EvidenceProf Blog

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

How Does Jay Now Know That Nothing Bad Happened in the Best Buy Parking Lot?

In Natasha Vargas Cooper's interview with Jay for The Intercept, there was the following exchange:

Where was Hae’s car? Was it in the Best Buy parking lot?

Hae’s car could have been in the parking lot, but I didn’t know what it looked like so I don’t remember. When I pick him up at Best Buy, he’s telling me her car is somewhere there, and that he did this in the parking lot. But that, according to what I learned later, is probably not what happened.

Regrettably, there was no follow-up question asking what Jay later learned, and I had kind of put this response aside until I recently reviewed what Jenn told Sarah Koenig during Serial.

According to Sarah Koenig:

Then there’s Jenn Pusateri. Of all the people Jay told about this crime, I wondered most about Jenn. If she ever thought Jay was lying about that night. I spoke to her briefly at her work, she works at a discount store. She wasn’t rude, but she was totally uninterested in talking to me. She had nothing to hide, she said, she just did not want to talk about that time in her life, period. She did answer my one big question, though, and her answer was yes. She believed Jay then, and that hasn’t changed in the intervening years. I said, yeah, but he did lie to you somewhat back then. Remember, he tells Jenn that night that he doesn’t know where Adnan put Hae’s body. That they don’t know enough to go to the police. Jenn told me she could understand that kind of lie. That anyone in his position forced into something he wanted no part of, anyone might have told the same kind of lie. It didn’t shake her trust in his overall story. Then she added, there was one thing she never believed. She said she never believed the murder happened at Best Buy, because she thought there would have been security footage, and that never came out. I told her it seems like maybe there really weren’t security cameras at Best Buy back then, and she kind of shrugged and said: "Oh well, see, I don’t know."

That's weird, right? The one thing that Jenn doesn't believe, after all these years, is that the murder happened at Best Buy. It's weird because Jenn is the first one who tells the police about the murder taking place at Best Buy. After denying any knowledge of the murder in her first police interview, Jenn returns the next day and tells the detectives, on February 26, 1999, that Jay told her that Adnan killed Hae in the Best Buy parking lot although he didn't know how Adnan got in Hae's car.

On February 28th, of course, Jay's story is different; he says that the trunk pop happened at a strip off of Edmondson Avenue and makes no mention of Best Buy. He also says that he has no idea of how Adnan got into Hae's car. Jay, however, later changes his story and tells the detectives in his March 15th interview that Adnan killed Hae in the Best Buy parking lot and may have done so because that's where they used to have sex. He also now says that Adnan got into Hae's car by lying to her about his car being broken down.*

This raises a lot of questions, including why Jay didn't mention Best Buy in his first interview. Of course, we know the reason given by Jay, and it kind of meshes with what Jenn told Sarah Koenig; according to Jay, he didn't mention Best Buy because he "figured there was cameras there or somebody had spotted him during what he was doing."

And then, there's also the other odd confluence. As noted, the one thing that Jenn highlights fifteen years later is that she never thought the murder happened at Best Buy. The same kind of holds for Jay. Of course, the biggest change in his story in The Intercept interview is that the burial took place "closer to midnight." But that's merely the last domino to fall. Jay starts by saying the trunk pop was not at Best Buy and that he no longer believes that the murder occurred there. This leads to the trunk pop taking place later in the evening outside his grandmother's house. And this leads to the burial taking place closer to midnight.

So, what are we to make of Jay's statement that he learned later that the murder didn't take place at Best Buy? Is it a lie? If so, it seems like a strange one. How does this unprompted response in December 2014 make Jay look any better?

Is Jay mistaken? It seems like an odd mistake to make. And, again, the answer is unprompted. It's him basically going off on a tangent in his response to the question asked.

Is he telling the truth? If so, what does it mean? What could Jay have later learned? Clearly, he had no contact with Adnan after he was arrested, so it's not a statement made by Adnan to Jay. Is it possible that Adnan told someone else that the murder occurred elsewhere, with this person then telling Jay or the police/prosecutors (who then told Jay)? I guess that anything is possible, but it's hard to imagine Jay or the State sitting on this evidence and only making a cryptic reference to it during Serial and its aftermath.

Is it possible that State official(s) eventually uncovered information establishing that the murder likely couldn't have occurred at Best Buy and/or likely occurred somewhere else? If so, what is this information, and does it point toward another person committing the crime?

Did someone else confess to committing the crime somewhere else? If so, who? And, if so, is the State sitting on information that could prove Adnan's innocence?

As with so many questions in this case, this one doesn't have an answer. But I am pretty convinced that Jay did later learn that the murder didn't occur at Best Buy.** I'm also pretty convinced that the information Jay learned is helpful, rather than harmful, for Adnan.


*This comes after Krista's March 1st interview, in which Adnan's ride request is first mentioned.

**Of course, I doubt that he ever had reason to believe that anything relevant happened in the Best Buy parking lot.



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I think Jay got railroaded after calling in tip for CS$. Then dragged Jen w/him to protect himself from being charged and Jen & Stephanie believed cops would frame Jay if they didnt help. Jay confesses to calling CS and cops ask for his story to validate his tip - when Jay was probably just looking to pay some bills. State knows something otherwise midnight burial wouldnt of come up. Spider web of lies...

Posted by: Catherine | Dec 3, 2015 6:09:02 AM

It never fails to amaze me how flimsy the State's case is. Nothing fits, nothing is connected, nothing stands up to close inspection.

A young girl lost her life, and a young man has had his taken away for nothing.

Justice and law enforcement are oxymorons in this case. It's sick.

Posted by: Squatch | Dec 3, 2015 6:26:18 AM

If I had to guess, I'd say the lie was that he "learned later", when in reality he knew all along.

And he stuck that in there because it would have been even more awkward to admit that he never had any reason to think that anything happened there.

Posted by: Michael Byrnes | Dec 3, 2015 6:52:46 AM

It has been said that Jay was a protector and also that he was the only one in his family to have a legitimate job. Those jobs couldn't have supported everyone. Jenn had a relationship with Jay's brother and she is a part of the cover story. Who is Jay protecting? He was afraid of someone. There is something in this fabric of lies we can't see.

Posted by: Cindy Norman | Dec 3, 2015 7:18:47 AM

The interviews read to me like like the cops had a list of suggestions they were working off in interrogating their suspects: "It happened here, didn't it? Or was it here? What about here?" The list was based on things like where WHS teachers had said Adnan and Hae used to hook up (Best Buy parking lot, a park, hotels), and where the phone records seem to be leading them (strip off of Poplar Grove).

Problem is, Jenn and Jay both initially filled in different bubbles on their interrogation scantron sheets. Jay, it seems, thought that Best Buy was the "wrong" answer beause there would have been security cameras, so that wouldn't be a believable response. Jenn didn't catch onto this problem, and she went along with the suggestion that seemed reasonable to her, perhaps because like other Woodlawn students she'd smoked up there as well.

Later on, though, the cops have to reconcile Jenn's and Jay's stories. They can't change Jenn's, they're stuck with Jay telling Jenn it was at the Best Buy, so now they have to explain why, hence the inadvertently truthful answer Jay gives about why he initially didn't say Best Buy.

Writing this comment prompted me to google "Reid technique" and "multiple choice," and bingo. It's classic Reid technique:

"If he seems to have trouble remembering the details, you can present multiple-choice questions. Where did you enter the house: the front, the back, through a window?"

Posted by: Susan | Dec 3, 2015 7:49:18 AM

Missing link: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/09/the-interview-7

Posted by: Susan | Dec 3, 2015 7:49:52 AM

In the Intercept interview, Jay said he didn’t know what Hae's car looked like, but in the police interview transcripts he says that he knew Hae from school and seeing her in her car in the school parking lot. Another lie!

Posted by: KitKatMeow | Dec 3, 2015 8:20:55 AM

First time commenter - thanks to you and Susan S. for adding all this solid legal and criminal justice expertise.

It was only after your analysis that I realized that there's a scenario in which Jay actually had nothing at all to do with the crime. Not that I know it's true, but if it is, and he dreamed up the idea to implicate Adnan some time between his late-Jan arrest for disorderly conduct and either the Feb 1 CS call or mid-Feb, when it's now known he talked to police (or indeed the moments he told all the other friends, such as "neighbor boy"), well, in this case Jenn is one of the greatest obstacles for me. Because of her statement about helping Jay the very first or second day after Hae's disappearance. Maybe that falls under "permissible lie" in her opinion. But she'd have to be explicitly lying about disposing of shovels. Also, if Jay came up with this *before* the body was found he'd be running quite a risk of Hae not being dead after all - most of her friends were only just starting to get seriously worried, and Jay wasn't close to her. Though Stephanie might have kept him informed, and he was hanging out with Adnan, too, still. OTOH, he may have already known where her car was, and formed the opinion she wouldn't still be alive on his own.

Jay's involvement is still mysterious to me (and indeed was long the only reason Adnan was still a possible suspect in my mind - because otherwise, why Jay?) and his family's criminal activities, what little I know, don't sound to me like they had any overlap with Hae's life either. But I can see his involvement looked like an established fact for so long, including to the jury.

I don't really believe the bit about Jay telling Jenn *beforehand* that Adnan was *going* to kill Hae, because her reaction of mild interest sounds rather unbelievable to me.

What Jay means by learning something later isn't as salient to me as he might just be referring to a version of events that he later came to accept as... true? his preferred story?

Posted by: merian | Dec 3, 2015 8:57:48 AM

Cindy: I totally get why he would be scared. Consider this (imagined) scenario:

1. Jay’s barely a year out of high school. He supports his family by working minimum-wage jobs and dealing weed. He can’t afford a car. His gf-since-middle-school is about to graduate as an academic star and is probably college-bound. If he’s got any sense he’s worried about losing her. Maybe he’s cheated on her, maybe she’s been suspicious about the time he spends with his best friend, Jenn. But even his casual mate Adnan tells him in a man-to-man way to bloody well get himself to the mall and get Stephanie a birthday gift. Maybe he resented that from the goody-goody boy who’s barely dry behind the ears.
2. Late January, he’s arrested for disorderly conduct. First arrest as an adult. There may be a juvenile record, probation, etc. (rightfully sealed). The police may be spotting an opportunity to lean on him. Maybe he could start informing on the drug operations he knows about, including potentially his family. He doesn’t want to.
3. At that point people get worried about Hae. He and Jenn have conversations along the line “remember I was with Adnan the day she disappeared - had his car even. And we met later”. He thinks he might give THIS to the police to get out of trouble. Also, there’s talk of a reward, and he needs cash. He gets an idea in his mind and calls crimestoppers pointing to Adnan.
4. Hae is found, it IS murder.
5. The CS tip leads police back to him. His statements, made without a lawyer, implicate himself as an accessory. Oops.
6. He gets Jenn to lie for him about disposing of clothes and shovels (or even knowing about the crime beforehand) to bolster his story, thus implicating HER, too, as an accessory. She luckily has access to a lawyer, though she insists on maintaining some incriminating statements. There may be some sort of deal involved as Jenn isn’t charged.

So Jenn’s mad at him and he starts to realize that his story is now making him look like an accessory to murder in the 1st degree. You bet he’s scared.

Posted by: merian | Dec 3, 2015 10:11:13 AM

Great write-up EP, I really enjoyed this one. Question for you. You wrote "But I am pretty convinced that Jay did later learn that the murder didn't occur at Best Buy.**" Can you explain what you mean by this? Thanks!

Posted by: Nero | Dec 3, 2015 10:28:18 AM

Is it possible that there were cameras in the parking lot after all? Could it be that the police got the footage and couldn't find the murder on it (because the Jay's story is a lie and Adnan is innocent), but instead of ruling out Jay's story as false, the police just pressured him to change it? It wouldn't surprise me at all that there would be no record of this happening because the police and prosecuter wouldn't want to give Adnan exculpatory evidence. So they would just force Jay to change his story and never mention it to the defense. I know it sounds crazy, but with their other Brady violations, nothing would entirely surprise me anymore. And this would explain both Jay and Jen saying that they both knew it didn't happen in the Best Buy parking lot.

Posted by: Brook | Dec 3, 2015 12:05:29 PM

There's this show Cold Justice, a "reality" show where a prosecutor and forensic expert go around to small towns who don't have much experience or resources and help them investigate cold cases. I must say, it's a guilty pleasure of mine.

Anyway, in an episode towards the end of the most recent season they are looking into two murders in a town in Texas which may or may not be related. One of the murders has a myriad of suspects including a confession from a teenager. Long story short, what happened was the teenagers decided to call in a false tip in the hopes of getting a reward and were then coerced into a false confession by the cops.

Basically they used the tip line as a lottery. You might as well have a shot, right? None of the law enforcement types in the show seemed surprised at this scenario, which made me think they'd seen it before. Of course, I immediately thought of this case.

Posted by: Amanda | Dec 3, 2015 12:20:18 PM

Hard to untangle Jays web of lies. What we do need to untangle is why his testimony is even allowed in court, much less.believed by a judge and jury.
Shows that emotions and likeablity win more than elections.

Posted by: anon | Dec 3, 2015 4:18:40 PM

I don't believe that any of these kids had anything to do with this murder. I think Jay went along with whatever the cops wanted for one reason only. The cops either had some charge on Jay, threatened to pin one on him, or to pin one on someone he loved. Jay did what he needed to do to survive and that was make up any story the cops needed him to make up. That is why he has no consistent story. That is why he never will have any consistent story. Adnan was convicted by dirty cops and a dirty prosecutor. And I believe without a doubt the reason they picked Adnan to frame is simple. He is a Muslim. The prejudice in this country against Islam was bad then and 16 years later, it is worse.

Posted by: Maggie | Dec 3, 2015 5:55:20 PM

Catherine: That’s one of my leading theories.

Squatch: Agreed.

Michael: Yeah, if Jay was uninvolved, he might never have known anything. Or, like Mr S., he might have been uninvolved but known something.

Cindy: It’s tough to say whether he was protecting someone or just got caught up in his own lies.

Susan: A definite possibility.

KitKatMeow: Right. Another inconsistency.

Merian: Good thinking. Thanks for the comment.

Nero: I just mean that I don’t see any reason for Jay to lie about this. Whatever he thought back in 1999/2000, he later learned information that led to him ruling out Best Buy as the murder location.

Amanda: I saw that episode, too. Very interesting.

Maggie: It’s a distinct possibility.

Posted by: Colin | Dec 4, 2015 3:51:59 AM

If Jay didn't witness the murder then he can't know 100% where it took place. I think Jay met up with Adnan at Best Buy, but as for whether Adnan murdered Hae there it's not clear. In any case, Adnan having Hae's car and burying her in Leakin Park is enough for Jay to think that Adnan was responsible for her murder. I don't think anyone else murdered Hae for Adnan.

Similarly, Jay knows Adnan got into Hae's car, but if he wasn't there to see it, he doesn't know how or where Adnan got in, e.g. if he flagged her down or they went to her car together, whether it was in the school parking lot, outside the library, or if Adnan offered to drive etc.

15 years after the fact, SK popped up out of nowhere to ask both Jenn and Jay about the murder. With no advance prep, both of them told her point blank that Adnan was guilty and that was all there was to say. If they had hesitated, refused to speak, or used less plain language, that would suggest they had lied about their roles and knowledge. But no, they are maintaining the conspiracy against Adnan to this day. Why is that?

Posted by: BonaFide | Dec 4, 2015 10:29:00 AM

BondFide: Jenn has no direct knowledge that Adnan murder Hae. She’s relying solely on what Jay told her. In 2014, she says that she still believes Jay generally but never believed that the murder occurred at Best Buy. There’s nothing strange about that to me, and it’s the same thing that divides people who think Adnan is innocent from those who believe he’s guilty. People who think he’s guilty believe that Jay has lied about many key things in this case but that he’s telling the truth about Adnan murdering Hae. People who thinks he’s innocent believe that Jay is lying about Adnan killing Hae, just like he lied about any number of other things in the case.

Why would Jay still say in 2014 that Adnan is guilty? He entered into a plea agreement that was contingent on him telling the truth. He testified that Adnan showed him Hae’s body. Admitting that this was a lie could invalidate that plea deal.

Posted by: Colin | Dec 4, 2015 10:41:35 AM

Is there any time limitation on Jay coming clean in violation of his plea deal? And even if there was, could the court of public opinion help? If he held a press conference, said he was railroaded and now wants to make things right, could the publicity with Serial and Undisclosed provide him some protection? If Urick were to be prosecuted for misconduct and Jay testified against him, would he be given immunity for past false testimony? Since Jay has a middle class lifestyle now with wife, kids and a two-story house, I don't see him changing his story without protection from prosecution.

Posted by: JoAnn | Dec 7, 2015 7:13:54 AM

What generally happens when people get caught lying? Some people come clean, others double down. And when the getting caught part isn't definitively proven, the likelihood of doubling-down goes way up. You really have to have yourself together to come clean and tell the truth.* Assuming that Jay is in fact lying about Adnan (as opposed to, I don't know, being a giant stoner during that period of his life and having little recollection of just what went down, maybe), what possibly does he have to benefit by coming clean?**

This is totally getting away from the fact that a surprising number of people will at least halfway talk themselves into believing their own crap given a bit of time. I was certainly struck by how much verbal venom Jay directed towards Adnan. This didn't seem to be in keeping with what anyone else said about Adan, nor did it seem to advance Jay's own credibility. But if he was trying to convince himself that Adnan had it coming, well, maybe.

[This is, of course, not discussing facts at all, but merely the psychology of lying, and especially entrenched lies.]

* Or, say, have a team of advisors walking your through the process, as you sometimes see with public figures. And even so, there's usually an awful lot of doubling down before there's any admission.
** There's a lot to be said for owning your own shit, I'm not saying otherwise, but have we seen anything from Jay that would give the impression he's there yet?

Posted by: Catherine Kehl | Dec 7, 2015 6:51:50 PM

Hi Evidence Prof, is there any way of finding out if the police did get hold of security camera film footage of Best Buy car park for January 13?

Posted by: samarkandy | Dec 7, 2015 8:45:18 PM

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