Monday, May 8, 2017
Would Asia's Testimony Have Magnified or Minimized the Flaws in the State's Case Against Adnan Syed?
Was Adnan Syed prejudiced by Cristina Gutierrez's failure to contact alibi witness Asia McClain? Judge Welch answered this question in the negative in his opinion granting Adnan a new trial on his cell tower claim. In that opinion, however, Judge Welch noted a first flaw in the State's case: "the State presented a relatively weak theory as to the time of the murder because the State relied upon inconsistent facts to support its theory." Specifically, Jay testified that he got the "come and get me" call after 3:45 P.M. while the State argued in closing that the "come and get me" call occurred at 2:36 P.M., after Adnan had killed Hae at Best Buy.
In its Reply Brief and Appendix of Cross-Appellee, the State has now identified a second flaw in the State's case:
Of course, the State's claim is that Asia's testimony actually "resolves the flaw Gutierrez intended to exploit. Meanwhile, the defense's claim is that these two flaws mean that the State's case was already weak and that there's a reasonable probability that there would have been a different outcome if Asia had testified at trial. So, who is right?
Let's start with Inez Butler's actual testimony at trial:
So, according to Inez, when she saw Hae between 2:15 and 2:20 P.M., Hae was in such a hurry that she rushed up to the concession stand to get her items and didn't even have time to pay for them. Meanwhile, Asia testified that she left Adnan behind in the library at about 2:40 P.M. If the jury believed Inez Butler's testimony, then Asia's testimony would have been hugely helpful to the defense case. Under this timeline, Hae leaves Woodlawn between about 2:20 and 2:25 P.M., which is 15-20 minutes before Asia leaves Adnan behind in the library.
This also coheres with the timeline that Becky gave at trial:
So, this paints a pretty clear picture: (1) school ends at 2:15 P.M.; (2) Becky sees Hae "a few seconds after class lets out," with Hae saying she has to leave and heading in the direction of her car; (3) Hae drives over to the concession stand between 2:15 and 2:20 P.M., runs up to the stand, buys some items, and tells Inez that she'll pay later because she's in a hurry to leave; and (4) Hae presumably leaves Woodlawn between 2:20 and 2:25 P.M.
Now, I suppose the State would claim that, in between (3) and (4), Hae stopped by the library to pick up Adnan. But this timeline seems fundamentally inconsistent with the testimony by Inez and Becky. Both Inez and Becky said that Hae was in a terrible hurry on January 13th, so how does it make any sense that Hae pulled away from the concession stand between 2:20 and 2:25 P.M. and then waited outside the library for another 15-20 minutes until Adnan was done talking to Asia? I suppose anything is possible, but it seems like jurors would a real issue with the alleged sequence of events.
And, of course, if Adnan was talking with Asia until 2:40 P.M., he couldn't have made a 2:36 P.M. "come and get me" call. Combine that with Judge Welch's conclusion that the 3:15 P.M. call couldn't have been the "come and get me" call, and it means that there would have been no viable "come and get me" call at trial. This certainly seems like enough to undermine our confidence in the jury's verdict, which is the test for prejudice.
How about if the jury believed Debbie? Let's again turn to Debbie's actual testimony:
The first obvious problem for the prosecution is that Debbie has Hae telling her she's going to see Don at the mall, which doesn't help the State to prove that Adnan got a ride from Haw and then killed her. The second problem is that the State tried very hard to convince the jury that Hae was supposed to pick up her cousin at Campfield at 3:00 P.M. or even earlier. From their opening statement:
And from their closing statement:
So, if the jury went with the Debbie timeline, this would create a real issue. Debbie says she saw Hae at about 3:00 P.M. and talked to her for some period of time. So, under this timeline, by the time Hae is done talking to Debbie and has walked to her car, she's already late for the cousin pickup. Moreover, even if we say that the cousin pickup was at 3:15 P.M., Hae will have to drive directly to Campfield to have any shot of making it on time (and she'd still probably be late).
What, then, would be the State's theory? Hae and Adnan had prearranged for Hae to drive Adnan to Best Buy after 3:00 P.M., even though it would make Hae late in picking up her cousin? Or, Adnan flagged down Hae after she talked to Debbie and got her to give him a ride to Best Buy, even though she was already late or about to be late in picking up her cousin? Neither of these scenarios seem to make much sense.
Also, again, this timeline means that a 2:36 P.M. "come and get me" call is out the window. It also means that the State's newly proposed 3:15 P.M. "come and get me" call might be impossible and not merely implausible.
In the end, then, how will the Court of Special Appeals rule? The State is arguing that, while there were two flaws in the State's case at trial, Asia's testimony actually would have helped the State resolve the second flaw, meaning there was no prejudice. The defense is contending that Asia's testimony would have magnified both of those flaws. Pretty soon, it will be up to the Court of Special Appeals to decide which side is right.