Serial: Evidence that Jay’s Story was Coached to Fit the Cellphone Records

There is one part of Jay’s story that has been bugging me for a while now. Jay claimed in his first police interview that, after dropping Adnan off at track, he went home to wait for Adnan to call to pick him up once practice was over. In Jay’s second police interview, however, and in his testimony at the first trial, his story changes. Jay claims that after dropping Adnan off at track practice, he went to Cathy’s house, where he hung out with Cathy and Jeff for half an hour or so, until Adnan called him to ask to be picked up.

But this story is obviously a lie. Moreover, it is an incredibly dumb lie, because it is easily (and thoroughly) contradicted by Cathy, who is a reliable and credible-seeming witness. According to Cathy, she got home around 5pm that day, and a little while later, Jay and Adnan showed up together. There is no mention whatsoever of Jay making a previous trip to visit her, while Adnan was at track, and in fact, according to Cathy’s timeline, it would have been impossible for Jay’s “first” trip to her apartment to ever have occurred. Even worse, it does not match the cellphone records. There is no way that Jay could have made a trip to Cathy’s after dropping Adnan off at track, not if the cellphone records (or the laws of space-time continuum) have even a shred of meaning.

So this bugged me. A lot. It was a lie that had no apparent explanation, and that made Jay’s story even more impossible and absurd than it already was. Most of Jay’s weird timeline-based lies have obvious explanations for how they evolved, but this one didn’t.

For background purposes, here is what Jay said during his first interview:

Ritz: What happens after you drop him off at school, is there come a point in time when you go back to school and pick him up?
Jay: Yeah, uh huh.
Ritz: How do you know what time to go back to school?
Jay: He called me on the cell phone.
Ritz: Do you recall what time he called you?
Jay: Um maybe like six forty-five, something like that.
Ritz: When he calls you at six forty-five, where exactly are you?
Jay: Ah I think I was at my house.
Ritz: You’re at home?
Jay: Yes.
Ritz: You leave home, you go back over to school to pick him up?
Jay: Uh-huh. (Int.1 at 11-12.)

And here is what Jay said in the second:

Ritz: Were did you drop him off at school?
Jay: In the front.
Ritz: Were do you go?
Jay: I go, I was on my way home, but then I stopped off at G[i]lston Park and ah, ah, I smoked another blunt before I went home. And then, I, I think I may have, may have gone yeah, I went to Cathy and Jeff’s. And [Adnan] called me from the cell phone there and then I left Cathy’s and Jeff’s to hang out. (Int.2 at 20-21.)

And here is why the lie about Cathy’s apartment makes no sense: Jay’s statement in the first interview matches the location data from the cellphone records, while Jay’s statement in the second interview does not. It is generally accepted that Adnan’s call for a pickup from track practice occurred at 4:58 p.m., and this call pings L654C — which would be completely consistent with Jay being at his house (well, one of his houses, anyway) at the time of that call:

Call pings L654C.

4:27 and 4:58 calls ping L654C.

As you can see, Jay’s house is easily in range of L654C. Cathy’s apartment, on the other hand, is absolutely not.

Yet in between the first interview and the second, Jay changed his story — despite the fact that Jay’s claim from his first interview, in which he said that he was at his house when Adnan called him to be picked up from track, is one of the only times that he actually managed to tell a story that matched the location data (even if his timing was about two hours off). So why, then, did Jay change his story in the second interview, to tell a version of events that was even more demonstrably false than his first story, and even more in conflict with the location data from the cellphone records?

Because the police told him to, that’s why. The police falsely believed that L654 was located three farther miles south than it really was, and so they made Jay change his story to match their incorrect location data.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of the State’s Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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