EvidenceProf Blog

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Serial Podcast, Coda: The Death of the Prosecution's Case

"When you tease apart the State’s case, you can get tripped up on details like this. Which is maybe why prosecutor, Kevin Urick, addressed this head on in his opening statement to the jury. He told them, "look at the big picture." The main plot points in Jay’s story have been consistent. He tells them that consistently, Jay "has always given the same story about what the defendant did where. Consistently, he tells Jennifer a consistent story, he tells police a consistent story about the defendant, he tells consistently the defendant’s involvement, the defendant’s actions on that day. He has never wavered on that point." Sarah Koenig, quoting the prosecutor's opening statement from Adnan Syed's trial in the fifth episode of the Serial Podcast 

In the last couple of days, I've noted how I don't think that the prosecution proved Adnan's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but how I'm on the fence about whether Adnan murdered Hae Min Lee. Now, there is no fence. 

I've done twenty posts


hereherehereherehereherehereherehere, and here)

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 will be my final post about the podcast unless and until (1) the full trial transcripts are released and/or (2) something happens with Adnan's appeal.

Before this afternoon, why was I on the fence about Adnan's guilt? I kind of agreed with what the prosecutor said during his opening statement. Sure, Jay changed basically every detail of his story over his various accountings, such as where Adnan allegedly showed him Hae's body and whether Adnan and he traveled to Patapsco State Park. Indeed, the only detail that was consistent across Jay's accountings was that Adnan called him to meet him after killing Hae somewhere between 3:40 and 3:50ish, a detail that is inconsistent with (1) the prosecution's claim that this call happened at 2:36; (2) any possibility that Adnan made it to track practice on time or even at all under Jay's version of events; (3) Adnan was present for The Nisha Call.

But, but...the heart of Jay's story was consistent. I was led to believe that Jay's story was always that: (1) Adnan loaned Jay his car so that he would have an excuse to get a ride from Hae that would end in her death; and (2) Adnan loaned Jay his cell phone so he could call him to help him out after killing Hae. But then, I read a blog post by Rabia Chaudry (an attorney and the sister of Adnan's best friend), and I realized that this is far from the truth.

Let's start with (1), the idea that it was Adnan's plan to loan Jay the car. This is from the cross-examination of Jay at trial regarding his prior police statements:


And this is also from the cross-examination of Jay:


So...nope. Jay's not consistent at all. The entire heart of the prosecution's case, the key to the prosecution proving kidnapping by fraud, Jay's "consistent" claim that Adnan hatched this ruse to trick Hae...that heart has pumped its last pump. Jay is inconsistent about this story, even at trial.

Now, let's look at (2), the idea that Adnan loaned Jay his cell phone so that he could call him after he'd kill Hae and he could help him out. Again, this is Jay on cross-examination.


So...nope again. The brain of the prosecution's case, the idea that Adnan needed Jay to help him, Jay's "consistent" claim that Adnan gave him his cell phone so that he could call him when the deed was done...that brain has thought its last thought.

This is why I say this is no more fence. A fence requires me to believe the base that undergirds the infrastructure of Jay's story and decide whether his inconsistencies tear it down. That base has now been excavated. Jay's testimony was a moving target. Now, there's no target. I used to have reason to wonder whether Adnan was innocent. I now have no reason to believe he's guilty.

Now, here's all I know: There was a girl, Hae Min Lee. She was a teenager. An honors student. A good athlete. Everybody liked her. In January 1999, she was killed, and her body was buried in Leakin Park.



| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Serial Podcast, Coda: The Death of the Prosecution's Case:


I responded to these points in your latest post on Reddit board, in the hope that we can get some further discussion going in response to your interesting post. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Posted by: Boston lawyer | Dec 20, 2014 2:43:33 PM

shabby police work and a corrupt bargain where the cops let jay minimize his involvement doesn't mean that adnan is innocent. it means that shoddy work still scored the jury conviction. believing that adnan is innocent (which seems just incredible) isn't the same as taking apart a poorly constructed case.

Posted by: david m | Dec 22, 2014 9:41:46 PM

David M: Good point. I'm not saying Adnan is innocent. I'm just saying that I'm not using the State's case as the starting point for determining guilt or innocence for the very reasons you mentioned.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Dec 23, 2014 5:22:37 AM

Everyday we get a new piece of evidence that just proves how messed up this case against Adnan was. More lies from Jay and more evidences that were never checked. They should just free Adnan.

Posted by: Sarah | Dec 23, 2014 2:35:15 PM

Srsly?? You would have relied on the testimony of a single motivated witness in the complete absence of any physical evidence and a shifting timeline?
Wow. I'm speechless.
I'm a scientist by training and I'd get fired for presenting a conclusion based on sheer speculation.

Posted by: RD | Dec 24, 2014 8:25:59 AM

RD: I'm not saying I would have relied on Jay's testimony to find Adnan guilty in a court of law. I'm simply saying that I was previously on the fence about whether Adnan actually committed the crime based on some combination of Jay's testimony, Adnan's cell phone records (e.g., The Nisha Call), the Leakin Park cell tower pings, etc.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Dec 24, 2014 8:35:26 AM

My last comment was cut off or disappeared. Basically, I said that I really appreciate your analysis and point of view. As an attorney myself, it is a refreshing change from much of what consumes the other blogs and chats.

Originally I thought Adnan should not have been convicted under the circumstances, but I thought he was involved in the murder in some way, with some combination of him and Jay. After reading your post, ending with "I now have no reason to believe he is guilty," I realized that I only thought Adnan was guilty because I didn't think Jay had a motive on his own. Without this presumption, Adnan is innocent (until proven guilty, which he has not been, and it appears (from all the known information) that he cannot be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, even in the slightest.)

Posted by: TMH | Dec 25, 2014 8:36:39 PM

Just out of curiosity, what, if any, role do the judges play? Before deliberations, are they allowed to remind the jury of the presumption of innocence, or the burden of proof lies with the prosecution?

Posted by: Leica | Dec 26, 2014 11:34:21 PM

Here's Maryland's Pattern Jury Instruction of the Presumption of Innocence and the Burden of Proof:

The defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charges. This presumption remains throughout every stage of the trial and is not overcome unless you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

The State has the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the State has the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every element of the crime [crimes] charged. The elements of a crime are the component parts of the crime about which I will instruct you shortly. This burden remains on the State throughout the trial. The defendant is not required to prove [his] [her] innocence. However, the State is not required to prove guilt beyond all possible doubt or to a mathematical certainty. Nor is the State required to negate every conceivable circumstance of innocence.

A reasonable doubt is a doubt founded upon reason. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt requires such proof as would convince you of the truth of a fact to the extent that you would be willing to act upon such belief without reservation in an important matter in your own business or personal affairs. If you are not satisfied of the defendant's guilt to that extent for each and every element of a [the] crime charged, then reasonable doubt exists and the defendant must be found not guilty of that [the] crime.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Dec 27, 2014 4:01:44 AM

Post a comment