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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