When the Serial podcast premiered in October of 2014, many listeners were shocked to find that almost the entirety of the prosecution’s case to convict Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee hinged on the testimony of one witness—Jay Wilds. Consequently, Wilds is a looming figure in Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder’s reporting about the trial.
Though Wilds’ testimony seemed to have been trusted implicitly by Syed’s jury, the Serial podcast shining a light on the key details of Wilds’ claims led many listeners to believe Wilds was not exactly truthful and that even the slightest bit of questioning could have unraveled his story. And Wilds was also a professed accomplice to Syed’s crime, which further complicated his role as the prosecution’s sole witness.
Though Wilds didn’t participate in Serial, he did conduct a three-part interview with The Intercept’s Natasha Vargas-Cooper, and attorney Rabia Chaudry (also Syed’s childhood friend) launched the Undisclosed podcast, both of which add layers to the mystery enshrouding Wilds’ testimony. Here’s everything we know about Jay Wilds before the premiere of HBO’s documentary series, The Case Against Adnan Syed.
How did police come to find Jay Wilds?
Baltimore police were already focusing their investigation on Syed after an anonymous tip told them to look at Lee’s ex. They were granted Syed’s cell phone call records and then looked at two recipients of calls from Syed’s phone: Jennifer Pusateri and Wilds. Pusateri’s first statement to the cops said that she’d gotten a call from Wilds on Syed’s phone, while a later statement included information that Wilds had confessed to her that he’d helped Syed bury Lee, though the police may have already been looking at him as an accomplice before they’d even spoken to Pusateri, and also bringing him him for questioning.
Because Pusateri’s testimony corroborated Wilds’ (and also changed over time), many listeners came to believe that Pusateri also knew more (or less?) than she was letting on. But because of the specifics Wilds included in his testimony — the Best Buy location that supposedly matches with call logs, strangling, the whereabouts of Lee’s car — there wasn’t much doubt Wilds was somehow involved, even if just peripherally. That’s led to some wild and totally unproven ideas on reddit, notably that Adnan hired Jay as a kind of hitman.
The reason I think @BaltimorePolice knew Jay/Jenn were lying (and were ok with it) is b/c they didn’t try to find shovels till weeks later
This fell on my heart just now: I want to put a prayer up for #JayWilds. I feel like he has the power to end this. My prayer is that he finds a way to express whatever else he knows and that he not be lead stray by any form of intimidation in order to do so.
Why does it matter that Wilds was meeting with the cops?
According to Susan Simpson, another lawyer working on the Undisclosed podcast, the official recorded interviews between Wilds and the police reveal some strange auditory clues to why the police would lie about the date they began questioning Wilds. According to Simpson, whenever Wilds can’t recall a detail or pauses for a long period before answering a question, there can be heard a series of taps, after which Wilds always miraculously comes up with the right answer. At times he even apologizes, as though he were trained to say something specifically and had forgotten.
If Wilds were meeting with the cops before this official interview, it’s completely possible he would have been coached, as Simpson suggests. There’s also the added fact that Wilds’ boss at the time told people Wilds had to leave work several times to talk with the police before the date of that official interview. The taps on the recording, some have decided, may have been the sound of someone writing pen to paper very quickly on a hard surface, or just a little physical cue that Wilds needed to come up with the right answer fast. No one is quite sure what they are, but the timing of the taps on the recording seems suspicious.
Then there is of the glaring lie that the state’s witness Jay told the police everything they needed to know the 1st time they met. In fact he had a meeting with them for weeks. Yes the serial team had these documents and did not report this. pic.twitter.com/46kbjMwgPX
Why might Wilds have lied for the cops?
Well, according to Chaudra, Wilds’ attorney told her that the prosecutors threatened him by promising to prosecute him in a predominantly white county, and Wilds, who is black, was frightened enough to do what he was told. Wilds was also an adult who sold marijuana to high school kids, which made him vulnerable. “I was also running [drug] operations from my grandmother’s house. So that would ruin her life too,” Wilds told Vargas-Cooper. “I was also around a bunch of people earlier the day [at Cathy’s], and I didn’t want them to get fucked up with homicide.”
Wilds also makes clear in the interview that Baltimore isn’t the place where one who ran afoul with the law wanted to get hooked by the cops or work with them — both options were not good.
Don’s manager had confirmed to the cops he was at work that day. But his manager was his mom. And Jay’s attorney from that time told me in an email that the prosecutor had threatened him, a black kid, with prosecuting him in Balt county, a white county & with the death penalty
What exactly did Jay Wilds do to help Adnan Syed?
The way Wilds tells it, Syed pressured him to help dispose of Lee’s body. In one police interview, Wilds said he saw the body, it was in a car in the parking lot of a Best Buy. (Wilds would later lead the police to Lee’s car, parked on a residential street.) In another interview, he said the body was on Edmondson Avenue, while a detective testified in court that Wilds told him the body was on Franklintown Road.
And then in his Intercept interview, Wilds said the body was actually in front of his grandma’s house, but he told police it was at the Best Buy, because he didn’t want to involve his grandma. Maybe Jay’s a liar. He did, after all, give multiple conflicting locations for where the murder took place and where the body was found.
What we do know about Wilds and Syed, which Syed’s testimony confirms, is that Wilds and Syed were together on the day of Lee’s murder, and Jay had Syed’s phone and car for an unspecified period of time. Their accounts depart when Wilds says Syed showed him the body in the trunk of the car, and then Syed enlisted Wilds to bury Lee.
Did Jay Wilds get the reward money?
When police were investigating Lee’s murder, CrimeStoppers offered a $3,075 reward for any information that would lead to the arrest of the murderer. One big theory being floated around is that Wilds was the anonymous tipster who called Detective Massey and told police to focus on the ex-boyfriend.
Supposed evidence of this relates to how the reward money was paid out. CrimeStoppers rewards are apparently paid out the following month after the police report that month’s official indictments. Based on Syed’s indictment date, the CrimeStoppers reward should have been paid in June, but it was not paid until November. What the Undisclosed pod offers up for an explanation is that because Wilds himself came under investigation, he could not recover the money.
In September, a legal team formed to represent Wilds and also quickly worked out a plea deal to testify against Syed. That would free Wilds to then collect the reward money—after detectives officially filed Syed’s indictment to CrimeStoppers on October 1st—in November.
Hoo-boy, and then there’s the motorcycle story that Undisclosed says confirms Wilds was the tipster. Apparently, Wilds had been inquiring about the sale price of a teacher’s motorcycle, which Kelly Blue Book puts at $3,000. The teacher, Mr. Brown, didn’t know either Syed or Lee, raising eyebrows at his participation in the investigation. And detective notes capped Brown’s interview with the word “REWARD,” written in all caps. Undisclosed proffers that Wilds was going to use the reward money to purchase the motorcycle, but Brown says he sold it to someone else.
My theory: Jay wanted Brown’s motorbike. But Brown wantd to sell soon & Jay couldn’t get paid till Nov. So the deal didn’t happen #FreeAdnan
If Wilds did receive the reward money for being the tipster, but that information wasn’t disclosed, that would have immediately led to a new trial. This is a moot point now, as Syed was granted a new trial in 2018.
Another very important open lead is the crimestoppers reward. The state lied. They did not tell the defense that someone got an actual cash reward that was handed to them by a detective on the case. Jay all but admitted to @BobRuffTruth that he got the reward. pic.twitter.com/RHnkXYzRXJ
Will Wilds recant his earlier testimony if called upon for the new trial?
From the statements Wilds made in 2014 with The Intercept, it seems unlikely he would do so.
He recalls a tense meeting with Koenig, who was attempting to persuade him into participating in the podcast, and remembers Koenig telling him that there were new developments in the case. To which, Wilds responded, “[T]his guy drove up in front of my grandmother’s house, popped the trunk, and had his dead girlfriend in the trunk. Anything that’s going to make [Syed] innocent doesn’t involve me. Hae was dead before she got to my house. There is a specific point where I became involved in this. What happened before that, I don’t know.”
Wilds and his family have tried to stay out of the spotlight, with Wilds citing the danger his cooperating with the police puts his family in, even though he claims he tried to stonewall the cops for as long as possible until they broke him down.
Though Wilds stands by his story—at least the one he told The Intercept—Chaudry and Undisclosed have continued to dig up evidence that wouldn’t just exonerate Syed, but also Wilds himself.
Take a look at the run down on the forensic evidence in Hae’s murder. A layperson could tell you neither Jay or Adnan were involved. #FreeAdnan pic.twitter.com/6u3wT4H14R
Many questions remain about Wilds’ true role in the case, but there’s no shortage of theories.
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