Category Archives: Case Updates

Adnan Syed Returned to Court Wednesday for Post Conviction Hearing

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Last Wednesday, February 3, the subject of the popular podcast “Serial,” Adnan Syed, is finally getting another day in court, sort of. The man, now 35, began his post conviction hearing with his new attorney Justin Brown able to present new evidence including uncalled alibi witnesses and updated information regarding the cell phone tower data.

Whether you believe that Syed is guilty or innocent, what can’t be argued is that Syed never got a fair trial back in 1999 when he was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Syed was only 17 when he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He is now 35 but over the course of podcasts “Serial” and “Undisclosed” many issues were raised especially regarding the quality of the trial and evidence presented against him.

One of the shocking bits uncovered in both podcast’s investigations was just how ineffective Syed’s lawyer acted. The late Cristina Gutierrez reportedly was handling too many cases at the same as Syed’s, was barely in the country, never followed up on calling alibi witnesses (at least two of them) and had many of her unqualified legal assistants do much of her work and interviews with Syed. It was later found out that she had MS diagnosed a few years after Syed’s case was over and that the effects of that disease could have been bothering her during much of the trial. She was also disbarred in 2000 for defrauding hundreds of clients.

After all the evidence came to light along with much doubt about the officers and investigators who handled the case, the the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued an order directed the case to a lower court for a post conviction hearing. Primarily so the testimony of one of the alibi witnesses, Asia McClain, could be added to the record and prove that Syed had ineffective assistance of counsel. After his initial conviction in 1999, McClain, another high school classmate, wrote him letters in jail, saying she had seen him in the library around the same time Lee was killed. She also offered to talk to investigators and lawyers for him however she was never contacted by anyone despite Gutierrez knowing of her.

Then in November 2015, Retired Circuit Court Judge Martin P. Welch granted Syed’s request to introduce the alibi witness testimony. He also agreed to hear new evidence regarding the famed cell tower records that were later claimed to be unreliable, according to the carrier, saying it would “be in the interests of justice.” In the initial trial, the prosecution claimed that the cell tower records put Syed in the area where Lee was buried but they left out a fax cover sheet sent from the carrier that stated incoming calls were not reliable for determining location. The prosecutions testing methods were also faulty and could not be relied upon for determining locations matching Syed’s cell phone. The evidence goes on and on. Judge Welch will hear all of it before determining whether Syed will get a new trial.

Currently, Syed and his new attorney, Brown, are working hard to factor in all the things that went wrong in his first trial and especially arguing that Gutierrez, who died in 2004, violated his Sixth Amendment right to due process by failing to call McClain to testify.

Brown is also expected to try and prove the cellphone records were not reliable and should never have been used as evidence against him. In a hearing last summer, Brown presented the fax cover sheet  which outright states “Outgoing calls only are reliable for location status. Any incoming calls will NOT be considered reliable information for location” yet Incoming calls were used as part of the evidence in trial without the sheet being presented alongside it.

However, it is not all good news. According to a recent 34-page court document filed by the attorney general’s office shows the state plans to call in experts to rebut the defense’s claims of ineffective counsel and unreliable cellphone evidence. The state may also call former members of Syed’s defense team, as well as the original homicide detectives and the original prosecutor, Kevin Urick.

After the evidence is presented, Syed’s future will be determined by Judge Welch. He could issue an oral ruling as early as Friday which would decide whether Syed would get a new trial or not. However, it could also take weeks or months. If Syed is granted a new trial, the state will likely appeal and Syed could be stuck in this process for months – even years, should the court take its time.

Robert Durst Pleads Guilty on Gun Charges – Heads Towards Murder Charge Next

Real estate heir Robert Durst appears in a criminal courtroom for his trial on charges of trespassing on property owned by his estranged family, in New York  December 10, 2014 Durst, who was questioned about but never charged with several mysterious deaths and disappearances, is accused of violating the terms of a restraining order to keep away from relatives, including his brother, Durst Organization President Douglas Durst, in June 2013.  REUTERS/Mike Segar   (UNITED STATES - Tags: REAL ESTATE BUSINESS CRIME LAW SOCIETY) - RTR4HI32
Dear God don’t look into his eyes! Those black… soulless… eyes…

Robert Durst, crazy man, murderer, and now officially possessor of an illegal firearm. The real estate heir and man with WAY too much money plead guilty in New Orleans court to the felony charge. He will serve 85 months in federal prison. BUT WAIT! There’s more. He will also be transferred by the summer to Los Angeles to likely stand trial on charges of murdering his friend and confidante Susan Berman.

After his conviction for the firearm charge, Los Angeles County reached an agreement in December with U.S. attorneys in Louisiana that Durst would be transferred in to Los Angeles by August to be arraigned on those murder charges. He’ll serve his time at FCI Terminal Island, a low-security prison near Los Angeles.

Durst was originally arrested at a Marriott in Louisiana in April with a bag full of fascinating carry-ons, including a latex mask, a map of Florida and Cuba, some marijuana, a passport, a fake Texas ID, and $45,000, with a package slip that showed he was expecting $117,000 more.

He was reportedly on the run after fearing he could be arrested once more in suspicion for committing the murder of Berman.

This will be the third time that Durst is under suspicion for murder. He is still considered the person who behind the disappearance and likely death of his first wife Kathy Durst, who to this day has never been found. He was tried in the murder of his neighbor Morris Black where he was ultimately acquitted of the murder but found guilty of the dismemberment.

If the murder case of Susan Berman against Durst goes to trial, his previous involvement in the case of Kathy Durst and Morris Black will likely come up. Hopefully the shocking final moments of the HBO documentary The Jinx will come up as well when he was heard to mutter, “What did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Reporter Who Covered the Case Talks What Making a Murderer Leaves Out

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One of the reporters who originally covered the Steven Avery case has begun speaking out about the now famed documentary from Netflix, “Making a Murder.” Angenette Levy, a reporter for WFRV-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin, has spoken to news outlets recently about what the documentary left out and the reality of the trial that she covered.

“This was an important story, people’s lives and liberties were at stake…You wanted to make sure you were getting it right and asking the tough questions.”

First and foremost, Levy hasn’t commented on whether she thinks Avery is innocent or guilty but she does have very intense thoughts about her timing covering the trial. Below is an interview Levy recently gave to Elle.com.

In ‘Making a Murderer’ you stand out as someone asking the tough questions—of both the defense and the prosecution—during press conferences. People have certainly responded positively to your skepticism during those scenes. What was it like to cover the case as it was happening?

When evidence started to come in, particularly with that bullet fragment and contamination of control samples…We had heard about the bullet in a prior court hearing the summer before—the prosecutor had discussed it in a motion hearing, the fact that there was Teresa Halbach’s DNA found on the bullet fragment—and once the trial started, you know, we had never heard there was an issue of contamination of control samples in the crime lab. So I was really shocked to hear about that, that it was allowed into evidence after the typical protocol of the lab was that it should be ruled inconclusive. That surprised me quite a bit, so I had a lot of questions about that. I just always have a lot of questions. I always wanted to know as much information as I could, just because I wanted to know what really happened that day. What was the evidence that pointed to Steven Avery? The bones that were found in the burn pit, because it wasn’t photographed when it was first discovered, they couldn’t definitively say that it was the primary burn site. Those are things you didn’t know about prior to the trial, and you kind of think to yourself, ‘Wow, what’s going on here?’ It’s our job to ask tough questions of both sides and get the answers and you want to make sure you’re reporting everything properly.

What were some challenges you came up against when covering the trials of both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey?

The whole thing was challenging. Everyone was scrambling to get every little story and every interview they could, and you couldn’t get people to talk to you a lot of the time. Information came through court documents. There was always a challenge in just getting interviews, finding out information. They’re not going to show you all the evidence that they have right up front. It was an important case, you wanted to make sure you were getting it right, exploring all the avenues and things that were being brought up. Steven Avery kept claiming he was being framed, so obviously you have to look into that and ask questions to figure it out. Not that it’s our job to determine that, because it’s not, but you have to keep that in mind. So we reported his claims that he was being framed, which he said from day one.

How do you think the media in general—especially prime time television news—covered the case? The documentary uses news clips that seem to say both Avery and Dassey were guilty before their trials even began…

There was a lot of coverage. It seemed like you couldn’t turn on the television or read a newspaper without seeing something about the case. Even the most insignificant pre-trial motions would be reported on by the media. In the very beginning, when they charged Steven Avery, I think everyone was like, Whoa, this is crazy. This seems insane that somebody who was going to potentially be awarded millions of dollars would murder someone. Why would that happen?

So I always wanted to know from the very beginning, what really happened? It was just so weird, the fact that his blood was in her vehicle. It boggles your mind that a person, who’s probably going to get all this money from a lawsuit, and then you just kill somebody? You always think about these things…Did someone else do it on the property and he helped clean up? Who knows. Steven knew how to do time in prison, he’d been there for 18 years, so was he taking the fall for somebody else? All these things kind of go through your mind. I think what changed was when Brendan Dassey was arrested. The press conference that the prosecutor held, that changed everything. We were all sitting there absolutely stunned. You can imagine what it was like sitting in a room listening to this story that he told, a horror story, it was really shocking. That really changed everything in the case. A lot of people in the general public then thought he was guilty.

The audience is left frustrated because the documentary makes clear Brendan Dassey has a learning disability, and portrays just how easily the criminal justice system can take advantage of young, uneducated people. Do you think the media did a good job of getting this point across during the trials?

We did report at the time that Brendan had a learning disability. I interviewed his mother the night he was arrested. I kind of stumbled upon her; I was knocking on doors and she granted me an interview. I felt very badly for her. She had told me Brendan had a learning disability, saying things like, ‘He just does what he’s told.’ I know we reported it in the media, I just don’t know how much weight people gave to that. I always felt very, very sad about Brendan Dassey’s fate. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t have the money, and neither did his mother to get a really high-powered defense attorney like Steven Avery had. And I think you see that inequity in the documentary. I’ve never heard of a defense investigator coercing a client like that. You see how disturbing it was, what happened to him through this process.

How do you think national news media coverage can improve when it comes to criminal cases?

They need to not focus on the sensational. Instead, focus on trying to get the facts, the truth. You have to be circumspect and you have to show restraint sometimes in what you report. I don’t think that every little tidbit has to be out there. You have to try and be fair. You have to be responsible in the information you disseminate, but at the same time you want to have an informed public. You want to do your job, but you have to balance that with not being prejudicial. It’s a balancing act for sure.

Do you feel like the documentary presents is balanced and fair? Does what we experience, as an audience, reflect your experience of actually being there?

I think it’s very clear that the documentarians had a lot of access to the Avery family. We didn’t have that access. I wish we had had access to them, because I always wanted to talk to them more, but they typically didn’t want anything to do with us. So I enjoyed seeing that part. We obviously didn’t have access to the defense team during the trial, either. Their main character in the story is Steven Avery, so I think you’re going to see more of that side of it than you will the other side. [Avery] is the character through which you are looking at the criminal justice system, you’re going to see more of that, and that’s natural. There are some things [in the documentary] that weren’t included, but you can’t fit everything from an eight-week trial into a 10-hour documentary. There were some things in the trail, for example, that did point to Steven Avery. There was some evidence about the garage floor lit up with luminol. [Editor’s note: Forensic investigators use luminol, which reacts with the iron in hemoglobin, to detect trace amounts of blood at crime scenes.] But there was never any blood found in the garage, either. So I guess there are other substances that react with luminol and light up underneath it. [Editor’s note: Luminol can also be triggered by copper, excessive cigarette smoke, horseradish sauce, fecal matter, and certain bleaches.] Steven Avery had requested Teresa Halbach that day. I know that really intrigued a lot of people during the trial, that he specifically requested her and that he had a *67 feature on his phone to hide his number. So, I think that interested people.

How do you feel about the attention you’ve received since the release of Making a Murderer?

It’s kind of strange. I had no idea I was going to be in this documentary…People ask, Why didn’t you ask this or why didn’t you ask that? And I just think to myself, I probably did. It’s not like they’re going to put every question in the documentary. But, then sometimes I think, Maybe we didn’t ask enough questions. Maybe we needed to ask more. But it’s hard. Sometimes you do ask the question, but you don’t get an answer.

Steven Avery’s Ex Fiance Speaks Out – Claims Avery is Guilty

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The Netflix documentary series, “Making a Murder” has caused an uproar all over the internet and the United States but despite the fact the it depicts events from a decade ago, the major players are starting to speak out. The doc follows Steven Avery, a man convicted of a murder he may not have committed.

Jodi Stanchowski, who you may remember from the doc for her undying love for Steven Avery and her bitchin’ Ski Doo jacket, has now made several startling claims about whether her ex-fiance is guilty or innocent.

In the doc, Jodi is often seen sweet talking with Avery on the phone, visiting him, attending his court dates, and being all around completely supportive. All this changes, however, when she is given a do not contact order and then (after violating it several times) she is pretty much forced into keeping her life together or supporting Avery and the two break up for good.

Now, Jodi has spoken out since the doc has become talk of the entire US. She is accusing Avery of being both physicially abusive as well as threatening murder, and using intimidation to coerce her to appearing as supporting and loving as she did on screen. She also mentions that Avery felt he could get away with anything and that he was “owed” something more since his 18 years behind bars for the rape he didn’t commit.

Jodi insists that their two year relationship was everything but loving and butterflies. During their time together, she claims domestic abuse was a very common occurrence and that at least once Avery threatened to murder her and her entire family.

Unfortunately for both Avery and Jodi, she was in was in jail for DUI on the day of Teresa Halbach’s death. However, as the records show the two talked on the phone that day. In the doc she says that when he called he didn’t sound suspicious or rushed but now she is claiming that her words were a lie and that after being with him for so long she could hear in voice something was off.

Jodi also adds that he called her from jail the day she was scheduled to be interviewed for Making a Murderer, threatening physical harm if she failed to “make him look good.” When the creators of the doc reached out to her last year, she supposedly told them everything she said in her first interview was a lie, and asked to be removed from the narrative completely. She declined to be interviewed a second time, but her original interview, of course, remained in the series.

Whether Jodi is telling the truth now or before during the making of the doc, its interesting at least.