The Absurdity of the State’s Self-Professed “Best Evidence”

As I assume anyone bothering to read this blog would already know, Adnan’s PCR hearing concluded last week after five days, eight witnesses, and approximately 3,000 donuts consumed by various members of the Undisclosed team. We published daily on-the-fly podcast updates of the hearing while it was ongoing, and in a week or two, we’ll be following up with a full-length episode recapping the entirety of the hearing in greater detail.

In the meantime, however, I’d like to take a moment to address some comments made by the prosecutor, Thiru Vignarajah, at a press conference held immediately after hearing ended. During this press conference, he outlined what he believed to be the State’s strongest evidence that Gutierrez was not ineffective in failing to investigate Asia McClain as an alibi witness, in a manner very similar to the claims he had made earlier that day during his closing argument:

Reporter: What’s the state’s best evidence, and why do you think the State is going to win the hearing?

Vignarajah: [. . .] Although there are victims of ineffective assistance of counsel, Mr. Syed is not one of them. And if you’re looking for the best piece of evidence for that, all you have to do is look at the record that defense counsel had in possession until very recently, and what you see is investigative step followed by investigative step, scrutiny after scrutiny, lines of cross examination that were pioneering at the time, and were conducted by one of the most seasoned, effective defense attorneys of her time.

And if you want to focus on two thing it would be this:

First, that the security officer at  the Woodlawn Public Library was interviewed within 3 days of Mr. Syed’s arrest along with the track coach, and so if anyone was wondering if the investigators and the attorneys were taking seriously a potential alibi, they certainly were, and the defense’s own file confirms that.

And secondly, again it’s not a conspiracy, it’s common sense, when you’re client is asking how mail is scrutinized, when you see notes that your best friend is telling detectives that a girl named Asia is being asked to type up a letter, and then you see that letter with lots and lots of facts that come from exactly one place, which is the defendant’s own search warrant, it’s pretty clear that a seasoned attorney like CG could see those warning signs a mile away.

These claims are varying degrees of misleading, irrelevant, and false. They are not based on evidence, but on the prosecutor’s misinterpretation of completely innocent materials found in the defense file. To show why, I will go through them line by line, and explain the actual basis of the State’s claims, and why the reality is radically different from what the State would have the public (and the court) believe.

Although there are victims of ineffective assistance of counsel, Mr. Syed is not one of them. And if you’re looking for the best piece of evidence for that, all you have to do is look at the record that defense counsel had in possession until very recently, and what you see is investigative step followed by investigative step, scrutiny after scrutiny.

If this were the case, the State would have shown this evidence during the hearing. Since he did not, we can safely assume that the defense file does not, in fact, contain evidence of a thorough investigation performed by Cristina Gutierrez.

Does the defense file, as Thiru claims, show “investigative step followed by investigative step”? Well, yes, it is in fact a defense file, so by definition it contains a record of an investigative step followed by another investigative step. But the fact that investigative steps were taken is not evidence in the State’s favor; it is an obvious fact that anyone would know, with or without looking at the defense file. That some form of investigation occurred says nothing about the quality or effectiveness of that investigation. For instance, sending multiple subpoenas to inaccurate addresses is an investigative step — it is just not a very good one. Likewise, obtaining copies of the photos in the prosecutor’s file is an investigative step — but failing to follow up with those photos with a medical expert was an investigative misstep with disastrous consequences for Adnan. Pulling a copy of the Woodlawn High School yearbook and calling the top 8 track athletes listed there is also an investigative step — but choosing to investigate alibi witnesses for the time Adnan was at track based on the track team’s relative athletic ability rather than by their relative likelihood of having seen Adnan on January 13th is so stupid it is tragic.

In short, the State’s evidence that Gutierrez performed a thorough investigation amounts to no more than unsupported claims during a press conferences, which were submitted in lieu of any evidence that existed in a form that permitted it to be presented to the court.

lines of cross examination that were pioneering at the time,

Here, I believe, the State is referring to Gutierrez’s cross of Waranowitz here. He mentioned at some point during the hearing that she was the first to make certain challenges to cellphone evidence, that defense attorneys to this day continue to use. Of course, he neglected to mention that those lines of cross-examination are based on a completely lack of understanding about the functioning of a cellular network.

If further proof is needed of Gutierrez’s complete dereliction of duty when it came to the cell evidence, let’s look at her own words on the subject:

Gutierrez - on the cell evidence

And yet, according to the State, the attorney who did not even look at the cellphone evidence, because she did not care about it, was incredibly effective — indeed, pioneering! — in the field of cell evidence defense.

and were conducted by one of the most seasoned, effective defense attorneys of her time.

The attorney that Thiru is calling “the most seasoned, effective defense attorney of her time” set a state record for most claims brought against her before the Attorney Grievance Commission. Her failures to take even the most basic steps in many of the cases she was involved in during the same period of time she represented Adnan (i.e., failing to brief issues, failing to communicate plea offers, falsely claiming to be consulting with experts she was not) have resulted in incredible amounts of damage to the clients she victimized, both those whose stories we know and many more still whose we do not.

And if you want to focus on two thing it would be this:

First, that the security officer at  the Woodlawn Public Library was interviewed within 3 days of Mr. Syed’s arrest along with the track coach,

On March 3rd, Drew Davis, the defense investigator hired by Adnan’s attorney, interviewed Officer Steve. He did not take any notes of this interview, and the only reference made to these notes in the defense file is from a billing invoice that Davis submitted:

Billing Summary - Drew Davis

Asserting that this document has any relevance to Adnan’s claims in the PCR hearing is so strained that it borders on meritless. On March 3rd, it is virtually certain that neither Adnan nor his defense attorneys had Asia’s letters, which were mailed no sooner than March 2nd and March 3rd. We do not know why Davis spoke to Officer Steve, or what he spoke to him about, but there was nothing significant enough about the conversation to be worth preserving. According to Thiru, though, this is the State’s best evidence against Adnan, because it is proof that shortly after Adnan’s arrest, his attorneys were looking into whether they could locate alibi witnesses for where Adnan was after school that day.1

But if Adnan’s first words to his attorneys were, “I think I was at the library and then I was at track,” that is evidence of innocence, not evidence of guilt! It is the same alibi he is advancing now at the PCR hearing, and his bail attorneys’ prompt initial steps to investigate that alibi shows that they took Adnan seriously.

The fact Officer Steve (presumably) had no useful information to provide the defense investigator is not evidence, in any respect, that Adnan’s alibi was no good. It just means the single witness Davis spoke to could not verify it. In no legal universe is that a basis to desist all further investigative efforts.

As was made clear from the testimony last week of both the Woodlawn librarian and the security guard, however, the security guard’s failure to specifically recall seeing Adnan on January 13th is yet another meaningless fact with no evidentiary relevance. Both the Woodlawn librarian (called by the defense) and the security guard (called by the State) testified that they might remember a student they spoke to that day, but hundreds of students came through the library between 2pm and 4pm, and they would not be able to say whether or not a student hadn’t been in the library based on whether or not they remembered seeing them.

To comment briefly on Officer Mills: his testimony is on my top 10 list of most bizarre witness testimonies I have ever seen in court. Officer Steve was contacted a week before the hearing, and interviewed twice. He was then subpoenaed to testify for the state for as to three facts:

  1. He does not recall being questioned by Davis, Adnan’s attorneys, or anyone else in connection with this case
  2. The library did not have cameras in January 1999 (and therefore Asia is lying)
  3. Adnan Syed was not in the library on January 13, 1999 (and therefore Adnan’s attorneys reasonably did not pursue the Asia alibi)

At trial, he then testified to the following:

1. He does not recall being interviewed by Davis, Adnan’s attorneys, or anyone else in connection with this case

Assuming that Davis really did speak to Officer Steve on March 6, 1999, Officer Steve’s lack of memory of that encounter doesn’t have much significance for Adnan’s case. If, for instance, Davis asked him, “Do you have any records of a disturbance on Jan. 13, 1999,” then Officer Steve would never have known in the first place that he’d been questioned in connection with Adnan’s arrest.

2. He did not remember any cameras on that side of the library building, but it was possible there were cameras he did not know of, because that was not his responsibility.

My notes from the hearing have two exchanges which should clarify how little light Officer Steve was able to shed on this. First, on direct,

Thiru: Is it possible there were cameras at the library that you did not know of?

Officer Steve: Yeah, it’s possible, possible.

And then on cross,

Chris: Could there have been cameras at the library you were not aware of?

Officer Steve: Yes.

Officer Steve has no idea if there were cameras. There could have been, he just did not know of them because they were not his responsibility.

3. He did not see Adnan Syed in the library on January 13th,  but he easily could have been there and Officer Steve either didn’t see him or didn’t remember seeing him.

During cross, Officer Steve frankly acknowledged that, despite what the detectives’ notes said, he could not say for certain whether or not Adnan had been at the library that day. Perhaps he misspoke when speaking to the detectives, or perhaps the detectives took liberties in what they wrote down. Either way, the following exchange tells you all you need to know about whether Officer Steve actually believes he could tell whether or not Adnan had been at the library that day:

Chris: They showed you yearbook photos of a number of students from 17 years ago?
Officer Steve: Yes.
Chris: And they asked you to determine if one of them had been in the library on January 13, 1999?
Officer Steve: Yes.
Chris: That’s kind of a ridiculous question, isn’t it?
Officer Steve, speaking in a knowing/amused tone: I’m not answering that one!

So Officer Steve’s testimony was a complete dud for the State. Nothing about his testimony supports the State’s position at the PCR hearing in any way. The bar for “best State’s evidence” must have been set very low indeed, if this makes the cut.2

and so if anyone was wondering if the investigators and the attorneys were taking seriously a potential alibi, they certainly were, and the defense’s own file confirms that.

Yes, Adnan’s initial attorneys were taking the investigation seriously, because that is what an attorney is supposed to do. Unfortunately, Flohr and Colbert only represented Adnan during the bail stage, and six weeks after his arrest, Gutierrez took over his case. It is Gutierrez’s failure that is the basis of Adnan’s IAC claim, and the fact that his bail attorneys were competent and diligent has no bearing on Adnan’s claim that Gutierrez was ineffective in her representation of him.

And secondly, again it’s not a conspiracy, it’s common sense, when your client is asking how mail is scrutinized,

What Thiru is alleging never happened, and there is no evidence to support it. And unless he is an idiot — which, without question, he is not — he had to have known that the notes that are the basis of his claim have nothing to do with any obstruction of justice scheme. In short, a prosecutor for the State of Maryland misrepresented evidence at Adnan’s PCR hearing, in support of his claim that another attorney — one who was in fact present in that very courtroom — had been and continued to be complicit in a scheme to fabricate the existence of an alibi witness.

Everyone, regardless of their position on Adnan’s guilt, should find this horrifying.

To explain what is going on, it helps to look at the document that is the “source” (scare quotes warranted) of the prosecutor’s claim. The defense file contains a page of notes written by Chris Flohr (Adnan’s attorney during the initial bail hearings) on March 6, 1999, the top of which looks like this:

Flohr notes

These notes contain short, jotted-down references to a number of issues related to Flohr’s representation of Adnan, such as administrative matters, information needed for investigative purposes, getting legal releases signed, and fixing the bail issue in which Adnan’s date of birth was incorrectly listed.

In short: this is an attorney’s to-do list. A list of things for Flohr to discuss with his client when he sees him in jail, things for him to pursue as lines of investigation, and paperwork issues to be taken care of. Items were checked off as he went along — like after Flohr told his client about how to have people send him self-addressed stamped envelope in their letters to him so that he would be able to write them back, and after Flohr gave a routine cautionary reminder that everything his client sent and received through the mail could and would be monitored by authorities.

While I do not know what regulations Baltimore City jails had in place in 1999, sending an inmate a self-addressed stamped envelope with a piece of paper is, in institutions where permitted, a standard way of giving the inmate you are writing the materials necessary to actually write back, and that is clearly what Flohr’s notes here are referencing. As shown from guides published by correctional institutions and other agencies about how to write to inmates:

  • Each week a prisoner is allowed to send one free letter. If they want to send more than this then they need to purchase stamps and envelopes from the prison shop/canteen. Alternatively you can post self addressed stamped envelopes to the prisoner so they can post letters back to you
  • Inmates will be permitted to receive only the following types of materials through routine mail: [. . .] Self-addressed stamped envelopes. These items do not count toward the 15 page limitation for additional materials, but cannot exceed the equivalent of 20 (1 ounce) first class stamps.
  • Further, inmates may possess only the personal property, materials, supplies, items, commodities and substances received or obtained from authorized sources, as permitted in the institution’s procedures. Even the possession of excessive stamps can become an economic bargaining tool. Sending a client only self-addressed pre-stamped envelopes avoids any problems.

But even setting aside all that, Thiru’s conspiracy claim has overlooked an obvious point that disproves his entire argument. Namely, WHY THE FREAKING HELL WOULD ASIA NEED A SELF-ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE FROM ADNAN?? Asia isn’t in jail! Asia can buy her own envelopes and stamps! And buy her own “one piece [of] paper”! Why, oh why, would this notation from Flohr ever be, in any universe, evidence of Adnan asking for materials that he could use to solicit a false alibi from an acquaintance?

Flohr’s notes are, as anyone with criminal law experience should be able to see, about people writing letters to Adnan, and have nothing do with a hypothetical request to enlist an attorney’s help to carry out a conspiracy to fake an alibi. Flohr’s notes are not, as anyone with common sense should be able to see, about how Adnan can obtain materials to write out to another person and request that they write back with a letter that sets forth a falsified alibi.

In the words of Justin Brown, “I have a problem when prosecutors present info in a manner that they know to be inaccurate.” Thiru is a very smart man, and I will not insult his intelligence by presuming he holds a genuine belief in such a stupid theory, but that raises a much more troubling concern. At the PCR hearing, Thiru accused another attorney of being, at best, silently complicit in a scheme to commit obstruction of justice, and at worst, an active participant in the scheme, despite the fact that Thiru knew or should have known that his supporting “evidence” for this claim was a sham.

This is not okay. This is so far from okay.

Moreover, Flohr was actually in the courtroom for most of Adnan’s five day hearing, available to testify at a moment’s notice. If Thiru believed that Adnan had solicited Flohr’s help in constructing a false alibi, then he should have called him to the stand and asked him about it, not used his imagination to conjure up a conspiracy out of a defense attorney’s routine checklist of things to discuss with his client.

As with the rest of its case at the PCR hearing, however, the State preferred to submit its own willful misinterpretations of innocuous notes in lieu of any actual evidence.

 when you see notes that your best friend is telling detectives that a girl named Asia is being asked to type up a letter,

The Ja’uan notes issue has already been addressed in detail in other places, so I will just add a couple notes to it here. First, if anyone doubts the way in which notes jotted down by the police during an interview can be misleading when read out of context, simply look at Officer Steve’s testimony for your proof. Second, for Thiru to be right about the Ja’uan notes, it would mean that Ritz and MacGillivary were such terrible detectives that a defendant’s friend told them about his scheme to falsify an alibi, and they didn’t take a damned step to follow up on it.

And then there’s one other point in response to Thiru’s claim that is critical: although Thiru says, “when you see notes that…,” implying that Adnan’s attorneys made strategic decisions based upon their interpretation of the Ja’uan notes, such a thing never could’ve happened. Why? Because those notes were not disclosed to the defense until 2010. At the time of Adnan’s trial, no one connected with the defense in any respect ever had a clue those notes existed. The defense could not have obtained this information from Ja’uan, either, because Gutierrez’s team did not make contact with him until February 20, 2000, at the very end of the second trial, and those notes reflect nothing about any possible knowledge he might have had of either Asia or Adnan’s alibi defense. In short, Thiru’s conspiracy reading of the Ja’uan notes had nothing to do with any decision, strategic or otherwise, ever made by the defense.

and then you see that letter with lots and lots of facts that come from exactly one place, which is the defendant’s own search warrant, it’s pretty clear that a seasoned attorney like CG could see those warning signs a mile away.

Thiru made this claim a half dozen times during the hearing, and questioned Asia about it on cross, aggressively and at length. But it is not true. There is exactly one fact that appears in both the search warrant affidavit and Asia’s letters: that Hae was buried in Leakin Park. That’s it. No other facts from Asia’s letters appear anywhere in the search warrant.

3-9 search warrant

Plus, the “facts that come from exactly one place” part of Thiru’s argument is even more bogus, given that not only are the “facts” from Asia’s letters self-evidently not in the search warrant affidavit, but that during the course of the PCR hearing Thiru had been shown numerous sources that did contain those facts, and that Asia would have had access to on March 2, 1999. I guess he must’ve forgotten about that by the time the press conference rolled around.

And this is what Thiru calls the State’s best evidence in opposition to Adnan’s petition for a new trial?

Damn, no wonder I feel so hopeful.

– Susan

1. We know that Adnan told his attorneys that he believed he had a conversation about Ramadan with his track coach, Coach Sye, on January 13th, because that’s what Coach Sye says the defense investigator asked him about. The same day that Davis interviewed Coach Sye (March 6th), he also went to speak to the library security guard. To the extent that any inference can be drawn from this, it is that Adnan may have also identified the library as another location he had visited after school on the day of Hae’s disappearance.

2. So, all that aside, what actually is the deal with Officer Steve? Why on earth did the State call him in the first place, and what exactly did Officer Steve think he was talking about?

Well, best I can figure, based on the exhibits and testimony from the hearing, Officer Steve was under the belief that Hae had been murdered before January 13, 1999, and that he was being questioned about whether he had seen her killer in the library after her death.

Take a look at what the detectives’ notes say from Officer Steve’s second interview:

When [Officer Steve] saw Syed’s picture, he can say for certain he was not in the library the day of Wed, Jan 13, 1999

If Syed was in the library [Officer Steve] states he would have brought it to the attention of police.

At trial, Officer Steve gave testimony that was almost identical to his previous comments to the detectives the week before:

Thiru: If you had recognized Mr. Syed [in the library on January 13th], what would you have done?

Officer Steve: Call 911.

A perfectly reasonable response — if you mistakenly believed that, as of January 13, 1999, Adnan had been a murderer that the police were trying to arrest. Officer Steve testified that he remember seeing Adnan’s picture in the news, so he knew what Adnan looked like, and — as Officer Steve reasonably testified  — if he had seen this murderer at the library where he was a security guard, he would have responded by calling 911. Therefore Officer Steve is confident he did not see Adnan Syed in the library on January 13, 1999, because if he had, he would have called the police to  alert them to the fact that he had found the murderer they were looking for.

So Officer Steve’s testimony was not ridiculous at all, although it appeared that way at first glance. His only mistake was in assuming that the detectives were asking him reasonable questions, and he responded accordingly. Because why on earth would detectives show up at a security guard’s workplace and ask him something as ridiculous as whether he could confirm whether or not a student of no particular note had been it the library on a specific (but uneventful) day 17 years ago? No detective would be useless enough to ask such a thing, surely.

A Follow-Up Post On Cellphone Borrowing, Track Practices, and Wednesdays

In yesterday’s bonus episode of Undisclosed, I mentioned that I agreed with Colin about how Jay’s borrowing of Adnan’s car and phone appeared to be directly tied to their involvement in weed dealing, and further that, based on the calling patterns from the cell records, it appeared that Jay had been regularly borrowing Adnan’s car/phone on Wednesdays during the time that Adnan should have been at track. Since I’ve gotten a few questions about it today from listeners curious about it, I figured I’d put up a quick summary of the records I’m referencing.

First off, though, I should note that any “drug dealing” at issue would be the type of “drug dealing” that necessitates the use of scare quotes — there is no suggestion that anything more serious was going on here than teenagers providing pot to other teenagers. Moreover, based on Jay’s statements in his first police interview, whatever he was involved in was clearly some small time stuff, based on the total dollar amounts involved:

Jay Int 1 - p 66 - 67

(Side note: I wish the police had actually gotten a copy of this check, but I guess they knew it looked really bad for their “Adnan blackmailed Jay into helping with a murder” story.)

So with that in mind, here’s what the phone records show:

Days on which (a) Adnan had a cellphone1; (b) Woodlawn had track practice2; and (3) Adnan was eligible to be at track practice3:

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 26
  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 1
  • Feb. 2
  • Feb. 3
  • Feb. 4*
  • Feb. 5

Days on which Adnan should have been at track practice, but on which there was phone activity inconsistent with Adnan being at track practice4 from 3:30 to 5:00pm:

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 1
  • Feb. 3

Days on which Adnan should have been at track practice, but between 3:30 and 5:00pm there were calls made from Adnan’s phone to Patrick, “a guy [Jay] bought marijuana from a whole lot” (2/04/00 Tr. 134):

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 3

Days on which Adnan should have been at track practice, but between 3:30 and 5:00pm there were calls made to NHRN Cathy (who was Jay’s friend, and did not know who Adnan was):

  • Jan. 27
  • Feb. 3

Days on which Adnan’s phone made calls originating on either L689B (a.k.a. “the Leakin Park tower”) or L653C (tower on Edmonson Ave., south of Leakin Park):

  • Jan. 13
  • Jan. 27

Weed dealers (a) who sold weed to Jay; and (b) who, according to AT&T’s maps, Jay had to drive through L689B and L653C’s coverage areas in order to get to their houses:

  • Patrick.
Map - LP Area

Woodlawn HS depicted top left. Leakin Park is the grassy area to the center/right of image. Cell towers are marked by triangles. Blue line marks Cooks Avenue, which is mentioned repeatedly in Jay’s stories, and which both L653C and L689B could provide coverage for.

In sum, there is a correlation between (a) Wednesdays that Adnan should have been at track and (b) times when the phone activity shows calls to people only Jay would be calling. Similarly, there is also a correlation between (a) days that Adnan’s phone made calls to a weed dealer that lived near Leakin Park, and (b) days that Adnan’s phone made calls originating on L689B and L653C.

You can draw your own conclusions as to what else this pattern of activity may represent, but it does show that Jay being in possession of Adnan’s phone on a Wednesday afternoon during track practice would not have been an unusual event during this time frame.


1 Adnan got his cellphone on January 12th, and available cell records run through February 18th.

2 There were track meets — and therefore no track practices — on January 12th, 25th, and 28th, and Woodlawn High School was either on a break, had a snow day, or was on a half-day exam schedule on January 14th, 15th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 29th.

Additionally, I’ve only considered here the time period from January 12th – February 5th, due to the fact that Adnan does not appear to have regularly attended track practice following that date. The track meet on January 28th was the last regularly scheduled competition, and although the track season technically continued after, only the school’s top athletes would be competing in the remaining championship meets, Adnan not among them. So although Adnan continued to make sporadic appearances at practices following the last regular season meet, his attendance is reported to have significantly dropped off and it does not appear he went much or at all after the first week of February.

3 Per a track coach interviewed by the detectives, students who had missed school were not eligible to participate in athletics programs that afternoon. Adnan was out of school for a religious holiday on January 19th, and marked as absent on the 25th. He is also marked as absent on February 4th according to one record, but no absence is marked on another, so it’s not completely clear if he was eligible for track that day.

4 January 26th and February 4th also show some activity during these time periods, but not activity would be inconsistent with his attendance at track on those days, so I’ve not included them on this list. On January 26th, there was a call to check voicemail at 4pm, and on February 4th, there was a 10 second call to Adnan’s friend Peter at 4pm. Both calls were on towers that would be expected for a call made from Woodlawn High School.

What the Crime Scene Photographs Show

Previously, on both Undisclosed and our blogs, Colin, Rabia, and I have discussed the significance of the medical examiner’s findings concerning livor mortis. To recap, Dr. Korell’s autopsy report concluded that Hae’s body had fixed anterior (frontal) lividity, and that she had been buried on her right side. She testified to these same facts at trial:

CG: So that, that would tell you that the body was face down when the livor was fixed.
Dr. Korell: Right.
CG: Would it not?
Dr. Korell: Yes.
CG: Okay. Because that would mean the blood would pool on the front of the body .
Dr. Korell: Correct.
CG: And that wouldn’t happen if the body post-death were on its side.
Dr. Korell: Correct. (2/02/00 Tr. 79-80.)

Of course, there’s a problem here. If the body were buried on its right side sometime during the 7:00pm hour, this would preclude the anterior lividity described by Dr. Korell, which means that Jay’s story is dramatically and provably false with respect to the events of January 13, 1999.

Although the 7:00pm burial story would be disproven if looking solely at the autopsy report, two critical questions remained about the report’s validity.

First, was Dr. Korell correct about the anterior lividity? The autopsy photographs were in black and white, which is far from ideal, but multiple forensic pathologists were able to conclude,  after reviewing the photographs and autopsy report together, that Dr. Korell was correct in finding anterior lividity. All found that the lividity was anterior and even on both sides, meaning that the body was laid out flat, not leaned to one side or the other, at the time lividity fixed.

Second, was Dr. Korell correct that the body had been buried on its right side? The autopsy report concluded that it was, but because the State had never permitted the defense to obtain copies of the crime scene photos, we could not independently confirm this. However, there is no reason to think that this part of the report was in error. The autopsy was performed by two pathologists: Dr. Korell and Dr. Aquino.

1 - Aquino

And, although Dr. Korell had not been present at the crime scene, Dr. Aquino was:

2 - Crime Scene Report

(Progress Report, 6/10/99)

As one of the pathologists conducting the autopsy had personally observed the body at the Leakin Park crime scene, he was able to personally assess and report the positioning of the body. His conclusion that the “[t]he body was on her right side” was based on his own observations, not second-hand information from investigators. But did Dr. Aquino somehow make a huge blunder in his autopsy report, writing that Hae had been found on her right side, when really she had been laid out on her front?

In theory, this question should have been trivial to answer. In theory, there should have been crime scene photographs, body diagrams, and reports by crime scene technicians and the forensic anthropologists who performed the excavation, which would have described in detail the positioning of the body and other key facts about the crime scene. In theory, these basic facts should have been part of the record from Day One of the investigation.

In practice, however, there was nothing. No diagrams, no notes, no photos. Aside from the autopsy report, the position in which Hae’s body was found was a black hole as far as the case files for both the police and the defense were concerned. It was not until nine months after the incongruent findings in the lividity had first been noticed that the crime scene photographs were finally obtained by MSNBC, in connection with The Docket’s latest Serial special.

Before explaining what the photographs show, however, let’s review the failures that resulted in a situation in which the defense was denied access to any evidence concerning how Hae had been positioned at the burial site, and why it has taken so long to get conclusive answers to what should have been some of the most basic facts about the case.

The Investigatory Record

It is notable that not a single document in the police record describes the position in which Hae’s body was found. In fact, not one of the reports provided anything beyond the most generalized descriptions of the crime scene. The following is the entirety of available record that was produced to the defense before trial:

4 - 6-10 Report

(Progress Report, 6/10/99)

5 - 2-09 Report

(Crime Scene Narrative, 2/09/99)

(Progress Report, 2/16/99)

(Progress Report, 2/16/99)

(Police Report, 2/09/99)

(Police Report, 2/09/99)

(Surveyor's Map)

(Surveyor’s Map)

(Evidence Diagram)

(Evidence Diagram)

There’s not a single word in any of them which describes how the body was positioned in relation to the ground. Based on these reports, the only facts discernible at all as to how the body was found at the crime scene are that it was:

  1. Partially buried;
  2. Behind a 40′ log;
  3. Approximately 15′ from the west end of the log;
  4. With the head pointing towards the south, and feet pointing towards the north; and
  5. Located either 127′ or 114′ north of N. Franklintown Road (depending on which map you’re using).

Later, on August 2, 1999, the prosecution produced the following memo to the defense, which was described as the “oral report of Dr. Rodriguez,” the forensic anthropologist who disinterred the body:

Oral report of Dr. Rodriguez

Oral report of Dr. Rodriguez

This brief, triple-hearsay memo was the only report ever provided to the defense concerning the forensic findings at the crime scene. It is a prosecutor’s summary of another prosecutor’s notes of a conversation that she had with the forensic anthropologist five months previously. This document exists because in February 1999, prosecutor Vicki Wash spoke to Dr. Rodriguez, and she took notes of what he said. In July, prosecutor Kathleen Murphy wrote a summary of Wash’s notes, and then gave that to the defense.

So whatever Dr. Rodriguez found in his examination of the crime scene, his analysis was filtered through two different prosecutors before Adnan’s attorneys ever got a chance to see it. There is no way to know if Wash’s note were accurate and included everything of importance, and no way to know what Murphy’s “summary” of those notes left out. As a result, we have no idea if the oddities in this short report are truly things Dr. Rodriguez said, or if they are merely the result of a mistaken transcription by either Wash or Murphy in their various iterations of the report. Green plant material underneath — does plant material remain green if buried underground for a month? Orange fiber found on body, blue fiber found beneath body — but wait, why did the trace analysis unit conclude that there was a red fiber, a colorless fiber, and a pink-orange fiber found on the body? Is Rodriguez’s orange fiber near the shoulder Van Gelder’s red fiber near the head, or was it Van Gelder’s pink-orange fiber from a root? And what about the blue fiber, should we just assume it’s the colorless fiber that testing was done on?

Van Gelder's Trace Analysis Report

Van Gelder’s Trace Analysis Report

Prior to trial, the only other evidence of what the crime scene looked like that was handed over to the defense came from Mr. S’s police interviews. On the night of February 9, 1999, one of the detectives wrote down the following based on what Mr. S had said:

Mr. S's Police Statement

Mr. S’s Police Statement

Mr. S also provided the following sketch:

Mr. S's Sketch

Mr. S’s Sketch

And that’s it. Nothing whatsoever concerning whether the body was on its side, back, or front. Almost nothing concerning how it was buried. And inconsistent information concerning even the location of where the body was found.


From the beginning, the prosecution was playing games with what information it turned over concerning the burial site. Although initial discovery was (eventually) handed over by Urick on July 2nd, that discovery was decidedly lacking. Five days later, Gutierrez wrote to Judge Quarles outlining the numerous deficiencies in the State’s production:

  1. Any and all sketches, diagrams, and photographs of the crime scene, to include the victim as welI as any evidence collected.
  1. A legible crime scene log. The log provided was cut-off.

. . .

  1. All police reports, only incomplete reports were provided.
  1. A copy of Det. Bradshaw’s follow-up investigation report. The report in the materials provided is cut-off.

. . .

  1. A copy of any report or documents prepared by Dr. Rodriguez, the forensic scientist at the crime scene.

. . .

  1. Autopsy photographs. The photocopies provided are not legible.

. . .

16. The Medical Examiner’s log with any and all notes made by any personnel concerning the collection of the body.

In addition to the materials that were simply not produced at all, crime scene logs and reports were only partially produced, and the quality of the autopsy photos was so horrible that they showed nothing beyond a rough outline of the body.

The State’s response denied that any further records concerning the crime scene existed:

14 - Amended States Disclosure

In other words, information concerning the burial site had simply never been recorded by anyone. The prosecution’s position was that no one had, at any time, made any diagrams or took any notes of how the body was found at the burial site. Dr. Rodriguez and his team, who had been specially brought in from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., in order to assist the BPD with the recovery of the body, had failed to document any aspects of the crime scene.

It is worth noting that this is absolutely insane. No investigation should ever, under any circumstances, be conducted this way. There are two possibilities here: either the prosecution falsely represented to the defense (and to the court) that no such documents existed, or else Dr. Rodriguez and his team neglected the most basic aspects of a proper forensic investigation and failed to document any of their activities. See, e.g., Hutchins v. State, 339 Md. 466, 475, 663 A.2d 1281, 1286 (1995) (“The State [ ] ha[s] an obligation to disclose [ ] any written reports or statements and the substance of any oral reports and conclusions of [any ‘experts consulted by the State’] regardless of whether or not the State expected to call [those experts] to the stand to testify.”).

The only further information provided concerning Dr. Rodriguez’s (or Dr. Korell’s) findings consisted of the following disclosure on October 1st:

15 - Amended State's Disclosure

Nothing else was ever produced about the crime scene. No diagrams, no analysis, no notes, no reports. According to the prosecution, Dr. Rodriguez was brought in from Washington to conduct a forensic recovery that BPD was unequipped to handle, but failed to write down a single thing concerning his work.

Obtaining the Crime Scene Photographs

Without any documentation of the crime scene, the only remaining way to determine how the body was positioned is through the crime scene photographs. That catch was that the defense did not have any crime scene photos; Urick had refused to ever provide copies, and instead only permitted the defense to briefly view the photographs prior to trial.

Gutierrez, to her credit, relentlessly and repeatedly sought the photographs, such as in the following letters to Urick:

Defense Letter to the State, 8/5/99

Defense Letter to the State, 8/5/99

Defense Letter to the State, 9/7/99

Defense Letter to the State, 9/7/99

Defense Letter to the State, 1/6/00

Defense Letter to the State, 1/6/00

But it didn’t work. Other than the brief two-hour viewing that Urick permitted prior to trial, and during the trial itself, the defense never had access to these photos.

However, at trial, the prosecution introduced into evidence a series of eight photographs of the burial site, which Dr. Rodriguez described in his testimony. These photographs were acquired from the court last month, and, finally, we were able to definitively confirm what we have known for months: the lividity findings combined with the burial position preclude the possibility of a 7:00pm burial.

These photos were shown to Dr. Hlavaty, who was interviewed in Episode 5 of Undisclosed. After reviewing the newly obtained images, she was able to confirm that the body was positioned on its right side. Because the photos were in color, she was also able to confirm, once and for all, the presence of lividity on the anterior surface of the torso.

In addition to the lividity findings, though, it is worth noting that these findings are also highly significant in terms of what they show about the crime scene. In particular, the body was not at all concealed to the degree that I had expected, based on the trial testimony and police reports that I have been reviewing since Serial ended. The majority of the body is above the level of the forest floor, and is concealed primarily by a pile of loose soil and dead leaves that have been thrown into a pile on top of it. Much more of the body was exposed than I had expected, as well.

My reaction to the photographs was, in fact, much the same as Mr. S’s reaction was to the crime scene. The first thing you notice is that the earth has been disturbed; it is blatant and would be hard to miss. A pile of leaves and dirt have been thrown into a pile, and the forest floor surrounding the pile is bare dirt, as if someone had scooped up all the leaves in arms’ reach to add to the pile. After looking at the dirt and leaf pile, the most striking features are the glossy black hair, and below that the white of Hae’s jacket collar, as well as the completely exposed foot sticking out from the pile of leaves. Large portions of the left knee and hip are also exposed, although the color and texture of the taupe stockings allow those portions to blend in better with the surrounding brown and tan leaves.

The Pressure Marks

The photographs also provide confirmation that Hae’s body was laid out frontally after death because of what they show concerning the pressure marks. Lividity causes discoloration in the areas of the body where the blood has settled due to the effect of gravity, but in addition to the areas of discoloration this process also leaves pressure marks that appear as white patches on the skin. Pressure causes compression of the blood vessels, which results in blood being unable to settle in those areas, and therefore no discoloration occurs, even in a location that is otherwise the lowest area of the body.

In this case, the pressure marks found on Hae’s body provide further evidence that Hae had been buried after lividity had become fixed. First, there are the marks found on Hae’s shoulders: a series of three are similar-sized pressure marks, two on the right and one on the left, at roughly the same level of the body and roughly the same shape. I have made a diagram depicting theses marks’ approximate location:

The areas marked in white are pressure marks with unambiguous and distinct borders. The areas marked in beige are also pressure marks, but their shape is less clear from photos.

The areas marked in white are pressure marks with unambiguous and distinct borders. The areas marked in beige are approximate representations of the pressure marks, but their shape is less clear from photos; the beige should be interpreted to show location and general shape, rather than exact appearance.

The pressure mark on the farthest right of Hae’s shoulders was the most distinct, with clear, straight borders, and its shape is that of a distinct double-diamond pattern:

The dimensions are very precise. Based on the ruler provided for scale, the double diamond mark is:

  • 2 1/2″ inches from top to bottom
  • 1 1/8″ across at widest
  • 5/8″ across at narrowest

The two diamonds on the right shoulder are 2″ apart from point to point, and 1″ apart from the fattest part of the diamonds.

There is also a divot in the center of the rightmost diamond. Its placement makes it appear artificial, as if it were part of the construction of the item. This is especially so when combined with how symmetrical and straight the edges are; whatever it is, I do not think it’s organic.

There is no way to determine if this pressure mark was due to contact with an object in that shape, or if, for example, the object was bar-shaped and the double-diamond pattern is simply a result of greater pressure against the clavicle and shoulder and lesser pressure in-between. The other two marks (one other on the right shoulder, closer to the neck, and a third one on the far left shoulder) do appear roughly similar in shape and size, but their shape is not as distinct as is the one on the far right, as the borders are not as defined and they are not as clearly depicted in available photographs.

Dr. Hlavaty could not identify a possible source based on the marks, but she did confirm that they were pressure points that demonstrated anterior lividity. Although others have suggested that the marks may be caused by bra straps, the pressure marks do not line up with how the bra was on the body, and do not seem to be consistent with pressure marks that would have been caused by that. Whatever their source may be, there was nothing found at the Leakin Park crime scene that could account for the existence of these marks, and the body’s position did not cause these areas to be exposed to any greater pressure than the surrounding areas were subjected to.

The second significant pressure mark is the one found on the far left anterior surface of the torso, starting at a point slightly above the navel and ending at a point slightly below it. Tracing over the pressure mark gives the following zigzag shape:

19 - Pressure Mark

This pressure mark falls at the same level as the waist of Hae’s pantyhose, which had been twisted about; the pressure mark resulted from the constriction of the pantyhose where the waist had bunched due to twisting.

The location of this mark is significant in that it confirms that, when lividity fixed, the lower left side of the body’s abdomen was flat against whatever surface the body was resting on, causing blood to pool there. If lividity had fixed while the body was in the position in which it was found, no lividity could have developed in the lower left anterior of the torso.

What the Newly Obtained Crime Scene Photographs Show

For obvious reasons, we will not make copies of the photographs available to the public, and it is my very deep hope that no one else takes it upon themselves to publish them. Hae’s family doesn’t deserve that, and there is no excuse for such an action. However, the information contained in the photographs is important for Adnan’s case, and a subject of legitimate interest. In order to provide access to this information, while not making sensitive and potentially upsetting photographs available to the public, I have created a model to show the positioning of Hae’s body at the crime scene, as well as the portions of the body that were exposed when it was discovered by Mr. S.

I have taken every effort to make the model as faithful to the photographs as possible, so that when viewed from the same angle the model’s position matches the positioning shown in the photographs. A few caveats are in order, however: (1) In order to show the visible collar, the area of the neck has been obscured; (2) the positioning of the left hand is not shown in the photographs, and could either be palm up or palm down; it is depicted here as palm down; and (3) although all of the hair is depicted in the model, only the top portion of it was actually exposed as the crime scene was initially found; the lower portions were not visible until later stages of excavation. Also note that currently displayed images have been updated slightly from their original depiction when this was first posted.Model 2

Areas of the model marked in blue show the portions of the body that were exposed to the air, and which were visible in photographs prior to any recovery work had been done: the right foot, the left knee, the left hip, a portion of the right wrist and hand, the collar of Hae’s jacket, and the back of her hair.

Orange has been used to mark two of the more prominent pressure marks that would be visible based on the positioning of the model: one on the left shoulder, and one on the left lower torso. The marks on the right shoulder would have been obscured.

Model 5Model 6Model 14Model 4Model 10Model 9Model 13 Model 12 Model 11

Not all of the body was placed below ground; some portions of the body rested on soil at the same level as all of the surrounding forest floor. However, a portion of the body — primarily the torso — rested in a recessed area. In order to depict these conditions, I have used wires to hold the clay up, although in the photographs, these limbs are supported by the soil at the edges of the recessed areas, or by the forest floor itself.

According to Detective MacGillivary, there was a “natural depression” near the log, which is what the body had been placed in.  Although Dr. Rodriguez’s triple-hearsay oral report describes the area as being “dug out,” he never makes this claim in his trial testimony, and simply describes that where she was placed was “very shallow.”

This shallow depression was longer than it was wide, and only large enough to fit parts of the torso. The right knee is resting directly on the forest floor; the exposed areas, mark in blue, show where dirt and leaves had fallen off the sides of her leg, exposing all of it to air except for the lowest inch or so, which is obscured by leaf litter. The left hip is similarly exposed, with the sides uncovered by dirt and leaves due to the effects of gravity, although debris often remained directly on top of the body part. The right foot was entirely exposed and jutted at an angle into the air. The left arm was covered in leaves and not visible; although it was the highest part of the body, the leaves and soil were piled deepest over that area. The right elbow was the lowest part of the body, but is bent sharply so that the hand reaches upwards towards the surface. There was only a single rock placed on any part of the body, and that is the rock referenced in Dr. Rodriguez’s report that was placed on top of the hand. The positioning of the right hand, which indicates that it may have been in rigor at the time of the burial, makes me suspect that the rock was placed in order to hold the hand down, as otherwise rigor would have caused it to stick up well above the forest floor. With the rock on it, only a sliver of the back of the hand, where it meets the wrist, is exposed.

Additionally, it should be noted that the body was not “against” the log as it has sometimes been described. These photos show the model’s position with reference to the log and the rock:
Crime Scene - With Log - Rear View
Crime Scene - With Log - Westward View

Based on the crime scene photographs, there is no possibility that Hae was buried in Leakin Park prior to the fixation of lividity. This puts the earliest estimates of her burial at no sooner than 8-12 hours after death, and quite possibly longer. This means that, if Hae was killed shortly after leaving school, the burial could not have taken place before approximately 10pm.


Serial: Lies, Damned Lies, and Closing Arguments

Note: Rabia Chaudry (Split the Moon), Colin Miller (Evidence Prof Blog), and I started a podcast. It’s called Undisclosed, and it follows Adnan Syed’s case and current appeal. New episodes will be released every other week, on Mondays, and in case that is too long to wait, on the off-weeks we will be releasing short addendum episodes with updates and previews.


Before reading the post below, I recommend at least listening to Addendum 1, as some of the new information covered there is discussed in this post. And be sure to check us out next Monday, for Episode 2

In closing arguments, the prosecution “is entitled to considerable latitude in summation to argue the evidence and any reasonable inferences that can be drawn from that evidence.” United States v. Green, 25 F.3d 206, 210 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting United States v. Werme, 939 F.2d 108, 117 (3d Cir. 1991)). However, this latitude does not permit a prosecutor to make false and factually unsupported claims during closing arguments, as “[i]t is a fundamental tenet of the law that attorneys may not make material misstatements of fact in summation.” Davis v. Zant, 36 F.3d 1538, 1548 n. 15 (11th Cir. 1994). Accordingly, prosecutors have an “obligation [ ] to avoid making statements of fact to the jury not supported by proper evidence introduced during trial,” as “the interest of the Government in a criminal prosecution ‘is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done,’ and that ‘the average jury . . . has confidence that these obligations [of fairness and accuracy] will be faithfully observed.'”  Gaither v. United States, 413 F. 2d 1061 (D.C. Cir. 1969),  (citing Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935)).

In the case against Adnan Syed, this obligation was not respected. Prosecutors Kathleen Murphy and Kevin Urick displayed a reckless disregard for the truth in their closing arguments to the jury, both by making material misrepresentations about the physical evidence and by misstating witness testimony. For many of the misrepresentations made in closing, it is difficult to see how the prosecutors could have been unaware of the falsity of their arguments. Regardless of whether those misrepresentations were made intentionally or not, however, the prosecutors in Adnan’s case were “exceedingly reckless, and paid too short shrift to the prosecutors’ ‘obligation’ to seek a conviction only on the basis of facts in the record.” United States v. Mageno, 762 F. 3d 933 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Gaither, 413 F.2d at 1079).

Below, I have set forth (in blue) a selection of claims made in the State’s closing arguments, by Murphy, and rebuttal closing, by Urick, and provided an analysis of the accuracy of their representations to the jury.

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Serial: The Above Average Investigations of Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary

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 four* defendants who were convicted of murder pursuant to investigations by either Ritz or MacGillivary have been found to have been wrongfully convicted and released from prison.

[*Edit: In May 2016, Malcolm Bryant was exonerated. Detective Ritz was the lead investigator in that case.]

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. Continue reading

Serial: The Question of Don’s Alibi

As a preface, I want to be very clear: this post is not about Don. Rather, it is about the the State’s investigation of Don, and the failure thereof. Nothing herein is evidence that Don was involved in Hae’s murder, because the fact that an alibi went unverified does not mean that that the alibi was untrue. As a result, while there is no reason to believe Don was not at the Hunt Valley store on January 13, 1999, the flipside is that the police did not have reliable evidence from which they could conclude Don was at the store that day, either.

Don was not involved in Hae’s murder. Although there was evidence that, at the time of the original investigation, should have caused the police to take a special interest in Don — e.g., Debbie’s statements to the police about Hae’s plans, and the note found in Hae’s car — it appears now that the evidence did not actually suggest that Hae was on her way to see Don at the time of her disappearance. Back in 1999, however, the police did think that — and their failure to investigate Don as they should have is probably a big part of the reason why all the uncertainty about the wrestling match never got sorted out at the time of trial.

In investigating Hae’s murder, the police ignored any line of inquiry that did not directly lead towards building a case against Adnan. Their investigation of Don was a perfect example of this; they made the minimum possible effort to have him “ruled out” as a person of interest, and did little or nothing to investigate whether he might have relevant information concerning Hae’s disappearance. (A similar tactic was used with Mr. S. Although Mr. S failed a polygraph when asked if he was trying to withhold information from investigators, he was re-tested a few days later, and “passed” the polygraph once it was reduced to a single question, which was whether he knew the method in which Hae had been killed.)

Don and Adnan should have been of equal interest to investigators. Both had recently been in romantic relationships with Hae, and both should have had their alibis vetted.

Don and Adnan were not treated similarly by investigators, however. While Adnan was the focus of extensive investigation by both the Baltimore County and the Baltimore City Police, the investigation into Don was at best cursory (and, in the case of the Baltimore City Police, nonexistent). Although the police alleged that Don had been excluded as a suspect due to a confirmed alibi, this can only be said to have been “confirmed” under the loosest possible interpretation of that word.

Don’s alibi was that he had been at work on the day of Hae’s murder. Although he usually worked at the LensCrafters in Owings Mills, Don said that on January 13, 1999 he was  working at a different store, in Hunt Valley. However, the police did not speak to a single person from the Hunt Valley store, nor did they  obtain any employment records that could confirm his alibi. Instead, the police asked a single employee from the Owings Mills Mall location whether Don had worked at Hunt Valley that day, and although she stated that he had, her source for that information may have been Don himself.

Nothing more was done to investigate Don’s alibi until September 1999, when Adnan’s defense attorney filed a subpoena under seal requesting that LensCrafters produce all employment records for Don from the relevant time period. On October 4, 1999, LensCrafters produced records that showed Don had not worked on January 13, 1999.

Thereafter, Prosecutor Kevin Urick had a phone conversation with the LensCrafters legal department. Although the defense’s ex parte subpoena had been filed under seal, he somehow learned of it and obtained his own copies of the documents that LensCrafters had produced to the defense.  Two days later, following Urick’s phone conversation with the LensCrafters legal department, LensCrafters suddenly found an “additional time keeping record” that showed Don had, in fact, worked on January 13th. However, in a separate cover letter issued directly to Urick (and which LensCrafters did not include in its production to Gutierrez), LensCrafters went out of its way to notify Urick that the “General Manager on 1/13/99” was “also Donald’s mother” (emphasis in original). Moreover, a review of the newly-discovered timecard shows that there are several oddities that call its authenticity into question.

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Serial: Unless Hae Was Lying to Don, the Note Found in Her Car Was Not Written on the Day of the Murder

As a manager for the Woodlawn wrestling team, Hae handled the scoring for their matches, and she traveled with the team when they had matches at other high schools. At Adnan’s trials, as well as in the podcast, it was assumed to be an established fact that Woodlawn’s wrestling team had a match against Randallstown on the afternoon of January 13, 1999, and that Hae was supposed to have been there.

As with so much else in this case, however, the “established fact” that Hae was going to a wrestling match is unsupported by the evidence. Hae was planning on going to work at LensCrafters that day instead.

Hae was Scheduled to Work at LensCrafters at Owings Mills Mall

On the afternoon of January 13th, Hae was scheduled to work at the Owings Mills Mall LensCrafters, from 6 to 10 p.m. On the LensCrafters’ employee schedule for that day, Hae was marked as “no call no show” — the first such time that had happened in the three months that she had working there. Hae did not have a practice of failing to show up for her scheduled shifts, and we know that, at least as of January 12th, Hae was intending on going to work that day, because “Don said he and Hae had made plans to meet up later that night of the 13th after her work shift ended at 10 p.m.” (Episode 12).

The wrestling match story does not seem to have come from Hae’s family. On January 13, Hae’s brother told Officer Adcock that he was “not aware if his sister had any engagements after school.” This doesn’t mean all that much, since it seems safe to assume that Hae’s little brother did not have detailed information about the schedules for her extracurricular activities, but it does mean he wasn’t the one to tell the police about any wrestling match she may have been at. Officer Adcock’s report also notes that he “[a]ttempted to contact the victim Lee’s high school with negative results,” which means he did not receive any information from the school  about where Hae might have been that afternoon. Officer Adock did speak to Hae’s manager at LensCrafters, however, and she reported that Hae had failed to show up for work as scheduled.

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Serial: Phone Records, Bank Records, and Alibi Witnesses

The following post is a collection of a few points of interest that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in other forums, but have not yet addressed on my blog. In order to make everything available in a central location, I’ve expanded on those topics below, with links to source material.

The 5:13 p.m. Phone Call

In addition to the 33 calls that were disclosed in the phone records introduced at trial, additional records, provided by Abe Waranowitz but not introduced into evidence, disclosed the existence of an additional, previously undisclosed phone call made from Adnan’s cellphone on January 13, 1999.  AT&T’s dropped call records from January 13th show that a call made to or from Adnan’s cellphone was dropped, apparently due to reception issues:

Radio Release - Drop Call - 513pm call

The 5:13 p.m. call does not show up on Adnan’s phone bill, or on the cellphone records obtained by the prosecution, so there is no way to know if it was an incoming or outgoing call, or who might have been on the other line. The 5:13 p.m. call does, however, provide a more detailed context for the 5:14 p.m. call, which was an incoming call to voicemail. Adnan’s cellphone received or made a call at 5:13 p.m. that was subsequently dropped due to poor reception, and then (presumably) the person who had been on the other end of the line tried to call back at 5:14 p.m., but was sent to voicemail instead, as the phone did not have reception at that time.

The tower from which this call was dropped was L651A, which covers Woodlawn and the area around Woodlawn High School. The previous call, at 4:58 p.m., had originated on L654C, which roughly covers the area of Jay’s mother’s house — however, as an incoming call, that could also be an artifact of the unreliability of location data for incoming calls, making it uncertain where the phone had been before. These records indicate that the 4:58 p.m. call was likely from Adnan asking Jay to pick him up at 5:30 p.m., which was the typical time that track practice ended. After receiving the call, Jay (along with the cellphone) then migrated up towards Woodlawn to pick Adnan up, so that, at 5:13 p.m., the phone was in the area covered by L651A.

The Real Nisha Call

The real Nisha Call was not the 3:32 p.m. call on January 13th, but a call that occurred at 7:17 p.m. on February 14th. That call — unlike the call made to Nisha on January 13th — is consistent with the cellphone records, with Nisha’s testimony concerning the nature of the phone call, and with Jay’s work records.

The Real Nisha Call

The Real Nisha Call

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Serial: Adnan Was the Prime (and Possibly Only) Suspect in Hae’s Murder Even Before the Anonymous Phone Call

Trial Transcripts: Since Rabia is out of the country at the moment, and since there are transcripts that are overdue for release, Rabia asked if I could post the next batch of transcripts:

According to Serial folklore, the reason Adnan became a suspect in Hae’s murder was all due to an anonymous call made the day after Hae’s murder was announced in the media. On February 12, 1999, at 3:19 p.m., Detective Massey received a phone call from an “Asian Male 18-21 years old[ ] who advised investigators should concentrate on the victim’s boyfriend.” It was only after this phone call that the police began to zero in on Adnan as a suspect.

Or so the story goes. The police files, however, tell a different story. They indicate that Adnan was already a suspect before the anonymous call ever came in. In fact, the police files indicate that Adnan was the only suspect that was ever considered. As of February 11th, the police already seem to have decided that Adnan was responsible for Hae’s murder.

The Curious Case of Mr. A and the February 11th Printout

The earliest indication that the police were investigating Adnan comes from a one-page printout of a motor vehicle database search. The search had pulled up registration details for Adnan’s Honda Accord, and the time stamp and terminal ID on the printout show that it was generated on a a computer in the Woodlawn police station on February 11, 1999, a little after 8:00 pm.

On the same evening that the printout was made, a man had walked into the Woodlawn police station to report that he had witnessed something he believed to be connected to Hae’s murder. The man — “Mr. A” — told the police that had seen suspicious activity while in Leakin Park, and that he “had heard of the recovery of a woman’s body in Leakin Park on the TV news and wanted to help.” The officers at the Woodlawn station called the Homicide Unit down in Baltimore, since the city now had jurisdiction over the offense. Detective Ritz and Sergeant Lehmann drove out to Woodlawn to talk to Mr. A, arriving at the station at 9:45 pm. According to Lehmann’s report of the interview, Mr. A told them that he had observed

a [young black  male] driving a light colored automobile while in Leakin Park . . . acting suspicious near the concrete barriers blocking southbound traffic onto Weatheredsville Road from Windsor Mill Road, which is approximately a mile from the site of the victim’s recovery.

Lehmann’s report then summarily concluded that “investigators believe that this observance is not connected to the murder of Hae Lee.” However, Lehmann provided no indication whatsoever as to why the investigators believed that Mr. A’s report was not connected to Hae’s murder. Lehmann’s summary report also omits a number of crucial details about the interview with Mr. A, including (1) the date and time that Mr. A had seen this “suspicious” activity, (2) what the suspicious activity consisted of, and why exactly it had struck him as suspicious, or (3) why he thought that this event might have been connected to Hae’s murder.

As a result, the report itself provides no basis from which Mr. A’s story can be discredited, or from which it can be concluded that it is irrelevant to Hae’s murder. Based on the timing of his report, Mr. A probably went to the police station immediately after learning that Hae’s body had been found in Leakin Park. Although Hae’s body had been found on Tuesday, February 9th, it was not reported until the evening of Thursday, February 11th, when the story was covered in the evening news (such as in the media segment shown here). The timing of Mr. A’s report would therefore suggest that he had high level of confidence in the importance of what he had seen. After seeing a TV segment on a body being found in Leakin Park, he remembered the incident that he had observed, and — without delay — he immediately drove down to the police station to report what he had seen.

So what exactly caused the officers to reject his report as unrelated to the murder? The location of the suspicious activity that Mr. A reported cannot explain the officers’ dismissal of his story. Although it took place a mile away from where Hae’s body was found, it was a location that would have been an ideal spot to check out, for anyone who might be scouting out Leakin Park for a place to bury a body:

Weatheredsville and Windsor

Google Street View of “southbound [ ] onto Weatheredsville Road from Windsor Mill Road.” Note that the concrete barriers referenced in Mr. A’s report were subsequently replaced with the yellow gate shown in this image.

Although Windsor Mill, like N. Franklintown, is a busy by-pass road with significant traffic volume, Weatheredsville is blocked off from the public, and has no traffic at all. Although there were concrete barriers in place to bar vehicles from getting through, if someone could have gotten around the barriers they would have been rewarded with access to a highly secluded, half-mile stretch of road in the middle of Leakin Park, with no traffic whatsoever. A perfect location for body burying — or at least as perfect as it is going to get in Leakin Park. Perfect, that is, if you can get around the concrete barriers to access the road. (And perhaps that is precisely what Mr. A saw — someone trying to get around the concrete barriers could also explain why Mr. A thought the young man he saw was “behaving in a suspicious manner.”)

If the location of the activity can’t explain why the police rejected Mr. A’s witness report, then perhaps instead it was the date on which Mr. A observed the activity that caused the police to dismiss his story. But if so, why would Sergeant Lehmann not have included that detail in his report? Besides, at this point, the police had no idea if Hae’s body had been the park for one week or four — if Mr. A had observed this any time between January 13th and February 8th, then it could have been related to the murder, and should have at least been investigated further before being dismissed out of hand.

So what was it then? Well, Lehmann’s sparse report does include two details from Mr. A’s statement which could explain why investigators rejected his story as irrelevant: Mr. A saw a “black male” who was driving a “light colored” car. If the police had already established that a Pakistani male driving a dark colored car was responsible for the crime, then Mr. A’s report would be irrelevant to the investigation, and could safely be dismissed as an unrelated occurrence.

The printout from the MVA database indicates that Mr. A’s description of the car was, at least, one of the reasons that his report was rejected:

MVA Report - Honda - 2-11-99

Printout from MVA database, showing that on February 11, 1999 at 8:06 p.m., someone using in the Woodlawn precinct pulled up the vehicle registration records for Adnan’s 87 Honda Accord.


The scan of this document makes it a little hard to read, but the second line provides the VIN for the car — which, with a VIN decoder, the officers could use to look up the color of Adnan’s car.

While it isn’t odd that the police would have had a copy of Adnan’s vehicle registration records in their case file, what is odd is the date and time on which this registration record was obtained: February 11, 1999, at 8:06 pm. The scanner quality of the printout is not great, but a comparison between this printout and another printout — which uses an identical font and was also created on February 11, 1999 — shows that the printout of the Honda Accord’s registration details had in fact been done on February 11th as well. (The blue pixels represent the tag printout, and are overlaid on the date taken fro the sample printout.)

MVA Printout - Date Comparison - 2-11-99

(And yes — for the record, I did compare the numbers on the tag printout with every other possible combination. The result was that the only number combination that matches is “021199.”)

From reviewing the rest of the police files, the time stamp on this printout is further evidence that the search of Adnan’s vehicle records was not something that had been pulled up as a routine matter. Every other printout in Adnan’s case file was made during normal business hours, from 9am to 5pm — so why, then, was a police officer printing out Adnan’s vehicle registration at 8pm on a Thursday evening? This indicates that the printout was generated in response to a particular event, and that an officer had been prompted at that time to look up the information, rather than for the purpose of making routine updates to a case file.

An event such as, for example, Mr. A’s walk-in report at the police station. We do not know what time he arrived at the Woodlawn stationhouse, but if his police report was prompted by an early evening news segment about Hae’s body being discovered in Leakin Park, then sometime around 8 p.m. would make sense. Although Lehmann’s report indicates that he and Ritz did not arrive at the Woodlawn station until 9:45 p.m., Mr. A could easily have arrived into the station a couple hours earlier in the evening — particularly if the Baltimore County officers had interviewed Mr. A themselves first before notifying the Homicide Unit. It would have also taken Lehmann and Ritz some time before they could have arrived at the Woodlawn station to interview Mr. A themselves, particularly as Ritz and MacGillivary appear to have been working a day shift at that time, and probably had to be contacted during their off hours to be notified of the witness.

Unfortunately for the Detective Ritz, the witness report turned out to be a dud. Mr. A saw a young black guy in a light car, but their suspect was a young Pakistani guy in a brown or black car. Ergo, what Mr. A saw could not have been related to Hae’s murder. Yes, Hae’s car could be described as “light colored” — but at this stage of the investigation, the detectives had never heard of the “trunk pop” story. As later documents indicate, the police seemed to have believed that it was Adnan’s car, not Hae’s car, that had been used to transport the body. (See, i.e., the vehicle processing report for Adnan’s car, noting that “Suspect along with witness used the vehicle to aid in the transport . . . of the victim’s body in the trunk section of auto.”). This would explain, then, the easy dismissal of Mr. A’s account: the investigators didn’t need to hear anything more from him, because what he had seen in Leakin Park had been the wrong car driven by someone of the wrong race.

Without knowing what time Mr. A arrived at the station, the connection between the tag printout’s timestamp and Mr. A’s police report cannot be conclusively shown. (Although a records request directed to the Baltimore County policy might go a long way to resolving the question.) Still, regardless of the exact timing, the fact remains that a police officer was investigating the details of Adnan’s car at 8 p.m. on a Thursday, only two days after Hae’s body was found — and why would the officer have done so, if Adnan was not a suspect? But why would Adnan have been a suspect on February 11th, when no anonymous phone call had yet been made implicating him in Hae’s murder?

One theory: although unpreserved in the documentary record, a request for Adnan’s cellphone records had already been made, which had alerted investigators to the existence of the two Leakin Park phone calls.

Following the Subpoena Trail, or, How the Investigators Came to Be in Possession of Adnan’s Cellphone Records Without Ever Issuing a Subpoena 

According to Serial, the detectives did not subpoena Adnan’s cellphone records until February 18, 1999, over a week after Hae’s body had been found in Leakin Park. This version of events, as told in the podcast, matches the “official” story of the investigation — that is, it matches the story of the investigation that was disclosed to the defense counsel.

But the police files produced in response to the 2014 MPIA request show that the first subpoena for cellphone records was not issued on February 18th, as the documents given to defense counsel claimed, but had instead been issued two days previously, on February 16th. Moreover, the files also show that, at the time this first subpoena was issued on February 16th, the police were — inexplicably — already in possession of at least some of Adnan’s cellphone records, despite the absence of any documentation concerning the source of this information.

In the state’s production of documents to Adnan’s defense counsel, the state included two police reports concerning subpoenas issued to Adnan’s cellphone provider. Those reports indicate that the first subpoena for cellphone records had been issued on February 18, 1999. In a Progress Report dated 2/18/99, MacGillivary wrote that:

On 18 February 1999, your investigator along with Detective William Ritz obtained a subpoena for the cell phone records of one Adnan Syed telephone # 410-253-9023 from Sgt. Michael Cannon H.l.D.T.F. The subpoena will be delivered on 19 February 1999 to Bell Atlantic Mobile Security, Cockeysville, Maryland.

In a second Progress Report, dated 2/20/99, MacGillivary wrote that a (second?) subpoena had also been served two days later, on February 20th:

In furtherance of the above captioned investigation, on 20 February 1999 at 1115 hours, this writer faxed a subpoena and court order to AT&T Wireless Communications, located 801 North Point Parkway, West Palm Beach, Florida 33407, (fax# 1-888-938-4715). The court orders request that AT&T Wireless provide this investigator with the cell site locations of calls that were made from telephone number (443) 253-9023 [Adnan’s cellphone number] during the time span of January 1, 1999 to present. This writer also asked that a directory of cell site locations associated with the requested information be provided for proper interpretation.

These Progress Reports were inaccurate and misleading, however. They do not indicate (and in fact, seem to be obfuscating) the existence of the prior 2/16/99 subpoena, in response to which AT&T had produced on February 17th Adnan’s subscriber information and call records:

Grand Jury Subpoena - 2-16-99

Moreover, although the undisclosed 2/16/99 subpoena is the first documented request for cellphone records that is contained in the police file, the wording of the subpoena indicates that it was not the first ever request for cellphone records that investigators had made. Note the section of the subpoena in bold below:

You are therefore directed this 16th day of February, 1999, to furnish the name(s) address(s) for the following telephone number and (13) cell site locations, from January 1999 to present.

The investigators wanted addresses for “13 cell site locations.” This would indicate that, at the time the 2/16/99 subpoena was issued, the investigators already had information concerning Adnan’s cellphone records, including tower data, because on the day of Hae’s murder, Adnan’s cellphone made calls on 13 separate antennas. But how did the investigators know that on February 16th, when no documentation exists indicating a request had already been made to AT&T at that time, or that AT&T had produced documents in response to such a request?

To me, it looks a lot like someone in the Homicide Unit had already made some unofficial requests for cellphone data, and the phone company had obliged, even in lieu of a formal subpoena requesting production of that data. Perhaps it was something done over the phone, or through a contact in another government agency, but — somehow — the investigators seem to have known only about the significance of Adnan’s cellphone location data only few days after Hae’s body had been found.

The records in the MPIA files also suggest that investigators made an effort to camouflage the fact that previous requests for cellphone location data had been made. Let’s take a look back at the Progress Reports that were disclosed to defense counsel. In the first one, the 2/18/99 Progress Report, MacGillivary wrote, “On 18 February 1999, your investigator along with Detective William Ritz obtained a subpoena for the cell phone records of one Adnan Syed.” This is not an accurate statement. It also creates the (false) impression that the 2/18/99 subpoena was the first records request submitted by investigators. In fact, not only was the 2/18/99 subpoena not the first request for cellphone records that had been submitted by the investigation, it was not even a request for Adnan’s cellphone records at all! Instead, it was a request for the subscriber information for the people that Adnan’s cellphone had called.

DEA Subpoena - 2-18-99

The 2/18/99 subpoena. Numbers listed correspond to outgoing calls made by Adnan’s cellphone on January 12 – 14, 1999.

Note: MacGillivary seems to have been calling in a favor from someone with the Drug Enforcement Administration, because the subpoena was issued by the DEA, and not through the channels used by Maryland state agencies. The information requested in that subpoena, however, is clearly not Adnan’s cellphone records, as the 2/18/99 Progress Report describes — instead, it is a subpoena for the subscriber data of almost everyone that was called by Adnan’s phone on January 12th, 13th, and 14th. (Not all numbers called by Adnan’s phone are included in this subpoena, however. Intriguingly, Jenn’s home phone number is not included in this subpoena. Police notes also show that the investigators already knew who Jenn’s home phone number belonged to prior to the 2/18/99 subpoena.)

So why did MacGillivary incorrectly describe the 2/18/99 subpoena as “a subpoena for the cell phone records of one Adnan Syed”? It could be sloppy paperwork; nothing more than the result of an oversight, due to confusion with the February 16th subpoena, which did request Adnan’s cellphone records. But MacGillivary should have known that, as of February 17, 1999, AT&T had already faxed the Homicide Unit the subscriber information and call logs from Adnan’s cellphone — the 2/18/99 subpoena could not have been for Adnan’s cellphone records, when those had been sent over the day before. Here is the front page of the cellphone records sent to the Homicide Unit by AT&T on February 17th:

ATT - Subscriber Info, Adrian M Syedd

In addition to the subscriber information above, the fax records sent by AT&T on February 17th also included a record of all outgoing and incoming calls made from Adnan’s cellphone from January 11th through February 16th — but as I’ve discussed in a previous post, the location data for those records had been redacted. Now, it is possible that AT&T was responsible for those redactions, because on February 20th, a third subpoena is issued — this time with a court order compelling AT&T’s compliance. (Note: The fax record for the 2/20/99 subpoena show that it was sent at 11:15 a.m. on February 20th, which means this was the same subpoena that MacGillivary references in the 2/20/99 Progress Report.) This suggests that a court order was in fact needed to obtain the location data, and AT&T may have redacted the February 17th records.

But here is the problem with that scenario: if AT&T was responsible for the redaction of the starting and ending tower location data in the 2/17/99 records, then why does MacGillivary’s fax cover to the 2/20/99 subpoena indicate that he already possessed the cell site location data?

Fax - Subpoena - 2-20-00

“Please include a cell site directory that corresponds with the sites listed.” In other words: MacGillivary already possessed a list of cell sites that Adnan’s phone made calls on. The Homicide Unit had already been given cell site information as of February 20th (although they seem to have lacked the directory which provided the addresses for those cell sites). But the only cell site records in the police file that pre-date February 20th look like this:

ATT Production - 2-17-99

Although the redaction in blue (on the left, redacting phone numbers) was done by me, the redaction in black (on the right, redacting cell sites) was done by hand on a paper copy of the document; no unredacted version exists in the files. Yes, this particular copy of the cell records may have already been redacted when AT&T faxed it over on 2/17/99 — but if so, then where is the unredacted cell site location data that the investigators did have possession of on February 20th, as shown by both MacGillivary’s 2/20/99 fax cover and the 2/16/99 subpoena? Whether or not AT&T redacted this particular document, there should be, somewhere, a document that contains unredacted cell site data for at least some of Adnan’s cellphone records, which pre-dates February 20th. So where is it?

This is potentially a Big Deal. If the unredacted version of the 2/17/99 fax from AT&T showed, for instance, that one of the “Leakin Park calls” had originated on a tower miles away from Leakin Park, that would be exculpatory. It would show, at a minimum, that there would be no reason to believe the cellphone was in Leakin Park, as opposed to somewhere closer to another tower the call had connected through.

The Story of Adrian Syedd’s Traffic Violation, and Why It May Indicate That Investigators Had Adnan’s Cellphone Records Before Any Formal Request Was Made

In addition to the subpoenas themselves, there is another piece of evidence that suggests investigators had obtained Adnan’s cellphone records before any documented request for that data had been submitted. That evidence comes from the Maryland court records, which show that Adnan was issued a citation for a traffic violation on February 15, 1999. However, circumstantial evidence from the police files indicates that this traffic stop may in fact have been connected to the murder investigation, and, more specifically, to the investigators’ efforts to obtain his cellphone records.

First, on February 14, 1999, the police checked Adnan’s records on the MVA database once again. This time, rather than pulling up information based on Adnan’s vehicle registration, the police pulled up Adnan’s records based on his driver’s license:

MVA Report - 2-14-99

On its own, this search is easily explainable based on the fact that, a couple days before, an anonymous call and been made implicating Adnan in Hae’s murder. It is not odd that Adnan’s driving history would have been pulled at some point, and added to the case file. The timing of this search, however, suggests that the police had a specific motivation for searching Adnan’s MVA records on that date, as the following day — February 15th — Adnan was pulled over for a seatbelt violation:

Adrian Masud Syed - Violation Record - 2-15-99

I wouldn’t have questioned whether this routine traffic stop was, in fact, simply a routine traffic stop, if it were not for one glaring error in the record: the police officer who made the traffic stop issued the citation not to “Adnan Syed,” but to “Adrian Syed” instead. Although the license plate indicates that this was in fact Adnan’s car that had been pulled over, both the street address an Adnan’s name are incorrect.

In regards to the misnomer, this was not the first time that this particular error has been made. It was the second. The first time was in Adnan’s cellphone records, in which AT&T had mistakenly recorded his name as Adrian Syedd:

Adrian Syed

The source of the error, in the context of the AT&T billing records, could be a result of AT&T’s billing software mistakenly misreading the first “n” in Adnan as “ri.” (This appears to be a potential problem that could still occur today — if I search my notes for the term ‘Adrian,’ I pull up about a hundred instances in which ‘Adnan’ is typed in a screenclipped image.) The error makes less sense in the context of a traffic citation, but maybe it could happen. What are the odds, though, that when Adnan was pulled over for a traffic violation just two days after becoming a suspect in a murder investigation, the police officer who issued the citation would make the exact same odd spelling error that was made on Adnan’s cellphone records — which the police would (officially) obtain from AT&T two days later, on February 17?

Instead of a coincidence, though, it could be an indication of a connection between the cellphone records and the traffic stop. The error in the cellphone records could potentially have been both motivation for the traffic stop, and the cause of the naming error — if, say, the traffic stop was used as a way to confirm Adnan’s possession of the cellphone associated with the records that had been  provided by AT&T.

If the investigators had somehow obtained Adnan’s cellphone data through the use of “unofficial channels,” then the fact that the subscriber information for those records was not listed under Adnan’s real name would have been the cause of some concern among the investigators. Because the records from AT&T were for someone named “Adrian Syedd,” and not for someone named “Adnan Syed,” the investigators may have needed confirmation that the subscriber data they had obtained did, in fact, belong to the suspect in their murder investigation. But, since this hypothetical cellphone data would not have come from official sources (no subpoenas had been issued yet), how could the investigators have proven that the cellphone records were for Adnan’s phone, without using “official” channels? In other words, how could they unofficially verify the accuracy of their unofficial records?

Pulling Adnan over for a traffic stop, and having someone make a call to his cellphone while that officer watched, would be one way of doing that. That would allow investigators to confirm that the cellphone records they had pulled did belong to the cellphone owned by their suspect (instead of by some unknown relative named Adrian). In support of this theory, there was in fact a brief incoming call made to Adnan’s phone at 12:11 p.m. — the same time listed as the time of the traffic citation.

2-15-99 - Call 14 - 1211 pm

If the scenario outlined here is what actually occurred, then the investigators’ testing would appear to have been a successful one, as the following day, on February 16, an official subpoena for Adnan’s cellphone records was issued by the grand jury. The investigators appear to have obtained whatever information they needed to proceed with an official request for Adnan’s cellphone records. The officer who made the traffic stop may have slipped up, however — and rather than writing down the traffic offender’s name as it was shown on his driver’s license, he wrote down the false name displayed on the cellphone records he was attempting to verify.

What All of This May Mean

From a review of the subpoenas and cell record data, it looks like: (1) the investigators had cell record data of an undisclosed nature and from an undisclosed source; (2) the investigators had identified Adnan as their suspect before any (disclosed) evidence  implicating him in the murder had been uncovered; and (3) MacGillivary had contacts with the Drug Enforcement Administration — an agency that was an early trailblazer in the use of cellphone location data as an investigative tool for law enforcement.

There are a few different things this could mean, but the question all of that raises for me is this: could Adnan have been identified as a suspect as a result of a warantless cell tower dump on L689?


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

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

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

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