Friday, December 19, 2014
I've done nineteen posts
about Sarah Koenig's Serial Podcast, which deals with the 1999 prosecution of 17 year-old Adnan Syed for murdering his ex-girlfriend, 18 year-old Hae Min Lee, on January 13, 1999. In a prior post, I (1) noted how The Nisha Call was possibly the most important confluence of evidence of Adnan's guilt presented at trial; and (2) suggested ways in which the defense could have attacked it at trial. But what if The Nisha Call is actually the most important evidence of Adnan's innocence?
By way of review, Adnan claims that, on January 13th, he loaned Jay his car and cell phone at lunchtime and didn't get them back until after track practice at "five something." Jay claims that Adnan killed Hae after school, called him from a pay phone at Best Buy, and told him to meet him there. Adnan's cell phone records show that a call was made at 3:32 P.M. to a girl in Silver Spring named Nisha whom (1) Adnan was seeing; and (2) Jay didn't know. Jay claims that Adnan handed him his phone and that he talked to a girl from Silver Spring (Jay claims that he doesn't remember her name) on the afternoon of January 13th. Nisha also remembers a phone call in which Adnan handed Jay his cell phone to talk to her, but here's her recollection of the call from the first trial:
Ummm, it’s a little hard to recall, but I remember [Adnan] telling me that Jay invite- invited him over to a video store that he worked at. And, he basically well Adnan walked in with his cell phone and then like- he told me to speak with Jay and I was like ‘okay’ cause Jay wanted to say hi so I said hi to Jay. And that’s all I can really recall.
Jay didn't start working at the video store until the end of January. This fact, along with other things I listed in my prior post, have led some to believe that The Nisha Call was a butt dial and that Jay is remembering a conversation that happened on a later date. But what if The Nisha Call was actually Jay's attempt to frame Adnan?
Let's start with the premise that Nisha is correct about the call. This seems to be the likeliest version of events. Why is Jay likely wrong?: (1) Jay doesn't mention the Nisha Call during his first police interview; (2) when Jay does mention The Nisha Call, he claims it was "7-8, 10 minutes" when the call to Nisha on January 13th was actually 2:22; (3) Jay's claim about where he was when the call occurred doesn't match the cell tower ping; and (4) "Jay lies." Meanwhile, Nisha, a witness with no incentive to lie, is consistent about the call occurring while Jay was working at the video store in her testimony at both of Adnan's trials.
So, here's the theory: Some time after killing Hae, Jay looked at Adnan's cell phone, found a person he didn't know, and dialed her number. If she picked up, he'd hang up. If she didn't pick up, he'd let it ring for a few minutes. It's also possible that Jay accidentally dialed Nisha's number, realized he'd dialed it a few minutes later, and hatched a plan to implicate Adnan. Or it's possible that Jay accidentally dialed Nisha's number, Adnan noticed this in his call history when he got his phone back, Adnan asked Jay why he called Nisha, and the plan was hatched. The plan: make it look like Adnan was with Jay and his cell phone in the afternoon on January 13th so that Jay could frame Adnan for Hae's death (or at least cover his @ss if he ever became a suspect).
At first, these scenarios might seem implausible, but, again, assume that Nisha's accounting of the call with Jay is correct.
Adnan killed Hae
Was the call Nisha described likely to happen if, as Jay claimed, Adnan killed Hae and then threatened Jay, causing Jay to become terrified of Adnan? Let's look at it from Jay's perspective. You're terrified of Adnan because he killed his ex-girlfriend, but you invite him to hang out with you at your job and then ask to talk to his new girl. The same girl whom he called soon after killing Hae, leading to a casual conversation that had nothing to do with the murder. That's weird. If I'm Jay, I want to stay far away from Adnan, and I want to know NOTHING about his new girl.
Next, let's look at this from Adnan's perspective. You've killed Hae, and the only way you're likely to be caught is if the police can connect you to Jay (which, of course, is what actually happened). If I'm Adnan, I'm probably trying to keep my distance from Jay, and I'm certainly trying to avoid seeing him in public places. On the podcast, we're told that "Jay lies." What seems even clearer from the podcast is that "Jay talks." If Adnan killed Hae and got Jay's help in burying her, his best bet is to see Jay rarely and only in private places.
Jay killed Hae
On the other hand, was the call Nisha described likely to happen if Jay killed Hae? Let's look at it from Jay's perspective. You've set up The Nisha Call to frame Adnan or cover your @ss if the police suspect you. Now, you want the cherry on top. You invite Adnan to your job and ask to talk to Nisha. Now, you have a conversation in which Adnan handed you his cell phone to talk to Nisha. If you're Jay, you can now really sell the fact that Adnan was with you on the afternoon of January 13th and not at school. If Nisha says that the call happened at a later date, maybe she's mistaken. Maybe the police/prosecutor/jurors think you're mistaken. After all, you've been mistaken about A LOT. But maybe your explanation of The Nisha Call sticks. Maybe the police believe it. Maybe the prosecutor believes it. Maybe the jurors believe it. Amazingly, this appears to be exactly what happened.
What's interesting about this is that it's not some amazing scheme by Jay, forcing us to believe that Jay is a criminal mastermind. It's a kind of harebrained scheme, and it's not especially well executed. But it works, even on Nisha. When asked at trial whether the 3:32 call could be the call with Jay, Nisha responds, "It could be, but I’m not sure."
Next, let's look at it from Adnan's perspective. You have no idea who killed Hae. Jay invites you to the video store and asks to talk to Nisha. You think nothing of it and hand the phone to Jay.
I think we have four possible explanations for The Nisha Call.
First, Adnan does in fact call Nisha at 3:32 P.M. on January 13th and has Jay talk to her. To believe that Adnan handed Jay the phone to talk to Nisha, you have to believe that both Jay and Nisha are lying and/or mistaken about a lot of important details. This seems very implausible.
Second, Adnan does in fact call Nisha at 3:32 P.M. on January 13th but doesn't have Jay talk to her. Jay is mistaking his later call with Nisha at the video store with Adnan's call to her on January 13th. There are three big question marks here: (1) Why is Adnan calling Nisha soon after he killed Hae? (2) Assuming Adnan planned out the killing of Hae, isn't it stupid to call Hae at 3:32 P.M. when he knows he's going to claim that he didn't have his cell phone until after track practice at five something? (3) Why is Jay inviting Adnan to the video store and asking to talk to Nisha if he's scared of Adnan because he knows Adnan killed Hae? That said, this is the most plausible scenario for Adnan's guilt.
Third, The Nisha Call is a butt dial (and not a butt dial that Jay realizes and uses to frame Adnan). A butt dial doesn't necessarily prove that Jay or Adnan is guilty. Either could have the phone when the butt dial was made, and they could be alone or together when the butt dial is made. A 2:22 butt dial is very implausible but maybe not as implausible as we once thought, according to the final episode.
Fourth, Jay calls Nisha at 3:32 P.M. on January 13th as part of a plan to frame Adnan or cover his @ss if he becomes a suspect. Later, Jay asks Adnan to meet him at his job at the video store, asks to talk to Nisha, and later tells the police that Adnan called some girl from Silver Spring on January 13th and handed him the phone to talk with her. As with the second explanation, this has some flaws, but it's also difficult to imagine Jay inviting Adnan to his job and asking to talk to Nisha if Jay knows Adnan killed Hae and is scared of him. This is the most plausible scenario for Jay's guilt.