. Ms. Dyson’s son told the Officer Defendants that he then saw someone barge into their home right before his mother was killed. The Officer Defendants asked Ms. Dyson’s son if that person was Ms. Dyson’s boyfriend. Ms. Dyson’s son told the Defendants that it was not Plaintiff.
Despite the obvious exculpatory value of this statement, it was never disclosed to the prosecutor or to Plaintiff or his criminal defense lawyer.
Because Ms. Dyson’s children had just lost their mother, their grandmother did not let them see or speak to Plaintiff or his criminal defense attorney.
Instead of disclosing the exculpatory information provided to them by Ms. Dyson’s son, the Officer Defendants fabricated police reports stating that all of Ms. Dyson’s children were asleep at the time of the shooting and therefore did not see anything. Based on the Defendants’ false statements, the prosecutor repeated that false narrative in her opening and closing statements at Plaintiff’s criminal trial.
Following a two-day trial, Burgess was convicted of Dyson’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Two years later, in October 1998, one of the real perpetrators of Ms. Dyson’s murder, Charles Dorsey, wrote a letter confessing to the crime. Dorsey stated that Plaintiff was doing time for a murder that he had committed. Dorsey repeated that admission several times in letters to Plaintiff’s criminal defense attorney and acknowledged that by doing so, he could face charges for first-degree murder.
Eventually, Detective Ritz decided he ought to interview the man who kept confessing to Dyson’s murder:
Nearly one year later, Defendant Ritz and another Baltimore police detective interviewed Dorsey but did no additional follow-up because, according to their report, Dorsey’s confession lacked details that the real killer would know.
That claim, however, was patently false. For example, Dorsey not only told the Detectives about the caliber of weapon used, but also the correct number and location of the gunshot wounds sustained. Dorsey also correctly told Defendant Ritz that he removed a safe with money and personal papers from a second-story bedroom.
According to Dorsey, he and another person, Howard Rice, were the sole perpetrators of the Dyson homicide; Rice forced his way into Ms. Dyson’s home with Dorsey following later behind, and they both shot and killed her in her basement.
Detective Ritz was either so incompetent that he could not catch a murderer who was confessing to the crime, or else so corrupt that he believed Dorsey’s confession but decided to sweep it under the rug because he did not want to have a successful (albeit false) conviction reversed.
The fact that Ritz already had evidence implicating Rice in Dyson’s murder — a fact corroborated by Dorsey’s repeated confessions — suggests that the latter explanation may be the more accurate of the two:
Even before Dorsey confessed, the Defendants were well aware of Howard Rice’s involvement in the Dyson murder. In fact, the Officer Defendants knew of Rice’s culpability before Plaintiff was even convicted.
For example, in 1996, the Officer Defendants questioned an unrelated witness about whether Rice was responsible for the Dyson shooting.
Of course, the police never disclosed to Burgess’ defense that they suspected Rice’s involvement in the murder, just as they failed to disclose the exculpatory statements made by Dyson’s son.
In 1998, Rodney Addison was convicted of the murder of Lewis Jackson, who was shot while sitting in his car in October 1996. MacGillivary was one of the detectives responsible for the investigation into Lewis’ murder.
Addison was identified as a suspect when a witness who claimed to have seen the shooting through her apartment window picked his photo out of a photo array. He was released in October 2005, after nine years’ imprisonment, when it was discovered that the State had withheld exculpatory witness statements:
[T]hree witness statements contradicting the testimony of the state’s sole witness, Frances Morgan, were obtained by Baltimore police during their initial investigation. Yet they had not been released to Addison prior to his trial. A Public Information Act request for all police documents in Addison’s case led to disclosure of the exculpatory statements. In October 2005 Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Edward Hargadon ordered a new trial. He said the state’s failure to disclose the three exculpatory witness statements “undermined the confidence of the entire verdict.” Two months later, the Baltimore State’s Attorney Office dismissed the murder charge, stating they did not have the evidence or witnesses to pursue another trial. The dismissal resulted in Addison’s release.
Although the State’s Attorney’s Office has insisted that “that the ruling for a new trial did not represent exoneration,” the State’s only witness recanted her testimony against Addison at a post-conviction proceeding:
[The court] ruled that the state did not disclose three witness statements that contradicted the sole witness they put on the stand – Frances Morgan, who testified that she saw the shooting through a window in her apartment. . . .
But she couldn’t see the Springhill Avenue murder scene from the window, and she didn’t see it, she would acknowledge years later, first to defense attorneys and then in court.
Addison suspected this all along. He raised this point at his 1998 trial. “I think I can prove that the witness was lying on the stand yesterday when she said she looked out her window,” he blurted out to Judge Roger W. Brown on March 23, 1998, two days before he was convicted.
Defense attorneys visiting the scene years later would evaluate the window and determine that it was not physically feasible to see the car from that window.
Morgan and her mother testified in a post-conviction hearing that she did not see the murder and was getting high on cocaine at that time.
In addition to Morgan, two out of three witnesses whose original statements were not given to the initial defense attorney were interviewed and testified in post-conviction hearings.
One man, Ernest Green, testified to witnessing the shooting, asserting that Addison was not the man he saw that day.
And yet, despite the fact that the State’s only evidence against Addison was an eyewitness who did not actually see the murder, the State’s Attorney’s Office still went on the record stating that the dismissal of the charges against Addison “did not represent exoneration.”
Similarities Between the Investigation Into Hae’s Murder and the Mable, Burgess, and Addison Cases
The investigatory practices that were employed in the Mable, Burgess, and Addison cases are strongly reminiscent of those in the Hae Min Lee investigation. In each case, the police decided on a suspect on the basis of flimsy evidence and prior assumptions and then conducted an investigation aimed at proving that suspect guilty, even in the face of exculpatory evidence that should have alerted investigators to their errors.
Failing to Test DNA and other Trace Evidence
As highlighted in Mable’s civil complaint, the Baltimore Police Department regularly instructed the forensics lab not to test evidence that the police feared might “complicate” their investigation. This practice of failing to test seemingly relevant DNA evidence was also followed in the investigation into Hae’s murder. At the burial site in Leakin Park, investigators found a brandy bottle a mere 8 inches away from Hae’s body and a rope only 5 inches away. Despite the presence of human epithelial cells on the brandy bottle, the DNA was never tested. Similarly, although the rope was a potential murder weapon, the police ordered it held without testing. Later, that rope seems to have gone missing, as it failed to turn up during an evidence review, and it is unclear if it was ever located thereafter.
When a body is found in a wooded area that is isolated from foot traffic, and a rope and a liquor bottle are found within inches of that body, testing any DNA receovered from those items should have been common sense. Especially so in this case, as it did not involve a situation in which there was so much trash around the crime scene that police were unable to sort what was relevant from what was not. There is no record of any other trash found within 120 feet of the body; everything else collected from the Leakin Park crime scene was found along the roadside.
Although Urick — through the use of leading (and misleading) questions — tried to create the impression that the burial site was a trash-strewn rubbish heap, this is belied by the evidentiary record. The only pieces of trash in between the “no dumping” sign and the creek that are shown in the record or identified by any witness are the brandy bottle and the rope. There is no record of any non-organic materials anywhere in the vicinity of the body that were not collected either by the BPD (the bottle, rope) or the military team (trace evidence).
Any reasonable person who observed the crime scene should have concluded that there was a high probability that both the rope and the brandy bottle were related to Hae’s murder. And yet, in conjunction with State’s Attorney’s Office, Ritz and MacGillivary decided that the rope and brandy bottle — much like Dukes’ fingernails in the Burgess case — should not be tested, even though it was conclusively shown that DNA samples were present on at least one of the items, and possibly both:
On Monday, 29 March 1999 at 0900 hours, this investigator continued with the above captioned investigation and met with supervisors and technicians from the Trace Analysis Unit and Latent Print Division. During the meeting with each respective unit, all of the evidence was carefully reviewed. During the afternoon hours, a meeting was held at the Violent Crimes Division of the States Attorney’s Office. Those attendance were A.SA Division Chief, Mr. Mark Cohen, Team Captains, A.SA Ms. Ilene Nathan, A.SA Donald Giblin and AS.A Ms. Vickie Wash. The purpose of the meeting was to review and discuss all facets of the investigation, past, present and future in preparation for the indictment phase of the criminal proceedings against defendant, Adnan Syed.
Similarly, the investigators recovered at least three hairs from Hae’s car that were never even used for analysis, or examined to determine if they might be suitable for DNA testing. They likewise failed to conduct any forensic tests to determine whether or not Hae’s body had ever been placed in the trunk of her car or Adnan’s.
Although there does not appear to have been any fabrication of forensic evidence in Adnan’s case, the crime lab’s handling of the evidence was still concerning. Take, for instance, the testimony of the criminalist with the crime lab who performed much of the forensic analysis that was presented at trial:
Bianca: I inadvertently got some fibers mixed in with my hairs, and when I wrote the report, because somebody said, hey, hurry up and get this report done, we are going to trial soon, I had all my hairs separated which I needed some extra time to do, separated. I didn’t have any fibers other than the red fibers that I found in the body bag that I gave to Mr. VanGelder. When I looked, I thought, oh, I have all my hairs to do, and in there I had fibers. That’s why I needed to correct my initial report. I had hairs and I had some fibers mixed in with my hairs. When I cleaned them up to do my comparison, I realized, oh, darn, I wrote down I didn’t get any fibers but I have fibers. So I wrote a report. I could have tossed them away but that’s not the right thing to do. So I wrote a correction and said, look, I have to correct the initial report, I found some fibers. (2/01/00 Tr. 183-185) (emphasis added).
I suppose the criminalist should be commended for deciding against the casual destruction of evidence, but his testimony, combined with the series of other errors and inconsistencies in the other laboratory reports, does not inspire confidence in the forensic analysis that was performed in this case.
Offering Deals That Can’t Be Refused
When asked why he agreed to help Adnan bury Hae’s body, Jay told the Intercept that it was “[b]ecause at the time I was convinced that I would be going to jail for a long time if he turned me in for drug dealing, especially to high school kids.” Jay’s explanation is nonsensical; someone that you know committed murder is not going to turn you in on a drug charge. His answer makes sense, however, if understood as an explanation for why he told the cops he helped Adnan with the burial: he was convinced he would be going to jail for a long time if he was prosecuted for drug dealing.
Jay was forthright about this fact in his Intercept interview. He explained that he only agreed to talk once the police assured him that he would not be prosecuted for any drug-related offenses:
Well first of all, I wasn’t openly willing to cooperate with the police. It wasn’t until they made it clear they weren’t interested in my ‘procurement’ of pot that I began to open up any. And then I would only give them information pertaining to my interaction with someone or where I was. They had to chase me around before they could corner me to talk to me, and there came a point where I was just sick of talking to them. And they wouldn’t stop interviewing me or questioning me. I wasn’t fully cooperating, so if they said, ‘Well, we have on phone records that you talked to Jenn.’ I’d say, ‘Nope, I didn’t talk to Jenn.’ Until Jenn told me that she talked with the cops and that it was ok if I did too.
I stonewalled them that way. No — until they told me they weren’t trying to prosecute me for selling weed. . . That’s the best way I can account for the inconsistencies. Once the police made it clear that my drug dealing wasn’t gonna affect the outcome of what was going on, I became a little bit more transparent.
Jay’s account is a familiar one; it closely matches the description of the witness-identification (and witness-intimidation) techniques that Detective Ritz employed in the Mable case. In that case, you’ll recall, it was alleged that the detectives “contacted Ms. Frazier, but she was not interested in meeting with them. In the days that followed, the [detectives] repeatedly phoned Ms. Frazier and, when it became clear that Ms. Frazier was ignoring the [detectives’] attempts, they began to stakeout her residence.” After staking out her home, they were able to make a traffic stop, where Frazier was given a choice: identify a murderer, or be arrested for narcotics.
Following Jay’s agreement to talk on February 28th, it appears that Jay did receive favorable treatment with regards to pending charges against him. On January 27, 1999, Jay had been arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but on March 5, 1999 — just five days after giving his first recorded statement to Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary — a stet was entered. A stet is, in effect, a conditional dismissal of a charge; the prosecutor agrees not to prosecute, but reserves the right to re-open charges at any time within the next year should the defendant fail to abide by the conditions imposed by the stet.
Following Adnan’s trial, Jay’s continued imperviousness to criminal charges is remarkable. In all, since he became a witness in Hae’s murder, 25 different charges against him — including a half dozen assault charges — have been nolled or otherwise dismissed by the prosecution. Moreover, despite repeatedly violating the terms of his probation for the charge of accessory after the fact to murder, the probation violations were dismissed. (In fact, his conviction for accessory after the fact is oddly absent from the records checks performed in connection with later arrests.)
Concluding that Witnesses Are Irrelevant Without a Legitimate Basis
In the Burgess case, Ritz interviewed Charles Dorsey, one of the men responsible for the Dyson’s murder. Although Dorsey confessed to the crime and provided a detailed description of how the murder had been committed, Ritz wrote up a report that dismissed Dorsey’s statements as irrelevant. Ritz “did no additional follow-up [with Dorsey] because, according to the[ ] report, Dorsey’s confession lacked details that the real killer would know.”
In the Mable case, Ritz did not directly interview the man that numerous witnesses had identified as Dukes’ killer. However, when other officers brought Eddie in for an interview, Ritz ordered the officers to release him, even though the officers had informed Ritz that Eddie had injuries consistent with witness reports about the events leading up to Dukes’ death:
Defendant Ritz was contacted and advised that Eddie had scars on his neck consistent with the reports the Defendants had received that Eddie was scratched on his neck just prior to murdering Mr. Dukes. However, Defendant Ritz, after acknowledging that there was a witness that stated that Eddie was scratched in the neck by Mr. Dukes just prior to the shooting, advised Defendant Roney to release Eddie. Eddie was never questioned and there was never any DNA test ordered.
It does not appear that Ritz ever provided an explanation for why he ordered Eddie to be released without being interviewed, even though: (1) Dukes’ family believed Eddie was responsible; (2) a witness told police that Eddie was bragging about the murder; (3) “[numerous sources reporting] that Eddie’s neck was scratched in an altercation with Mr. Dukes just prior to when Eddie murdered him in cold blood”; and (4) an anonymous caller told the police, “I know who shot someone in Cherry Hill and his name is Eddie.”
This unexplained (and inexplicable) dismissal of relevant witnesses is a pattern that was also present in the investigation into Hae’s murder. For instance, on the day it was announced that Hae’s body had been found, a potential witness — Mr. A — walked into the Woodlawn police station and told them he had seen a young man acting suspiciously near concrete barriers in Leakin Park. Detective Ritz and Sergeant Lehmann were sent to interview Mr. A, but failed to record the substance of Mr. A’s statement. Instead, their report provided only a few sparse details about the witness interview, and then concluded — without any explanation whatsoever — that what Mr. A had seen “[wa]s not connected to the murder of Hae Lee.”
In several instances, Ritz interviewed witnesses who were materially relevant to the State’s case, but then failed to disclose any details of what those witnesses said. For example, after receiving a witness report on April 28, 1999 about “Neighbor Boy” — and how he had informed his neighbor Laura that he had “personally s[een] Hae Lee’s body in the trunk of a vehicle” — the detectives waited over three months before interviewing him. They then dismissed Neighbor Boy as having no relevance to the case, even though Laura’s report about his statements included details about the case that were not publicly disclosed at that time.
In still other instances, the detectives inexplicably failed to interview witnesses who should have been a top priority to the investigation. For instance, although Jay and Jenn told the police that they had informed five different individuals about Hae’s murder prior to their police interviews, only one of those individuals — Jeff J., Cathy’s boyfriend — was ever interviewed by the police, and the notes from that interview, like the notes from the Neighbor Boy interview, were not preserved in the case file. The other four individuals that Jay and Jenn claim to have told about the murder — Chris, Tayyib, Nicole, and Josh — were never interviewed at all, or if they were, no record of those interviews was kept. Similarly, although Debbie reported that a classmate, ‘Takera,’ had asked Hae for a ride on the afternoon of January 13th, the police records do not indicate that Takera was ever interviewed by the police. Ritz and MacGillivary likewise failed to contacted anyone who lived near (or parked in) the vacant lot where Hae’s car was found, even though those witnesses could potentially have had valuable information concerning how long the car had been parked there, or perhaps even who had left it there in the first place.
There is good reason to be skeptical of these odd lacunae in the investigatory records. In the Burgess case, for instance, the police fabricated a police report which falsely claimed that there had been no witnesses to Dyson’s murder. In fact, there had been a witness to the murder, and the witness said the killer was not Burgess. The police notes concerning that witness statement were disappeared, however, and a false police report was written that claimed the witness was asleep at the time of the murder.
As a result, with Adnan’s case, that leaves us with two possibilities. It is possible that, in investigating Hae’s murder, the police simply did not bother to take notes when they spoke to Jeff J., Neighbor Boy, and Patrice (Patrick’s sister, whom Jay claimed he spoke to when he called Patrick after the murder). If so, that was inexcusable police work. It is also possible, however, that notes of those interviews were taken — in which case those notes were withheld from the defense, presumably for the same reasons that the statements of Dyson’s son were withheld in the Burgess case.