EvidenceProf Blog

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What if There Actually Were a Woodlawn Wrestling Match on January 13, 1999?

In the wake of the second episode of the Undisclosed Podcast, I've received many e-mails speculating that there might have been a Woodlawn wrestling match on January 13, 1999, despite the fact that no such game was reported in the newspaper. Maybe, for instance, it was a re-scheduled match after an earlier match was cancelled due to poor weather. Maybe it was a junior varsity match, despite the Woodlawn yearbook making no mention of a JV wrestling team in 1999. Maybe Hae was the one who was supposed to report the score to the newspaper. My best guess is still that there was no Woodlawn wrestling match on January 13, 1999, as originally asserted by Susan Simpson in this blog post.

That said, if there were a Woodlawn wrestling match on January 13, 1999, guess whose recollection of that day becomes much more important? Debbie. You might recall that, in her statement on March 26, 1999, she recalls talking to Adnan about going to track practice at about 2:45 and then talking with Hae Min Lee some time between 2:45 and 3:15. In the conversation with Hae, "Takera" asks Hae for a ride, and Hae turns her down because she has to pick up her cousin and has no time to give a ride.

I've noted before that I think Debbie had the wrong day, but, if Woodlawn did have a wrestling match on January 13, 1999, there's a very good chance that Debbie had the right day. You see, in her statement, Debbie makes reference to Hae having to go to a game on January 13th, but her statement about the game is pretty garbled:

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.25.26 PM

Most people assume that "rustling" means wrestling, and I'm inclined to agree. So, if Woodlawn indeed had a wrestling match on January 13th, that would make it the only day in early January 1999 that Woodlawn had both track practice and a wrestling match. Therefore, Debbie would likely be remembering the right day. And, if Debbie was remembering the right day, I think the case against Adnan Syed is actually weaker. 

[Update: I'm already getting questions about what effect hypothetical new information about a wrestling match on 1/13 would have on Adnan's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on failure to contact Asia McClain. My response is as follows: What actually happened is irrelevant to the ineffective assistance claim. What matters is what was presented at trial. At trial, both a witness for the prosecution (Inez) and a witness for the defense (Becky) said they saw Hae leaving school in a hurry between 2:15 and 2:20; the prosecution also claimed that Hae was dead within 21 minutes of leaving school and that the Best Buy call was at 2:36. Asia saying she left Adnan behind in the library at 2:40 has all of the legal relevance in the world based upon the evidence/argument presented at trial. If Summer and/or Debbie are right about date and time, Asia is factually irrelevant but legally still very relevant].



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my sons wrestled at Morris Knolls HS. they had many scheduled matches printed on a schedule in the beginning of each year. Throughout the season due to weather, injuries, other teams, etc. they did at times change. Locations changed, teams, times. They even added extra matches or quad matches that would not be on the schedule. did not have to be JV teams either. If Hae were keeping the scores, she would have called the scores to the paper or a head coach. Usually no other. So, if there was a match on Jan. 13th, I still say try to contact some team members and see if they have memorabelia. I kept a photo book with pics, scoring, schedules, newspaper clippings. I am sure other mothers may have done the same. Get a team roster.

Posted by: navymom | Apr 29, 2015 10:48:10 AM

Why are you mixing and matching different info from different statements Debbie gave rather than starting with what she told the jury under oath in the trial that convicted Adnan? I also don’t get why you’re forcing this into an Either/Or choice, that Debbie must be 100% right about the 13th or 100% wrong. She could be wrong on the wrestling match date, but right about seeing Hae/Adnan, and any combination of right/wrong in between. Being right or wrong about one detail doesn’t mean she’s right or wrong about others, though of course it's possible she's entirely one or the other. I tend to think it’s most believable that she’s right about the wrestling date (which is corroborated by another witness), maybe right about seeing Hae (but if she is, wrong about time – which is very common for witnesses), and wrong about seeing Adnan. Isn’t that consistent with what she said at trial?

Posted by: johan | Apr 29, 2015 11:44:39 AM

If that's the case, doesnt summer's recollection come back into focus? Putting Hae at school much later and making Asia completely irrelevant? I think y'all have done a good job of establishing the 5th as the day of the match in question. I would say that if you are reconsidering just so you can try to prop Debbie's version up some you should also acknowledge how damaging it is to Asia and her alibi. Unless you are completely disregarding Summer or just deciding Summer is remembering the 5th instead of the 13th for some reason.

Posted by: ghostoftomlandry | Apr 29, 2015 11:46:07 AM

WHen she said Hae was going to the "Junior, um..." have y'all considered what was to come after Junior there? Varsity? High? Also, what does "wrestling the basketball" mean?

Posted by: ghostoftomlandry | Apr 29, 2015 11:53:41 AM

Johan: I’m not mixing and matching different statements. In her 3/26 statement, Debbie says both that she saw Adnan at 2:45 and Hae/”Takera” some time between 2:45 and 3:15.

Ghostoftomlandry: Right. If there were a wrestling match on 1/13, that means that Summer and Debbie both likely saw Hae after school on that date. This would make Asia factually irrelevant, but it makes the whole Debbie/Hae/”Takera” conversation very important. As for Debbie’s interview, we will be getting the audio at some point, so hopefully that clears things up.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Apr 29, 2015 12:10:07 PM

Thanks as always for answering Colin.

Posted by: ghostoftomlandry | Apr 29, 2015 12:21:25 PM

But why not even mention what she said at trial under oath? It's just strange.

Posted by: johan | Apr 29, 2015 12:24:39 PM

I just have a really hard time understanding how the investigators can justify not ever confirming the location and time of the wrestling match. This is a major component of the state's timeline. How is it possible that the location and time was never independently verified by a coach, printed school schedule, etc? For that matter, why didn't Gutierrez follow up on this? Even months later it seems like it should have been fairly easy to verify? I'm really confused about easy details to confirm at the time (wrestling match, date of taping) being essentially assumed to be true vs. objectively verified.

Posted by: Sassy | Apr 29, 2015 1:37:01 PM

Thanks or posting this, Professor Miller. I find Debbie to be the most interesting of the witnesses from Woodlawn.

Posted by: Badger | Apr 29, 2015 1:46:32 PM

ghostoftomlandry: "he were rustling the baseketball" probably "either wrestling or basketball"

Posted by: TD | Apr 29, 2015 2:20:27 PM

sassy - I think an interview on The Docket seemed to suggest that there were a lot of errors because of extremely high murder rates in Baltimore at the time. There was a lot of pressure on time and resources. I guess they made their assumptions based on high probability of the ex being the culprit and then built a "good enough" case around it. It seems like there was no real effort to approach the investigation with an open mind, sadly.

It is incredible to think how much has changed since 1999. Social media and smart phones mean this is all trackable, even years later. If this happened four years ago we would probably have a million photos and tweets from the Randallstown match times tamped and with evidence of who was where

Posted by: Anonynon | Apr 29, 2015 3:06:33 PM

So it could be a basketball game. We are all assuming that she was going to a game to score, but as an athlete it is likely she has friends at other schools and she might have gone to support a friend in another sport even. Or she could have gone to a Randallstown game with another school before work. Which makes me wonder whether she jilted someone on one of the sporting teams.

Is there any documented interview with her family about where they expected her to go that day?

Posted by: Anonynon | Apr 29, 2015 3:24:26 PM

At my high school, there were Spirit Clubs that would adopt a member of a sports team and decorate their lockers, make scrapbooks for them, and other such stuff. Our school also used the same sports photographer to capture all of the action of the games, etc. This photographer and his assistants attended every single match or game. They were so much a part of the school that even the students knew them by name. Perhaps a wrestler might have his scrapbook or perhaps Woodlawn used a sports photographer too. Might be a way to definitively discern if there were any sporting events on the 13th. The school district might also have an old record for the use of a bus on that date.

Posted by: applesauce | Apr 29, 2015 4:01:55 PM

It just occurred to me that "junior, um" could be "tournament" badly enunciated.

Posted by: Anonymous | Apr 29, 2015 8:48:49 PM

Could Hae's cousin have needed to be picked up bc the cousin had a wrestling or basketball event? Hoes cousin went to another school that was "not Woodlawn" but IIRC, the cousin was pretty young, tight?

Posted by: amber | Apr 30, 2015 4:30:24 AM

It's weird that in your "Update" on why a wrestling match is important you never use the fact of there being or not being a wrestling match for anything.

Posted by: monstimal | Apr 30, 2015 10:52:09 AM

Re: Your Update, if Asia's legal relevance is that she would have challenged the prosecutions timeline as you've offered, how does this overcome the prejudice prong of Strickland given that Debbie already testified on direct that she saw Hae alive at 3:00 PM? Indeed the court cited this very fact in it's denial of Adnan's PCR on the claim that CG failed to effectively cross Debbie to elicit information to contradict the State's timeline. If such testimony is already in the trial record, how can we say that additional testimony contradicting the state timeline would have prejudiced Adnan to the point where the verdict is reasonably undermined? Thanks in advance for any response. - Regards

Posted by: OhDatsClever | Apr 30, 2015 11:42:07 AM

Could it be...
"...cause there was a game that day um WE WERE RUSHING TO BASKETBALL but she was going to the TOURNAMENT I think it was at another school not Woodlawn." ?

Posted by: MzOpinion8d | Apr 30, 2015 7:57:19 PM

Colin, I think its safe to say Woodlawn did not have a wrestling match on Jan. 13th. There is no reported score for Woodlawn in the Jan 14th paper. There is for Randallstown, but not Woodlawn. So Inez is wrong because she said she had to go with the team to score because Hae did not show.
Hae's note to Don definitely has a Randallstown match @ Randallstown. Hae said she would go. There is a score for a game on Jan 5th @ Randallstown. Its safe to assume this match took place on Jan. 5th and Hae did not show per Summer's statement. (Tally: Summer got the date wrong, but was right that Hae did not show. Inez got the date wrong, the school wrong and there is no score to show for her statements. Summer is more believable)
Debbie's statement about 'basketball' is interesting because Stephanie had a basketball game @Parkville. She scored 8 pts. Could she be mumbling 'we were rushing to the basketball game but Hae had to go somewhere else, another school (Randallstown is two minutes from Owings Mills mall...correct? perhaps Hae mentioned Jan 5th to Debbie and Debbie confused Randallstown with the mall location and assumed it was for a tournament and not to work)

Posted by: TheBrownGirl | May 1, 2015 10:56:04 PM

Was there no school newspaper? All things sport related always end up in HS papers...they need to fill the space!

Posted by: bystander | May 2, 2015 1:15:05 AM

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