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: More Details About Jay’s Transcripts Than You Could Possibly Need

Full disclosure: this post is something of a cop-out, since I probably will not have time to write another substantive post until this weekend. But while I already addressed a lot of the oddities in Jay’s police interviews, in my previous post about Jay’s descriptions of how Hae was buried, people have been asking about  the rest of Jay’s transcripts. So even though, at this point, I am beating a horse that is extremely deceased, I have cleaned up some of my notes on the rest of Jay’s transcripts. But you’ve been warned — unless you happen to have an interest in the smallest details of Jay’s police statements, this post is not for you.

Also, I want to preface this by noting that, from the comments I have received on my previous posts about Jay’s questionable trial testimony, it would appear there is a large segment of Serial listeners who find all of this irrelevant and pointless. A common response seems to be, “Well of course Jay lied about everything — we already know that. But the fact Jay was never able to tell the truth about what happened does not mean that Adnan is innocent, it just means Jay helped Adnan kill Hae.” And I promise that I am getting to that; there is definitely an important discussion to be had about everything in the prosecution’s case that was not based on Jay’s testimony.

But the fact that Jay lied throughout all of the statements he gave cannot be dismissed as blithely as some people would seem to like. First, although Jay’s lies are often excused on the basis that they were only told  either to minimize his role in the crime, or to protect Jenn, that simply cannot explain the bulk of Jay’s lies. Yes, some of his lies do appear to have been directed at protecting Jenn, and that is an important piece of the puzzle. (And I would fully agree that all of Jay’s lies are designed to protect himself from being charged with a more serious crime.) But most of Jay’s lies are not about things that could alter his culpability for any crimes — in fact, Jay’s statements grow steadily more inculpating as his interviews go on. (Alhough, if anyone would like to theorize about why lying about Patapsco State Park was so crucial to Jay’s defense, please be my guest.)

Second, while it is true, like I mentioned earlier, that one witness’s fabricated testimony cannot be used to prove Adnan’s innocence, by the same token that fabricated testimony cannot be used to prove Adnan’s guilt, either. Because once you agree that Jay’s story is unreliable, inconsistent, and manufactured, then the only way to conclude that Adnan is guilty is to discard everything in Jay’s statements that is inconsistent with the theory that Adnan and Jay worked together to kill Hae (which is a lot of things to discard), and to also assume the existence of a whole host of additional facts that were not contained in Jay’s testimony, or anywhere else.

But once your theory of the case is based on accepting only those parts of Jay’s testimony that are consistent with Adnan’s guilt, and by speculating about the existence of additional sets of facts to which Jay has never testified — well, how is that any different from simply writing a piece of fiction? By using that approach to Jay’s testimony, it is possible to invent a narrative that supports the guilt of just about any individual connected to Woodlawn.

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Serial: Plotting the Coordinates of Jay’s Dreams

A few days ago, the transcripts were released from Jenn’s recorded police interview (from 3:45 p.m. on February 27, 199), Jay’s first recorded police interview (from 12:30 a.m. on February 28, 1999), and Jay’s second recorded police interview (from March 15, 1999). I’ve been trying to update my earlier post on how the witness statements compare to the cell phone records, based on the new information.

But it’s slow work. Because good god, Jenn and Jay’s statements are a complete train wreck. Trying to create a timeline out of their statements made me truly understand what Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvis were talking about, in Episode 5, while trying to track Jay’s movements on the day of Hae’s murder:

Koenig: I’m trying to think of an analogy of what the uselessness of what we’re trying to do by recreating something that doesn’t fit, it’s like a– like trying to plot the coordinates of someone’s dream or something . . .

Chivvis: I think they call that a fool’s errand.

Because here are a couple of quick examples of what we’re dealing with from these transcripts:

Jay: [Adnan] wanted me to revisit the body.

Detective: And when did that conversation take place?

Jay: Um prior to Hae Lee’s death. (Int.1 at 27.)


Detective: What happened after the conversation with the officer?

Jay: Um ah he ah he got kind of frantic and we had to go back and get the car, we went back and got the car and ah then we went back to my house. I gave him a shovel, gave him a pick. He ah.

Detective: When you go back to your house , who drives, drives Hae Lee’s car?

Jay: We didn’t have Hae’s car then.

Seriously now. What am I supposed to do with that? Adnan and Jay discuss revisiting Hae’s body, and this conversation occurs prior to Hae’s death? Jay and Adnan “went back and got the car” and went to Jay’s house, but then they didn’t have Hae’s car when they were at Jay’s house?

There are dozens of these chronological paradoxes in Jay’s police statements. (And just to make things even more fun, Jenn’s statements during her interview are equally incomprehensible.) As a result, I’m not even sure a meaningful comparison of the various police statements can be done at all — it’s completely impossible to set down a definitive narrative of “this is Jay’s story in the first interview” or “this is Jay’s story in the second interview,” and then look at the differences between them. Because the stories Jay tells in his police interviews have more continuity errors than a bad 90’s sitcom.

And all of these bizarre claims aren’t just misstatements or slips of the tongue that we’re talking about here. Or, if they are, then that alone is grounds for tossing out the entirety of what he told the police — because if that’s the case, Jay is so hopelessly confused that we cannot assume he actually meant any of what he said. If every chronology he gives might have been nothing more than another misstatement, how can we know that anything Jay says is “the truth”?

But of all the things that didn’t happen the way Jay says they happened, there is one thing that didn’t happen the most: his stories about how Hae was buried in Leakin Park. To get an idea of how irreconcilable Jay’s statements are, that is a good place to start.

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Serial: Why Jay’s Testimony Is Not Credible Evidence of Adnan’s Guilt

In a later post, I plan on expanding further on Adnan’s cell phone records and the related witness testimony, and discussing what we can reconstruct about Hae’s murder from the existing evidence. This post, however, is not about the evidence that we have. It’s about the evidence that we don’t have — and that’s evidence that Jay is telling the truth about Adnan’s involvement in Hae’s death.

Now, it’s possible that Adnan is still guilty of Hae’s murder, and that the state managed to get the right guy, even if they didn’t have much to go on. Possible. The fact that Jay is a completely incredible witness is not evidence that Adnan is innocent. But that doesn’t change the fact that the state’s evidence was based entirely on the uncorroborated testimony of a self-acknowledged liar with a motive to falsely incriminate Adnan.

The state has itself acknowledged that Jay was the alpha and the omega of its case against Adnan. At trial, the prosecutor told the jury, “Let’s talk about Jay [ ] because, clearly, this case hinges on his testimony” (Brief of Appellant at 40). But while the prosecution then went on to continually assert, at every opportunity, that Jay was a “credible” witness, there was simply no objective basis for believing that Jay was likely to tell the truth when he testified at Adnan’s trial.

I’m not trying to be hyperbolic here, or to exaggerate for effect. I know that’s a pretty expansive claim to make. But it also happens to be accurate. We know that Jay had every motivation to lie and no motivation to the tell the truth; had a demonstrated history of lying when it was to his own advantage; and lacked corroborating evidence in support of his claims. Even assuming that Adnan is guilty of Hae’s murder, there was still no objective reason to find Jay’s testimony on that point to be credible.

How can a thing like that be evaluated? Well, the credibility of a witness’s testimony — that is, roughly speaking, the testimony’s evidentiary value — is judged in reference to four basic factors. Those factors are sometimes formulated in different ways, or split into additional categories, but they  can be summarized as the following:

  1. Inherent Credibility. A witness’s general character for truthfulness and honesty.
  2. Bias or Interest. A witness’s motive to lie in a particular circumstance.
  3. Inconsistent Statements. Whether a witness’s statements have been internally consistent.
  4. Corroboration by Other Evidence. A witness’s credibility is enhanced when his testimony matches known evidence.

With those factors in mind, how does Jay’s testimony stack up?

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