5 key findings from Undisclosed that Serial missed
Fans of Serial didn’t get what they expected when Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed launched this past spring. There was no production value of a This American Life podcast, no soothing sound of host Sarah Koenig’s voice, and not even a mispronunciation of the MailChimp ad. Instead, listeners were met with a no-frills delivery of facts and unearthed evidence from three attorneys: Rabia Chaudry, a fellow with the New America Foundation and family friend of Syed’s who initially brought the case to Koenig’s attention; Susan Simpson, an associate at a Washington D.C. law firm; and Colin Miller, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
It’s hard to ignore the bias that comes with the bi-weekly podcast: it’s financed by the Adnan Syed Trust, a legal fund created to fight to overturn the conviction of the Woodlawn High School student accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, on Jan. 13, 1999. But despite that vantage point, what Undisclosed has discovered since the days Serial signed off the air has been fascinating. For what they lack in Koenig’s knack for storytelling, the trio of hosts’ extensive knowledge of, and sources within, the courts system has delivered a number of discoveries that could potentially help the case. Case in point: Syed’s attorney filed a new court motion Monday morning arguing that cell phone evidence used in the trial was unreliable and should have been tossed.
To recap: Syed was convicted of murder in 2000 and is currently serving a life sentence in Maryland. Though the prosecution offered no physical evidence or eyewitnesses that connected Syed to the crime, the State largely relied on the testimony of acquaintance Jay Wilds to corroborate with cell phone tower records. Wilds, who borrowed Syed’s phone and car for a portion of the day in question, said he helped Syed bury Lee’s body and eventually led cops to her car. His involvement in the case, namely the inconsistencies in his statements to police and testimony on the witness stand, has been a hot topic of debate.
EW has listened to over 14 hours of the podcast to highlight the top key findings that would heighten the interest of fans of Serial.
1. There was no wrestling match
Asia McClain may still be Syed’s ticket to freedom. On the premise that attorney Christina Gutierrez gave him ineffective counsel – failure to interview McClain as a potential witness and not looking into the possibility of a plea bargain – Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals recently gave Syed permission to reopen his appeal. However the former classmate’s claim that she was with Syed at the library until 2:40 p.m. seemingly didn’t help his alibi when Serial talked to Lee’s co-manager on the wrestling team, Summer, who recalled talking to Hae until around 2:50 or 3 p.m. about attending the Randallstown wrestling match that night. But, Undisclosed learned that Woodlawn High School didn’t have a wrestling match on Jan. 13 and that the Randallstown match was held the previous week. This means Summer’s recollection of the date is inaccurate, and Becky, a mutual friend of both Syed and Lee, would have been the last person to see Lee alive when she was heading to her car after school at 2:15 p.m.
2. Medical evidence is inconsistent with Hae’s burial
First, the facts: When a person dies, the heart stops pumping and blood begins to settle into the tissues in the lowest portion of the body, a process known as lividity or livor mortis. Lividity begins to take effect a couple of hours after death and generally becomes fully fixed about eight to 12 hours postmortem.
Now, the case: The State claimed Syed killed Lee by 2:36 p.m., placed her body in the trunk of her Nissan Sentra, removed her four to five hours later, and buried her in the 7 p.m. hour. On Feb. 9, Lee was found buried on her right side in Leakin Park. If her body was contorted for four to five hours after death, Lee should have displayed some lividity on her side. But according to the autopsy report, lividity was “present and fixed on the anterior surface of the body, except in areas exposed to pressure.” Several medical experts who viewed the report provided by Undisclosed said Hae’s lividity indicates that she was placed face down and stretched out soon after her death and remained in that position for at least eight to 12 hours before being buried.
3. The cell phone tower pings mean nothing
If Gutierrez had paid closer attention to an AT&T cover sheet that included information about the cell phone towers pinged by Adnan’s phone on Jan. 13, the trial may have ended differently. The cover sheets stated, “outgoing calls only are reliable for location status. Any incoming calls will NOT be considered reliable information for location.” One of the reasons for this disclaimer was due to a glitch with AT&T at the time, which had incoming calls ping the tower near the person making the call rather than the person on the receiving end. The two key phone calls in the case, at 7:09 p.m. and 7:16 p.m., pinged the tower that covers Leakin Park and the surrounding areas. The State claimed the pings from those calls placed Syed in the park, where he allegedly buried Hae. However both of those calls were incoming calls, thus making it impossible to determine the location status. According to Syed’s current attorney, C. Justin Brown, the fax cover sheet was included in Gutierrez’s file, but she “simply failed to act on it.”
4. The tapping
The stark difference between the first interview that Wilds, the prosecution’s star witness, had with police and his subsequent meetings is puzzling. How did his initial recollection of a trip to McDonald’s turn into a visit to a friend’s house by the second interview? Audio of the interviews, obtained by Undisclosed, may provide better answers. Several times during the meetings, Wilds seems to transpose events in his narrative or pause for significant periods of time. It is during these moments when a tapping sound is heard and Wilds then corrects his statement or suddenly remembers an answer, followed by an apology to the detectives. “There’s a ‘tap tap,’ and then Jay says, ‘Oh, okay’,” Simpson explains in one episode. “And suddenly a moment later — he knows the answer.” According to Undisclosed, the tapping infers that the detectives were doing so in an attempt to guide Wilds to what they believed to be the correct answer.
(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t listened to episode 10, you may want to stop reading)
5. Who was the anonymous tipster?
First, the facts: there was a CrimeStoppers reward of $3,075 being offered in the case. An indictment typically triggers recovery of the reward. The lead detective on the case would usually report the indictment to CrimeStoppers by the first of the next month, leading to payment of the reward by the following month.
Now, the case: Undisclosed claims Wilds may have wanted the reward money to buy a motorcyle – something police may have known, too. To better understand this, we need to look back at Feb. 12, when someone supposedly made two anonymous calls to Detective Massey, telling him to look into Lee’s ex-boyfriend. This tip allegedly led cops to focus on Syed. On March 18, Wilds went on a ride-along with Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary, retracing his alleged movements on Jan. 13. According to Undisclosed, there are notations in the ride-along notes about a Mr. Brown and a particular type of Suzuki motorcycle that has 9,000 miles. At the end of the notes, the word “REWARD” is written in all caps. Mr. Brown turned out to be Karl Brown, the only person out of the nearly 20 school faculty and staff members interviewed by cops that had no connection to both Syed and Lee. Brown was Wilds’ soccer coach, and he was in the process of trying to sell his Suzuki RF600. In the detectives’ interview itinerary were two Kelley Blue Book printouts for two Suzuki motorcycle models, as they presumably did not know which model Brown had for sale. Based on standard depreciation calculations, its expected resale value was approximately $3,000. However when reached by Undisclosed, Brown said he had sold the motorcycle to someone else.
On April 13, Syed was indicted. This should have triggered the recovery of the CrimeStoppers reward, but it didn’t. Fast forward to Sept. 7, when the lead prosecutor, Kevin Urick, allegedly set up a meeting between Wilds and attorney Anne Benaroya, who agreed to represent him pro bono, and hashed out a plea deal that same day that ultimately resulted in Wilds’ getting no prison time after testifying against Syed at trial. Undisclosed learned that the full $3,075 reward was paid out to the tipster on Nov. 1. Though nothing can be confirmed until the tipster’s identity is revealed, the podcast believes all signs point to Wilds being the person who made the CrimeStoppers tip. Anyone else could have presumably recovered the reward money by June since the indictment occurred two months prior. The hosts imply that the Nov. 1 payment on the tip could mean the detectives were waiting for Wilds’ plea deal before reporting the indictment to CrimeStoppers based on the fear of Wilds backing out of the case after getting the reward. They claim it could be possible that Wilds was interested in the reward money to buy Brown’s motorcycle, even though it was ultimately sold to someone else. If the tipster does turn out to be Wilds, the failure to disclose this information would be a Constitutional violation that would lead to a new trial.
Undisclosed, which premiered in April, has a handful of episodes, plus bonus clips, left in its current season. The podcast will focus on a new case when it returns for its second season.