EvidenceProf Blog

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reassessing Hae Min Lee's Timeline on January 13, 1999

Last week, I posted an entry about the murder window for the death of Hae Min Lee based upon the evidence that the prosecution presented at the trial of Adnan Syed for murdering her. Recent revelations have now led me to reconsider the actual timeline for January 13, 1999, the day that Lee disappeared. After the Serial Podcast aired, most people probably believed that Lee did or was planning to do the following after school on January 13th:

1. At about 2:20 P.M., Lee told Adnan in front of Becky that she couldn't give him a ride because she had "something else to do."

2. Lee talked with Inez Butler-Hendricks at the concession stand sometime between 2:15 and 2:25 P.M.*

3. Lee talked with Summer in the gym area for at least 10 minutes starting between 2:30 and 2:45 P.M. (so, ending between 2:40 and 2:55 P.M. or later).

4. Lee possibly talked with Debbie at around 3:00/sometime between 2:45 and 3:15.

5. Lee was supposed to pick up her cousin at 3:15ish and then drop her off.

6. Lee planned to drop off a note to her new boyfriend Don and possibly talk with him ("Sorry I couldn't stay. I have to go to a wrestling match at Randallstown High.").

7. Lee planned to go to the Randallstown wrestling match (and possibly planned to get back to Woodlawn to catch the bus to the wrestling match). This could have been at 5:00 P.M. or earlier or later.

8. Lee planned to work at LensCrafters from 6:00-10:00 P.M.

9. Lee planned to see Don after her work shift ended.

Now, after recent revelations, we have reason to believe that Woodlawn High School had no wrestling match on January 13, 1999 and that Woodlawn's wrestling match at Randallstown was on January 5, 1999. That leaves us with the following things that Lee likely did or was planning to do after school on January 13, 1999:

1. At about 2:20 P.M., Lee told Adnan in front of Becky that she couldn't give him a ride because she had "something else to do" AND/OR told Becky that she had to leave because "she had to be somewhere after school."**

2. Lee was supposed to pick up her cousin at 3:15ish and then drop her off.

3. Lee planned to work at LensCrafters from 6:00-10:00 P.M.

4. Lee planned to see Don after her work shift ended.

So, how did I trim the original timeline, and what does this all mean?

FIRST, why did I remove Inez and Summer from the timeline? Both Inez and Summer referenced talking with Lee about a Woodlawn wrestling match on January 13, 1999. If Susan Simpson is correct that Woodlawn did not have a wrestling match on January 13, 1999, both of them have the wrong day.

SECOND, why did I remove Debbie from the timeline? Debbie gave a first statement to Detective O'Shea on January 28, 1999:

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 3.31.58 PM

Later, on March 26, 1999, Debbie gave a second statement to Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary:

Debbie Statement

So, why did I remove Debbie from the timeline? First, she removed herself. At Adnan's second trial, Debbie didn't stand by her statements, prompting (1) the State to ignore them during closing arguments when claiming that Inez was the last person to see Lee; and (2) the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland to ignore them when concluding that Lee "was last seen alive about 2:30 p.m. [by Inez] on January 13, 1999."

Second, it probably made sense that Debbie didn't stand by her statements. In her first statement, Debbie says that Lee was "leaving school and going to see Donald at the mall." We know, however, that Lee was going to pick up her cousin upon leaving school. Plus, in the final episode of Serial, Don says he wasn't supposed to see Lee until after her work shift ended, which seems inconsistent with Lee telling Debbie that she was going to see Don at the mall. 

In her second statement, Debbie references Lee going to some type of sporting event on January 13, 1999. Interestingly, Debbie uses the word "junior" in connection with this event, which could have been referring to a junior varsity wrestling match...except for the fact that, "[a]ccording to the [Woodlawn] yearbook, there was no JV wrestling team at Woodlawn." Again, as far as we know, there was no Woodlawn wrestling match on January 13, 1999, which means that Debbie was also probably thinking of the wrong day in her second statement.*** Plus, as noted, Debbie didn't stand by her statements at Adnan's second trial.

THIRD, why did I remove Lee dropping off her note to Don from the timeline? As noted above, Lee's note mentions going "to a wrestling match at Randallstown High." Because that match was on January 5, 1999, the note and the wrestling match are likely irrelevant to the events of January 13, 1999.

FOURTH, that leaves us with precisely one witness who likely saw Lee after school on January 13, 1999: Becky, a friend of both Lee and Adnan. Becky gave a statement to police on April 9, 1999, which included the following information:

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 9.28.13 AM
Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 9.29.28 AM

Later, at trial, Becky testified as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 9.36.46 AM

Defense counsel never asked about whether Adnan was present for this conversation or whether Lee told Adnan that she couldn't give him a ride.****

Seemingly, we can do one of five things with Becky's statement and testimony. The first is to read them in harmony. In this version, Becky saw Lee walking toward the door that led to her Sentra and saw Adnan walking in the other direction. As they passed each other, Lee told Adnan that she had to leave and couldn't give him a ride because she had "something else to do" and/or "somewhere" to go. The second is to believe Becky's police statement. In this version, Lee told Adnan that she couldn't give him a ride because she had "something else" to do. And, indeed, in the second episode of Serial, when Sarah Koenig reads Becky this portion of her police statement, Becky responds, "Okay. Yeah that sounds right. It kind of all comes back a little bit."

The third is to believe Becky's trial testimony. In this version, Lee told Becky that she had to leave because she had to be "somewhere" and headed toward the door that led to her Sentra. The fourth is to believe that neither Becky's statement nor her testimony are completely accurate but that one or both capture the gist of what happened. In this version, something like what Becky described in her statement and/or testimony actually occurred on January 13, 1999. In any of these four versions, we have Becky seeing Lee at approximately 2:20 P.M. on January 13, 1999 as she is about to leave school to do "something"/be "somewhere."

Of course, there is a fifth option, which is to believe that Becky is remembering the wrong day.***** The problem with believing this is that Becky's memory is seemingly tied to Krista's memory. Krista is another mutual friend of Lee and Adnan who remembers Adnan asking Lee for a ride on January 13, 1999, possibly because Adnan's car was in the shop. As you can see from Becky's statement, Becky apparently heard second-hand about Adnan asking Lee for a ride, possibly because his car was in the shop. In fact, it seems likely that Becky learned this fact from Krista. Krista and Becky are the only two witnesses (besides Jay) who say that Adnan asked Lee for a ride. So, either you think that both Krista and Becky accurately remembered Adnan asking Lee for a ride on January 13, 1999 or that both Krista and Becky are remembering another day when Adnan asked Lee for a ride.

Fifth, looking at Becky's statement and testimony led me to look back at Krista's testimony. In the second episode of Serial, Krista says that

If I remember correctly 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?"

I always found it questionable that Adnan would ask Lee for a ride in front of their mutual friend if Adnan planned to kill Lee at the end of that ride. After reviewing Krista's testimony, I realized that there's even more reason to question what the State claimed Adnan did on January 13, 1999. At Adnan's first trial (page 285), Krista testified that she recalled Adnan

mentioning -- since he was on time for class that day -- that Hae was supposed to pick him -- pick up his car that afternoon from school because he didn't have it for whatever reason. Either because it was in the shop or his brother had it I'm not sure which.

Then, at Adnan's second trial, Krista testified that Adnan was in her 1st period photography class on 1/13/99 and that

I believe that that day he arrived at school on time that day, which was rather unusual for him 'cause he was usually late. And he said that he didn't have his car for whatever reason and then he had to go pick it up after school and that Hae was supposed to take him to get his car.

But I don't remember if it was from his brother or from the shop.

This is interesting for a few reasons. First, it implies that Adnan asked Lee for a ride either before first period or even when he called her at 12:35 A.M. Second, if we believe Krista's testimony from 1999/2000 is more reliable than her statement in 2014, it means that the State's claim is that Adnan asked Lee for a ride with the plan of killing her and then later volunteered to Krista that he had asked Lee for a ride and possibly also volunteered the lie that his car was in the shop. That seems even less plausible than what we heard on the podcast. This is why I stand by my prior position that, if Adnan killed Lee, it wasn't something he planned at the time he asked Lee for a ride.

My prior position was also that there was a decent chance that the ride Adnan wanted from Lee was in fact a "ride home," as he allegedly told Officer Adcock on the night of January 13th. Interestingly enough, Krista's first statement to police actually corroborates that claim. Krista was first interviewed on March 1, 1999****** and said "that on 13 January 1999, 1st period Photography, Adnan had a conversation with Hae Min Lee. Adnan was requesting a ride home from Lee." 

Now, on the one hand, Krista's statement implies that Adnan asked Lee for a ride in front of Krista. On the other hand, Lee was not in the Photography class taken by Adnan and Krista, making it likely that Krista told the officers that Adnan mentioned the ride to Krista like she testified at trial as opposed to asking for the ride in front of Krista. 

What's more important is that Krista describes the ride as a "ride home," which is apparently how Adnan described the ride to Adcock.******* We also know from Adnan's track coach that Adnan used to "go[] home to change" before practice. Is it possible that Adnan simply wanted a "ride home" to change and then decided to change at school when Lee turned him down? Is it possible that Adnan never in fact claimed his car was in the shop and that Krista was confusing this part of Adnan's ride request with his ride request on another day?

What we do know is that Stephanie, a friend of both of Adnan and Lee as well as the girlfriend of Jay, told police that Adnan's car was in the shop for a long time, meaning that him catching a "ride home" would not be unusual. If you think Adnan is innocent, you might think that Krista accurately remembered Adnan asking for a ride on January 13th but transposed the car shop justification from another day when Adnan's car was in the shop. Conversely, if you think Adnan is guilty, you might think that Adnan used the fact that his car had been in the shop to sell the lie that his car was in the shop on January 13th.

Then again, if you think Adnan is innocent, you might think that Adnan didn't even ask for a ride on January 13th. In her police statement, Stephanie says that she doesn't remember Adnan saying he would get a ride on January 13th, and...Stephanie had the parking spot right next to Adnan's parking spot. Therefore, to buy the story that Adnan said that his car was in the shop on January 13th, you have to believe that Adnan parked next to Stephanie's spot, said his car was in the shop, and then loaned his car to Jay so that he could use the car to buy a gift for Stephanie. That plan seems...odd.

Sixth, where does this leave us? Under the timeline from the Serial Podcast, Lee has a packed day, where she sees people until she leaves school at around 2:45-3:00ish, is supposed to pick up and drop off her cousin, is supposed to drop off a note, is supposed to go to a wrestling match, and is supposed to work at LensCrafters. Under the amended timeline, Lee seemingly leaves school to go "somewhere" and do "something" at about 2:20, leaving 55 minutes to do this "something" between departure and picking up her cousin. Then, assuming Lee is supposed to drop off her cousin at about 3:30, Lee has approximately 2.5 hours between drop off and work.

So, what were Lee's plans for the day? I'm now more confident than ever in my most logical scenarios: Lee left school with the intention of doing "something else" before picking up her cousin and either (1) died while doing that "something else;" or (2) died when Adnan convinced Lee to give him a ride and diverted Lee from doing her "something else."******** The big difference from before is that I now no longer believe that Lee left school at 2:40 or later after talking with Summer. Instead, I believe that Lee left school soon after talking with Becky at about 2:20. This means that, if Adnan got in Lee's car, he did it by about 2:25-2:30, when the Woodlawn parking lot was its most congested as cars started filtering out in the wake of the bus loop clearing at about 2:25.

Seventh, and finally, this takes us back to the very first episode, Adnan's current appeal, and Asia McClain. After Sarah Koenig talked to Summer, the conventional wisdom was that Asia was important strictly for legal reasons based on the timeline presented by the State at trial (Lee died between 2:15 and 2:36). Now, if there were no wrestling match on January 13, 1999, and Becky's testimony is generally trusted, Asia becomes hugely important for factual reasons as well. Assume that Lee was in fact headed to her car at about 2:20 and that Adnan, heading in the other direction, proceeded to the library at about 2:20, whereupon he saw Asia for about 20 minutes. This would mean that it is highly unlikely Adnan could have intercepted Lee. On the other hand, if Asia is remembering seeing Adnan on another day, Adnan could have intercepted Lee, albeit in a crowded parking lot as opposed to when the lot had cleared out quite a bit. Thus, on so many levels, Asia McClain could be the key to this case.


*Did most people believe that Lee saw Inez and then saw Summer or that Lee only saw Summer on January 13, 1999? If the latter, we can remove this interaction from the timeline.

**It's also possible that Lee stopped at the concession stand, even if it wasn't the specific concession stand stop that Inez remembered. 

***That is, unless Lee was planning to go to some other unspecified sporting event.

****Instead, defense counsel proceeds to ask Becky whether she heard about Debbie's claim that Lee was leaving school to see Don at the mall. You can see defense counsel trying to set up the theory that Don killed Lee, but Becky responds that she's unaware of Debbie's claim, and, as noted, Debbie recanted her claim at trial.

Why didn't defense counsel ask Becky about Lee turning Adnan down for a ride? It's possible that she was trying to avoid the subject of Adnan asking Lee for a ride. It's also possible that she forgot. It's tough to say.

*****This one might be a more difficult one to track down than the wrestling information, but we can see that Becky's memory is tied to waiting for her sister to be done with drama tryouts. Can anyone from Woodlawn confirm (or deny) that there were drama tryouts on January 13, 1999?

******The progress report detailing Krista's interview says it was conducted on February 29, 1999, a "leap day" that did not exist.

*******Of course, we know that Adnan later denied asking for a ride, possibly because he didn't want to admit to asking for the ride in front of his father. Adnan also generally denies asking for a ride in the second episode of Serial. As someone prone to poking holes in the State's case, I must admit that I'm completely confused on Adnan's position about (not) asking Lee for a ride. I definitely wish that I had some more clarity on the issue so that I could assess Adnan's precise position on the ride.

********Assuming there was no wrestling match on January 13, 1999, the wrestling match can no longer be the "something else," talking to Summer can no loner be the "something else," and Lee now has plenty of time (55 minutes) to do this "something else." 



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Just wow. Thank you for all your work. Quick question---what I find most terrifying about all of this is, how common is it? I know CG's post-trial history, but to not even check out if there was in fact a wrestling match that day? And then extrapolate what that does to the time line? Wow.

Posted by: marybsmom | Mar 16, 2015 5:04:09 PM

marybsmom: There were a record (for Maryland) number of complaints against Adnan's defense attorney at the time she agreed to be disbarred. I should definitely note that the lack of a wrestling match on January 13th is far from a certainty. It's quite possible that defense counsel confirmed there was a match on January 13th despite the lack of evidence of such a match that has been found so far in 2015. This post is based on the assumption that there was no match on 1/13, but we still have to make sure that assumption is true.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 16, 2015 7:04:45 PM

Marybsmom, did you read Susan Simpson's blog concerning the wrestling match on the 13th. She and her team were very thorough in their investigation of whether there was a match or not. Their conclusion was that the match had taken place the week before. Bearing in mind that the only evidence that there was a match on the 13th is a witness' memory from months previous versus the reports in the local newspaper and yearbook, I would believe what was in print.

Posted by: Alison | Mar 17, 2015 2:38:00 AM

In high school I had agendas where I noted my academic and extracurricular obligations. I still have them. I am a bit surprised that these students didn't seem to have them. At the very least, Hae's might have specified this other obligation

Posted by: Anonynon | Mar 21, 2015 7:08:08 AM

It's possible the girl(s) heard "Jay has to shop" or "I gave my car to Jay to go shopping" etc. other variations. Doesn't really matter but the fact that he asked for a ride or did not is a 2 edge sword.

On the one hand it says he openly asked for a ride in front of others because he did not intend to kill Hae Lee, perhaps he though only to confront Hae about their relationship... or if she didn't agree to reconciliation .. choke.

Or perhaps he did not ask for a ride on that day, but we do have the fact of Adnan giving the car to Jay use. Had Adnan ever give Jay or anyone else permission to use his car?

No matter. What does matter is the window of opportunity from 2:20 +- to a know established time point of picking up her cousin at 3:15 +- and not showing up. Location of the cousin is max. 15 minute drive I picture this, Adnan catches Hae at her car and asks for a ride to his car at Best Buy 5-6 minutes plus time to leave parking area. It's important where her car was parked and how she exited through 1 of the 2 exits, but not really. They arrive at BB in a fairly secluded area. He asks for reconciliation and is rejected. Remember her rejection letter, she was tired of his harassment about the relationship, She was pretty straight forward and she was pretty firm. She also confirms that she is in a new intimate relationship with Don. This the breaking point, he pops her 2-3 times and stuns her, either leaned over or actual mounted her and strangled her. She struggled enough that her left leg came up and broke the turn signal. That's it and she's dead.

Adnan's proponents make great arguments towards what happen after, but only on the smallest details that don't lead to exoneration. So as we know he gets retrial, which is not what the Adnan team wanted. There are some missing details but only because Adnan refuses to add his information. There's no way to have a event timeline without him and he shows no sign of giving it up especially with the retrial coming up.

I believe Adnan's family friend and lawyer has been involved with critical case decisions all along. She has worked diligently to find a way out, a technicality to get Adnan off while profiting personally in her career and bank account. She manages the "Get Adnan Syed Off Trust Fund" which pays for all her time and expenses. She was heavily involved in the Asia Alibi procurement, even strong arming Asia after Adnan lost the case in 2001 by turning the Asia offer to give Adnan a false alibi by literally pushing Asia to write a hand written Affidavit, taking her to have it notarized and getting it into the record.

The Asia Factor, slippery slope - I hope this factor would be dropped by everyone, especially the proponents of Adnan. The letters sent to Adnan are not good for the defense and even dangerous for Adnan. When did or did Adnan say he was in the library in any of his statements?

Basically she saying I'll lie for you "if you can look me in the eyes and tell me you didn't do this"... that's bad on several levels. She states she saw him, but she also includes 2 other people, so also she provides Adnan with entire lie that would be told by the 2 other witnesses she has in mind.

If these letters got into the DA hands they would have a field day. You can bet the DA, perhaps, secretly knew of these letters because all incoming jail letters are "inspected". Now I believe these letter are in the DA hands and it would be problematic at best for Asia to say in retrial that she saw Adnan.

There was a video system in the library, did a tape exist for that day? Did police recover all video for that day over the entire campus? My belief is Adnan did discuss the letters with Gutierrez. She did the right thing to stay away from Asia and promise letters.

If the story was true Asia would simply come forward and given the information to police, but it was untrue, had it gone forward then her and her friends and Adnan would be in a whole lot of deep shit ... end of story.

My opinion in general is that the Serial series was not good for Adnan. Why? Because he spoke. He's say often going way back since the murder "Why do people think I would do this? People tell me I'm a great... I'm mean good guy" Well Adnan many many who have killed and surprised everyone were known as good guys, it was part of their manipulation tool kit.... he still doesn't get it. I had a DUI when I was 21 and had to time in jail.

Basically, in general, everyone in there between 18-50 are totally immature as a rule. I helped a group counselor while doing my sentence. I read questionnaires he gave felony offenders about 40-50, basic questions. I especially noted one overall fact on the how much education question. About 8-9% claimed no high school or dropped very early, 50% go to 10th grade, another 40% finished, leaving only 2 or 3 that had some college, none had degrees.

My thinking is the poor 35 year old man is really still a kid. Jail isn't a place where people grow up, 2/3 are to return. No Adnan ... I don't count it all on the character that comes through in your voice. It's based on the totality of the case about a very old and common passion play and simple logical analysis.

For Adnan and supporters

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" most would say the tree did make a sound whether they saw or not.

Posted by: Pau | May 19, 2017 3:54:04 PM

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