EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Serial Podcast, Episode 12: My Most Logical Scenarios for the Death of Hae Min Lee

I've done eighteen posts


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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. This post is about the twelfth and final episode of Serial"What We Know." The episode is about, you guessed it, what we know, with Koenig noting that "all speculation is equally speculative." Koenig then asks, "So instead of most likely, how about most logical?" Taking that lead, I present to you what I think are the two most logical scenarios, both of which originate from the same starting point.

All of this is from the second episode:

-Jay talking to Detective Greg MacGillivary: "No, but [Adnan] tells me that, ah, he’s gonna do it in her car. Um, he said to me that he was going to, uh, tell her his car was broken down and, uh, ask [Hae] for a ride."

-Hae's friend Krista: "If I remember correctly (laugh) I think Adnan and I were taking-- ah, had a class together, um our first period class was Photography, and she--they passed each other in the hallway and I was with him and I remember somebody saying or him saying something about "Can you give me a ride after school?" 

-Adnan and Hae's friend Becky: “Sometime earlier that day, apparently he asked her to take him possibly to get car before lunch because it was in the shop. Heard about it at lunch. Hae said she could, there would be no problem. ” 

-Adnan and Hae's friend Becky, take 2: "At end of school I saw them. She said ‘Oh no I can’t take you, I have something else to do.' She didn’t say what else. Approximately 2:20." So that happened at approximately 2:20. "He said, 'Okay I’ll just ask someone else.' He told her goodbye.” And then it just says, "Did not see Hae after that."

-Police Officer Scott Adcock, relaying what Adnan told him on the night of January 13th: "I spoke to Mr. Syed and he advised me that, ah, he did see the victim in school that day, and that um, he was supposed to get a ride home from the victim, but he got detained at school and she just got tired of waiting and left."

So, this is my starting point: (1) Adnan asked Hae for a ride on January 13th; and (2) Hae initially agreed to give Adnan a ride, but, after school, (a) Hae said she couldn't give Adnan a ride because she had "something else to do" and/or (b) Hae left without Adnan because he got detained at school.

I think that both (1) and (2) are safe assumptions. To believe that (1) is incorrect, you have to believe that Jay, Krista, Becky, AND Officer Adcock/Adnan (on the night of January 13th) are all wrong or lying. By far, the most logical scenario is that Adnan indeed did ask Hae for a ride on January 13th. To believe that (2) is incorrect, you have to believe that Becky (the only person who remembers Adnan and Hae actually talking about a ride) AND Officer Adcock/Adnan (on the of January 13th) are both wrong or lying.

Moreover, under (2) Adnan and Becky are somewhat consistent in their stories. Indeed, it's possible to read them together. On her blog, Rabia (a lawyer and the sister of Adnan's best friend), notes that a witness (likely Becky) saw Adnan going to get this letter of recommendation from the guidance counsel around 3:00 P.M. on January 13th:


So, it's possible that Hae planned to give Adnan a ride but had to leave without him because (1) Adnan was "detained at school" getting his recommendation letter AND (2) Hae had "something else" to do. Or it might just be that Hae left when Adnan was getting the letter. Or it might just be that Hae had "something else" to do.

So, from this my starting point, we have our 2 most logical scenarios (which, as always, are given with the caveat that they are entirely conjecture and based upon not reading the trial transcripts, etc.).

Secnario 1: Hae left without Adnan and died from the "something else."

One logical conclusion is that some combination of what Becky and Adnan said about what happened after school was true. Moreover, you'd have to think that the "something else" was something new that had come up, i.e., something other than Hae picking up her cousin, going to the wrestling match, or seeing Don. Those were all known quantities when Adnan would have initially asked Hae for a ride, meaning that they would have been reasons why Hae would have initially turned Adnan down for a ride, as opposed to agreeing to the ride and then turning him down after school. 

Furthermore, you have to believe that the "something else" was something Hae was planning on doing in between leaving Woodlawn and picking up her cousin. Why? Assuming he's innocent, Adnan's plan was not likely to: (1) get in the car with Hae; (2) remain in Hae's car while she picked up her cousin at 3:15; (3) remain in Hae's car while she dropped off her cousin; and (4) finally get dropped of at [location x] by Hae. This doesn't make sense, especially given that Adnan had to be back at school for track practice by 3:30 or 4:00 P.M.

So, while doing this "something else," Hae dies. Unless we believe that Jay actually had no involvement with Hae's death/burial and yet knows where Hae's car was dumped, you have to believe under this scenario that Hae came into contact with Jay. Maybe Hae was going to see Stephanie (Jay's girlfriend) to give her a gift for her birthday. Maybe Hae was dropping into Best Buy to buy Stephanie a gift. Maybe Hae was confronting Jay about "stepping out" on Stephanie and chose January 13th because it was Stephanie's birthday. Adnan's claim is that Hae was going to confront Jay about cheating on Stephanie the next time she saw him. Maybe this is exactly what she did, and Jay strangled her. We do know from cell tower pings that whoever had Adnan's cell phone was in the vicinity of Woodlawn High at around the time Hae likely died, so it's certainly possible that Hae ran into Jay intentionally or by accident.

Then, what happens after the killing? The 3:21 call from Adnan's cell phone to Jenn's house is Jay telling Jenn what happened and asking her to help him out. The Nisha Call at 3:32 is a butt dial OR it's a plan by Jay and/or Jenn to make it look like Adnan is with his cell phone at this time (and if Nisha picked up, they would have hung up). A butt dial is unlikely but possible. The "frame Adnan" theory at first seems implausible, but keep in mind what Nisha said at the first trial: Adnan called her from the adult video store where Jay worked (starting at the end of January) because Jay wanted to talk with her. If, as Jay claims, Adnan killed Hae and he was terrified of him, would Jay have really wanted to talk to Nisha? It seems a distinct possibility that Jay used this call to create a conversation where Adnan handed him his phone to talk to Nisha so that this could be used as The Nisha Call to implicate Adnan.

After The Nisha Call? Jay drives Hae's car to the Leakin Park while Jenn drives her car. They dump Hae's car at Leakin Park, and Jenn drives Jay back to the scene of the crime. Jay gets in Adnan's car and later picks him up after track practice. Later, as Jay is dropping Adnan off at the mosque, Adnan calls Yaser at 6:59 and talks to him for 27 seconds. Adnan then goes into the mosque. Jay keeps Adnan's cell phone and drives to Leakin Park. At 7:09, upon arriving at Leakin Park, Jay calls Jenn's pager. At 7:16, Jenn calls Jay back, and he tells her he's burying Hae's body at Leakin Park. Jenn drives to meet Jay at Leakin Park. When Jay's done burying the body, Jay drives Hae's car to the Park and Ride and Jenn drives her car to the Park and Ride. Jay dumps Hae's car, Jenn drives him back to Leakin Park, Jay gets Adnan's car, and he then picks Adnan up from the mosque.

I'm feeling like the above scenario is pretty plausible. The biggest question marks are The Nisha Call (which I explained above), why Adnan says he kept his cell phone after track practice (he's possibly mistaken), why Adnan later says he didn't ask Hae for a ride (he's possibly mistaken or trying to distance himself from Hae's death despite his innocence), and why Adnan asked Hae for a ride.

This last question might be the toughest one. If Adnan giving the car to Jay wasn't a ruse to get in Hae's car, why didn't he just get a ride from Jay? Maybe Adnan promised Jay the car for the day and didn't want to bother him. Maybe Adnan knew Jay was busy buying a gift or weed and didn't want to interrupt him. I could think of plausible reasons why Adnan would have loaned Jay his car and yet asked Hae for a ride.

But a ride to where? Officer Adcock said that Adnan told him on the night of January 13th that "he was supposed to get a ride home from [Hae]." Maybe Adnan forget something at home and wanted a ride to get it, hoping that Hae could also drive him back to school or that he could get a ride back to school from his parents or a neighbor. Maybe Adnan initially planned to skip track practice and the ride home really was just a ride home. Maybe the ride was to some place close to school, and Adnan planned to walk back to school or get a ride from Jay.

Or...maybe giving Jay his car was really a ruse, but merely a ruse to get into Hae's car so Adnan could talk to her and try to win her back. But then, when "something else" came up, Adnan gave up on his plan, and Hae was killed while doing the "something else."

[It's also possible under this scenario that Jay killed Hae without Adnan and then threatened Adnan or otherwise convinced him to help him bury her body].

Scneario 2: Hae left school with Adnan in her car.

An equally most logical scenario also involves the ruse being real. In this scenario, Adnan asks Hae for a ride, Hae initially agrees, Hae tells Adnan that she has "something else" to do, Adnan seems okay with this, but later, Adnan talks/sneaks/forces his way into Hae's car. I'm going to guess he didn't sneak into the car because then...what? He hides in the car and starts strangling her in the school parking lot or after she's driven a while? And I'm going to guess Adnan didn't force his way into the car because there are no signs of struggle/restraint on Hae's body. Plus, this would have been fairly conspicuous.

No, under scenario 2, I'm thinking that Adanan wasn't cool with Hae doing "something else" and later convinced her to give him the planned ride. Under this scenario, 1 of 2 things is true: (1) giving Jay the car was a ruse to get in Hae's car and kill her after she drove him somewhere (a car repair shop, the Best Buy, etc.); OR (2) giving Jay the car was a ruse to get in Hae's car and talk to her, but when the talk went poorly (e.g., "I love Don."), Adnan "snapped" and strangled Hae.

This second version makes a lot of sense...except for the fact that Jay consistently says that Adnan loaned him his car so that he could kill Hae. It's one of the few consistent things across all of Jay's accountings. And it's something that definitely hurts Jay's case. If the goal of the ruse were to get Adnan alone with Hae to TALK to her, Jay only learns about Hae's murder after the fact and sheepishly agrees to help Adnan because he's afraid of him. If the goal of the ruse were to get Adan alone with Hae to KILL her, Jay is helping Adnan kill Hae. So, why would Jay consistently lie in a way that hurts him?

I don't know, but here's the other version: The goal of the ruse was Adnan killing Hae. But, if that's the case, why is Adnan going around school, making no secret of the fact that he wants a ride from Hae? This sounds like the worst murder plan ever. I'm going to go around school asking for a ride from my ex-girlfriend by claiming that my car is broken down, knowing full well that I'm going to kill her and prevent her from picking up her cousin at 3:15. Then, Jay is going to pick me up from track practice later that night in my supposedly broken down car, and when police inevitably talk to me as the likely last person who saw Hae alive, I have to admit that I asked my now dead ex-girlfriend for a ride and lied about my car being broken down. Or I claim that I never asked for a ride, despite witnesses remembering me asking or hearing about me asking for a ride.

That's my biggest problem with this version: I don't think Adnan would be this stupid. Yes, I know teenagers do stupid things, but Adnan was an honors student, and...I don't know. I just can't imagine this is the best plan he would concoct for hilling Hae.

Therefore, despite Jay's statements to the contrary, I think the likeliest scenario for Adnan's guilt is that (1) he asked Hae for a ride as an excuse to talk with her; (2) Hae initially agreed but then turned him down; (3) Adnan later convinced Hae to give him a ride; and (4) when the conversation took a turn for the worse, Adnan "snapped" and strangled her. Adnan then calls Jay for help and they later bury the body together, and Jay is right on the big picture but wrong on the details because of some combination of the following: he's high, his memory's bad, he's lying to minimize his fault, he's Jay.

The big problems with this theory are: why is Jay lying about the killing being planned (maybe the police are trying to push him into establishing first-degree murder), why did Adnan call Nisha (maybe he freaked out after killing Hae and called the one good thing in his life), and why does Adnan later say he didn't ask Hae for a ride when Becky has seemingly given him a great excuse that he later used that night in talking with Officer Adcock: I asked for a ride, but she ended up not giving me one (maybe Adnan's trying to put as much distance between Hae and himself as possible).



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The police pushing Jay to imply first degree murder seems pretty likely, doesn't it? Considering how much they prompted and coached him on everything else it seems likely. Did he even mention that in his first recorded statement (let alone the first unrecorded train wreck)?

Posted by: Morgan | Dec 18, 2014 10:13:19 AM

Yes, Jay says Adnan had the plan to kill Hae before loaning Jay his car in his first recorded interview. If he didn't initially say this, I think the case for pushing would be a lot stronger.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Dec 18, 2014 11:07:36 AM

If we go back to first principles we know only two facts. (1) That Hae is dead and (2) She did not die naturally. It's not until Jay shows up that the case radically changes. Jay is the state's case because without Jay the whole legal case against Adnan falls apart. So either one believes Jay (faulty memory and all) or one disbelieves Jay. Thus the defense has only two options. One is to discredit Jay in his entirety, either by painting him as the real killer, or arguing he's doing it to curry favor with the police, or something along those lines. The other option is to argue that Jay means well and is telling the truth to the best of his ability but that he's fundamentally so confused about what happened that day that his claim that Adnan is the killer simply isn't reliable. In short, the defense has to argue that Jay is either untrustworthy or unreliable to the extent it creates reasonable doubt.

Trying to turn all the facts into a coherent picture is a fool errand because it is unnecessary to find guilt. The only thing the jury needs to do to find guilt is to find it credible that Adnan showed Jay the body of Hae. Because there is no rational explanation as to why Adnan has possession of Hae body unless he's the killer. It doesn't matter what happened before and it doesn't matter what happened afterwards. And whether or not Adnan showed Jay the body of Hae turns on the question of Jay's credibility and nothing more.

So the question boils do to whether one believes Jay. While I wasn't at the trial and I haven't read the transcripts I lean towards believing him. Why? Because in everything I've read there doesn't seen to by real reason to not trust Jay. It's not as if he was police snitch, for example, or was being threatened with major jail time for not cooperating. Further, none of the key parts of Jay's testimony strike me as inherently unreliable. Muddled details, yes. When a person claims to have seen a dead body in a car either that is an outright lie or the truth. People don't get muddled about those types of facts.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 18, 2014 1:12:50 PM

Maybe Adnan calls Nisha to cancel his plans for later that night? Cause he is now going to be busy covering up the murder.

Posted by: Matt Aronowitz | Dec 18, 2014 1:16:10 PM

Daniel: These are good points, but keep in mind that the jury found Adnan guilty of kidnapping by fraud. That means that the jury had to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Adnan lied to Hae to get her to drive him to a location where he intended to harm her and ended up killing her. Now, that's not to say that the jurors actually correctly applied the law, but that's what the jurors were supposed to find beyond a reasonable doubt.

Matt: Good point. That could be another explanation for The Nisha Call. But it would also be even more very stupid behavior by Adnan if this killing was pre-planned.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Dec 18, 2014 1:35:10 PM

Interesting read. One item that stuck out to me from episode 12 was Jay mentioning to his coworker and the cops that Adnan was threatening him with some goons (white van) that he knew if Jay went to the cops. And that Jay felt this threat was credible. When if Adnan actually knew such people wouldn't he have worked with them to cover up the murder and hide the body? He wouldn't need Jay. Seems to be another discrediting story that Jay tells multiple people.

Posted by: Josh F | Dec 18, 2014 1:54:54 PM

Another possibility, that combines these two versions: Adnan does loan his car out to Jay as a ruse, but it's innocent. He just wants some time alone with Hae for a few minutes - maybe he's still pining for her.

It doesn't work out, but he's told Jay about this plan. Jay incorporates it into his story.

Posted by: Steve Bennett | Dec 26, 2014 5:35:52 PM

Daniel: please read http://viewfromll2.com/2014/11/26/serial-why-jays-testimony-is-not-credible-evidence-of-adnans-guilt/ and THEN tell me that "none of the key points of Jay's testimony strike me as inherently unreliable." I have literally never seen such an unreliable story! Almost NO parts of his story remain the same.

Posted by: Catherine | Dec 29, 2014 11:52:17 AM

The FIRST scenario is undoubtedly what happened. Wish a judge could read it and release Adnan, as simple as that, but our court system is all the way screwed. Still, it was awesome reading this post as I believe this is exactly what happened.

Posted by: Brooke | Jan 29, 2015 4:41:02 PM

I've come to this story a little late, I am curious about the nearly 3 hours of missing time in Adnan's day between 10:45am ( when I think it's established that he called Jay about picking up his car ) and 1:27pm when he was nearly 40 minutes late for his afternoon class. The stories conflict, and I can't think of a reasonable reason for them to unless they were doing something that neither wanted to reveal. Jay mentions being concerned about going to jail for drug trafficking, I wonder if they spent that 3 hours driving somewhere to make a major drug buy. An excellent reason for loaning his car to Jay, who doesn't appear to have a car of his own. Jay then keeps the car to deliver the drugs. If they were buying from a major dealer, this may have been the reason Jay felt threatened by "goons".

Posted by: Cathy kenny | Feb 12, 2015 10:10:38 AM

Why would Adnan loan his car and cell phone to Jay? A person we are told on Serial that is not a close friend of Adnan's. In 1999 and 2015 your cell phone and car are critical possessions for anyone. I know that Adnan is close with Stephanie who is Jay's girlfriend and the stated reason why Jay had Adnan's car was so he could buy Stephanie a bday gift. Who initiated that? Jay or Adnan? Just doesn't add up that you would give your car and cell phone to someone you are not friends with. Unless their relationship has been misrepresented

Posted by: Kevin | Apr 29, 2015 10:33:50 AM

NothingvJay says is reluable beyond a reasinable doubt. However the whole Adnan asked Hae for a ride seems to be the most damnung evidence since it is coroborated by so many friends as well as the police and Jays testimony.

Posted by: anon | Jun 26, 2015 6:48:28 PM

However I think that Adnan asking for a ride is the biggest red herring of the case. It seems that no witness clearly testified to having heard him ask for a ride in the first person. It may have been a rumor planted by the police as evidence and fed to Jay in later interviews. I dont think Jay mentioned tuis in early interviews and mayne not till the trial itself. It may have been confused with Takera asking for a ride the same day or Hae asking Adnan for a ride the prebious week. But as usual defense did not make any effort to clear up this damning evidence at trial. Some quick questoning might have cleared up if ANY witmesses could testify to axtually hearing Adnan ask for a ride. By now no witness.can probanly remember if they heard him actually ask for a ride or not. This is the only question that haunts me about this case. Everything else says innocent.

Posted by: anon | Jun 26, 2015 6:58:47 PM

I think it is hugely important that Jay lead police to Hae's car. It greatly corroborates his story. Further, I think it is fairly clear that Adnan purposefully chose Jay for an unwitting accomplice because he was this black pot dealer. I think one, he really believed Jay would be most comfortable with his crime(wrongly), and two, that Jay was least credible. He needs to get rid of his car so he can get a ride from Hae. But whose he going to rely on? One of his timid Muslim friends? I don't think so. One of the magnet kids? Nope. Streetwise Jay. Someone who potentially may sympathize with him(he doesn't). Someone Adnan believes is easy to discredit. Once Jay sees the body, he's involved whether he likes it or not. Black drug dealer with dead teenage girl. I think he was rightly afraid of facing authorities at that point. And of course, he's actually never seen a dead body. He's rightly afraid of Anand. I wanted to believe Anand. He's bright, charming, likable. But at the end of the day his story, not Jay's, doesn't add up. He was the one who suggested Jay buy stephanie a birthday present. He's the one who loaned Jay his car. He's the one who leaves behind his phone. He's the only one with a motive. I mean, unless there something yet disclosed about Jay, what on earth is there to suggest he would kill Hae? There's nothing.

If Adnan somehow is released because the case should never have gone to court, fine. I sincerely doubt however, any solid evidence will emerge that points to Jay as the killer.

Posted by: Melanie | Jul 17, 2015 6:13:48 PM

I am late to the Adnan party, but I have listened to Serial and am a few episodes from the ending of Undisclosed. I won't say that Adnan is innocent, but it is highly unlikely that he is guilty. I believe based on the evidence, he should have never been convicted. Jay's lies would have been enough for me to doubt anything he had to say ever. People keep saying that Jay had no reason to lie, but I believe that he did. Most people living in similar areas as Baltimore are not going to just come forth and confess to their participation in a crime, unless they have a compelling reason to do so. Most people are not going to get in someone else's business unless it is to save their own butt. Especially not in Baltimore City (has anyone been outside of the Inner Harbor or the suburbs)? I believe Adnan probably loaned Jay his car because of his relationship with Stephanie and not because of his relationship with Jay. Or, he loaned the car to Jay so he could participate in some drug deal that he was part of or had knowledge of. I believe that Jen is a major part of what Jay did and that she feared getting charged for it. I believe she struck a deal, because she spoke to detectives with her lawyer. Who else did that? No one does, unless they think they are a suspect. I also think Jay was afraid of what she was going to say to detectives and the reason for why he tried to interrupt the meeting at her house. I believe the cops told them that they were going to go to jail for a long time unless they cooperated. This is how cops operate. Most of them are not the great detectives you see on television. Most of the criminals they catch are due to stories told by informants. They usually hound in on the little fish and use them to catch the big fish. I could go on and on, but one more thing I would like to mention is the question of how Jay knew where Hae's body was. I thought he was unable to show specifically where her body was, but knew it was in Leakin Park somewhere. If that's true, then it is possible he heard stories throughout the community. If you have bodies being dumped there on a regular, it's common knowledge. It is possible to me that someone else, such as a homeless person (or someone else dumping off another body), could have come across Hae. This is where the rumors may have started. People do talk, just not to the police.

Posted by: Shanetta | Jan 25, 2016 12:53:32 PM

Wait. I know I am several years late to this party, but I have just listened to all of serial and several episodes of undisclosed. In this post, you said:

"Maybe Hae was confronting Jay about "stepping out" on Stephanie and chose January 13th because it was Stephanie's birthday. Adnan's claim is that Hae was going to confront Jay about cheating on Stephanie the next time she saw him. Maybe this is exactly what she did, and Jay strangled her."

When/where is that stated? Do we know that Jay was "stepping out" on Stephanie? When did Adnan say Jay was cheating? I must have missed this. If this is true, it seems like scenario 1 makes a lot more sense! I was under the impression that there was nothing to suggest Jay would have any reason to have anything against Hae.

Posted by: Late | Aug 22, 2022 7:31:08 PM

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