Natasha Vargas-Cooper of The Intercept somehow secured an interview with Jay, the most important witness in the Hae Min Lee murder, as chronicled on the podcast Serial.
Back in 1999, Jay’s story not only changed between police interviews, but it changed between the first and second trial. It also differed from accounts given by friends of Jay. Not surprisingly, Jay’s story 15 years later is even different from all of those.
1. When Jay Had Adnan’s Car
At the police interview and throughout the trial, Jay claimed that he and Adnan were together most of the day:
Jay said he didn’t take it too seriously. The cops have him start again from the top. On the morning of the 13th, Jay says, Adnan had left school and driven to Jay’s house. Jay had graduated from school the year before and was working, but not on that day. January 13 happens to be the birthday of Jay’s girlfriend, Stephanie. And Jay, who didn’t have his own car, needed to go buy something for her. So Adnan comes over. According to Jay, they go shopping at the mall.
When did you do that?
We left the mall. I took him to school. I dropped him off in the back of the school. He went up to class. He left his cell phone in the car with me, told me he’d call me. I went back to my friend Jenn’s house and waited for him to call.
OK, now at this point, you know why he’s leaving the car with you.
And why is that?
Because he said he was going to kill Hae.
And the reason you have the car and the cell phone was why?
To pick him up from wherever he was going to do this at.
For what it’s worth (which might not be much), the cell tower evidence supports the notion that Adnan’s phone was out and about that day. Whether Adnan was with his phone, we don’t know. But there are a few things we can glean from Jay’s initial version of events:
- Jay and Adnan were together throughout the day, in Jay’s car;
- When Jay left Adnan at school, Jay knew that Adnan planned to kill Hae;
- When Adnan called at the end of the day, Jay knew that Adnan was calling because he’d killed Hae.
In this new interview, most of that is absent. The framework of the story is sort of the same: Jay borrows Adnan’s car so he (Jay) can get a gift for Stephanie’s birthday. Adnan gives Jay his (Adnan’s) cell phone, and Adnan will call later. But as with the many iterations of Jay’s account of that day, the details of what happened where, when, and with whom, are different.
Instead of Jay and Adnan being together throughout the day, they’re together only during the last period of school. Adnan tells Jay that he’s ditching last period because he has to “go do something.” Jay doesn’t know what it is. Then, when Adnan calls, Jay doesn’t know why he’s calling, other than that he wants to be picked up.
The difference is that Jay has much less culpability in the most recent version of events. Back in 1999, when Jay spoke to the police, his story was that Adnan had basically filled him in on the details of the murder, which was planned ahead of time. Jay’s under no obligation to go to the authorities (misprision of felony isn’t a crime anymore), but his continued participation makes him some kind of accomplice from that point on. In this recent version of events, Jay’s surprised by what happened; he doesn’t have all day to decide whether he wants to keep participating.
2. The Cars
Back in 1999, Jay told the police that he picked Adnan up at Best Buy. Adnan was there with Hae’s car, and it was there that Adnan showed Jay Hae’s body, in the trunk. Then:
They leave the parking lot. Adnan’s driving Hae’s car with her body in the trunk. Jay’s driving Adnan’s car. They ditch Hae’s car at the I-70 Park and Ride. And then, to hear Jay tell it, they just kind of tool around Baltimore County together for a while as if nothing had happened — buy some weed, cruise around, make some calls. After a while, Jay drives Adnan back to Woodlawn High School.
Again, Jay’s account of what happened when, and with whom, is radically different. In the new version of his story, Jay isn’t shown Hae’s body at the Best Buy. In fact, he never sees the car there. He picks Jay up and they drive to Cathy’s house to smoke. No mention of driving Adnan back to school; track practice disappears from the story. This is the 1999 version of that day:
After track practice, Jay picks Adnan up again. They drive around some more. By this time, Hae’s family was worried, and they’d called the police, who in turn called a couple of Hae’s friends, including Adnan.
The call comes in on his cell. The cops ask if he’s seen Hae or knows where she is. Jay says after the call, they drive to Jay’s to get some shovels, go retrieve Hae’s car from the park and ride. They drive around some more and finally end up at Leakin Park, where Adnan proceeds to bury Hae. It’s evening by now, maybe 7:00 or 8:00 PM.
The new version of events happens like this: at Cathy’s house, Adnan gets a call from the police. Jay says they have to “part ways.” Jay doesn’t remember how he got home; it could have been Adnan, or it could have been someone else. Adnan calls him again from outside Jay’s house; this time, he’s driving Hae’s car. It’s in the driveway of his grandmother’s house, Jay says, that he first sees Hae’s body in the trunk.
Adnan coerces Jay into helping him bury the body. Many of us who listened to Serial rolled our eyes at the idea that a small-time weed dealer like Jay could really be cajoled into helping cover up a murder based on Adnan threatening to go the police. After all, being an accomplice to murder is worse than small-time weed dealing, right? Except that in this new story, Jay says it’s a big deal. Police were really enforcing the law, and he says he saw weed dealers more small-time than him get 3-5 years in prison.
So, for what it’s worth, Jay thinks that’s a severe enough threat to help Adnan bury the body. Except not yet. As told to The Intercept, Adnan leaves Jay’s house then comes back “several hours later.” They go to Leakin Park, where Jay helps Adnan dig a hole with gardening tools. Jay refuses to help move the body, so Adnan tells him to drive them back to Hae’s car, which is parked “around a corner, up a hill … in a strange neighborhood.” Adnan drives Hae’s car to the burial site, Jay follows him halfway in Adnan’s car, and then Adnan finishes burying the body.
Naturally, this version of the story also makes Jay less culpable. When he talked to police in 1999, he said both of them helped bury Hae. In this version of events, Jay is reluctant to participate even to the limited extent he did.
3. The Police
Finally, in the recent interview, Jay claims that he “stonewalled [the police]” and didn’t cooperate until it was clear they weren’t interested in his pot dealing. That’s a marked contrast to the events of 1999, in which the police call Jenn first, and then Jay tells her to “send [the police] his way.” Two days after police contact Jenn, they’re interviewing Jay.
That doesn’t sound like the police “had to chase [him] around.” Jay’s current story also contradicts Jenn’s story at trial; it’s not clear, but it seems that he says now that he didn’t know Jenn talked to the police:
“They had to chase me around before they could corner me to talk to me, and there came a point where I was just sick of talking to them. And they wouldn’t stop interviewing me or questioning me. I wasn’t fully cooperating, so if they said, ‘Well, we have on phone records that you talked to Jenn.’ I’d say, ‘Nope, I didn’t talk to Jenn.’ Until Jenn told me that she talked with the cops and that it was ok if I did too.”
Jenn’s account, however, is that immediately after the police called her, she went down to the porn store where Jay worked and told him the police called her. That’s when Jay advised her to do whatever she could to stave them off and “send them his way.” So, back in 1999, Jay knew the police talked to Jenn first. Now, though, he implies that he didn’t know they talked to Jenn until Jenn told him after he had already been questioned by them to some degree. This part is admittedly a little stickier because this information comes from Jenn and we don’t know how long police talked to Jay off the record before they started tape recording (probably a few hours).
This new account is consistent — with something. It’s consistent with Jay’s new concern that he not be seen as a snitch. By “stonewalling” the police, and making it clear that he wasn’t going to give up information about his small-time drug operation, he’s confirming to the world that he wasn’t a snitch and only talked to the police after they harassed him for a while. His earlier story, in which he talked to the police two days after they called Jenn, makes him sound like much more eager and willing witness.
Ultimately, Not a Big Deal
We already knew Jay was making stuff up. His stories have changed so much from the initial interview to the second trial that we can’t be sure what’s real and what isn’t. Jay’s friends from high school confirmed that Jay had a tendency to make things up. The thrust of this most recent interview, however, is to alter the facts in a particular direction — to make Jay seem like more of an unwilling, coerced accomplice than he ever was before.