News Podcast: The Girl In The Woods

News podcast episode about Mujey Dumbuya's murder, former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance, and the week's biggest headlines.

In this week's episode:

Listen and subscribe! We're everywhere you'd want us to be, like right here, as well as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

The Lede - 1:05

Katie Notopoulos: In the fall of 2017, a high school sophomore told police she was raped by a facilities worker from her school. Two months later, she went missing and her body was found in the woods.

Her death made national news: a girl set to testify against her alleged rapist, killed while he’s conveniently out of jail, and all of this, right in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

The police charged her alleged rapist with murder, and as the homicide trial approaches, national reporter Jessica Testa dug into his life, revealing a troubled youth, a series of unprosecuted crimes…broken communication between the school and police, bureaucratic hurdles, and second chance after second chance.

In this week’s the lede, Jessica tells national editor Tina Susman how she chased down the story. And, just to warn you, there are descriptions of sexual violence in this conversation.

Jessica Testa: So in July I met with the family of Mujey Dumbuya. I went to her aunt's home. She lived there the summer of 2017. She was 15 years old. It was just after her freshman year ended. And she started to chat with a boy named DQ on Facebook. They didn't know each other. He actually lived two hours away in the city called Saginaw and he was living in the Grand Rapids area with his aunt. So they started chatting and they decided to meet up at the end of July.

Tina Susman: Like their first date?

JT: Exactly. Driving DQ, to meet Mujey, is his aunt's fiancé. A guy named Quinn Anthony James.

TS: And Mujey had not met Quinn Anthony James either?

JT: No. So he drives the two of them around and at the end of the night Mujey is dropped off.

She's home for about 10 minutes when DQ calls her and tells her to come back outside. She comes back outside. She gets in the car and it's inside this car that Quinn Anthony James allegedly rapes her for the first time.

TS: Before we go on with what else Quinn Anthony James was accused of doing, I think one of the things that is most upsetting about this story, about what happened to Mujey, is her background before she even came to live in Michigan with her family. Can you tell us a little bit about what she was born into?

JT: Yes. Mujey was born in Sierra Leone in the year 2001. And she was born to a family of Liberians who had fled the Civil War in their country, gone to Sierra Leone and found another war-torn country. They lived in a refugee camp operated by the UN and when Mujey was about 3 years old, her family was resettled to Michigan. They left so much violence behind to essentially move to Suburbia.

TS: So back to her relationship with DQ and Quinn James. What went on after that first day?

JT: So throughout the summer the same thing basically happened a couple times. This is all according to DQ, by the way. Quinn James would allegedly raped Mujey and DQ would be holding her hand the entire time. And she would usually be crying as DQ described it.

TS: It's so hard to envision the situation, the scene. I mean, it's disgusting frankly, but DQ obviously... Says that he had reason for this. What does he tell police was going through his mind when this was happening?

JT: DQ said that he was afraid of James. Him and Mujey were both afraid of James. And this was his aunt’s fiancé and he lived under James's roof. And he had seen James once choking his aunt, and DQ tried to intervene and James had started choking DQ. So there was a history of violence in that relationship and also, you know, DQ is living under this guy's roof.

TS: Yeah. Yeah, and why didn't Mujey do something right away? Because this, apparently according to what the police say, went on for quite a while.

JT: At some point she saw that Quinn James had a badge that that said EK, East Kentwood. And that was her high school. So she kind of knew this guy worked at her high school. She didn't know exactly what he did according to her family, but he started to tell her, you know ‘I can mess with your grades. I can do whatever.’ And DQ overheard that he said, and then also her family when Mujey came forward to them, finally that fall, her family said ‘Mujey told us that he was threatening to mess with her grades.’

TS: And do we know how this guy came to be working at this school? Because apparently he did have a bit of a record.

JT: More than a bit. I think.

TS: Tell us more about that record and and how the heck were you able to get all the details that are in the story?

JT: So, Quinn James served 20 years for armed robbery. He was sent to prison when he was 16 years old. And the school hired him the same year that he got out of prison. So he serves 20 years, gets out of prison and pretty much immediately gets a job at a school. And you know on his application he wrote that he had served 20 years in prison. He had to, legally. And so the school knew about this. James saw this as a second chance for himself according to his lawyer.

He was grateful for the opportunity, it can be really hard for people convicted of crimes to get jobs after incarceration. So, you know, this this could have been a second chance. A happy story, you know, formerly incarcerated person getting another chance. But what happened instead was that he got this job and first, from the school's perspective, around 2013, so two years into the job, he started acting out a little bit. Using a cell phone at work, crashing equipment, sleeping on the job, having friends visit with him. So he didn't have like a sterling record at the school and then in 2014 he was actually arrested for stealing allegedly two iPods and an iPhone from the girls locker room. So the jury in that case found him not guilty. So the school decided to keep employing him after the jury came back and acquitted him. Meanwhile throughout this time there were these sort of under the radar crimes happening.

TS: And these are... These are under-the-radar crimes that the school wouldn't necessarily been expected to know about because for a variety of reasons, it seems that he was never charged with most of these cases that you were able to uncover.

JT: Yeah, so when you're a school employee, at least this is how it was explained to me by the sheriff's department, when you are a school employee the only way the school would find out if you were involved in a criminal investigation is if it either involved a student at that school or if warrant was issued for your arrest. Neither of those things happened and I can walk you through some of the instances that we were able to uncover. So I mean the biggest most significant one to the story is that in 2014 he was accused of raping a 18 year old girl. And he was accused of choking her. He was accused of threatening to kill her. She even later said he threatened to pour bleach over her dead body. So that was a pretty extreme case. In that case she actually… It was really interesting. She escaped because she got him to take her to Applebee's to get some food after the incident and, you know, she was trying to play it cool the whole time. So they're at the Applebee's and she excuses herself to use the restroom and in the restroom, she calls the cops and she's whispering. And it's all sort of a dramatic scene. She pulls in an Applebee's employee and begs the employee to stay with her in the stall until the police come.

TS: And, yeah, that was a case that still did not lead to any charges being filed against him.

JT: Right. Prosecutor said there wasn't enough evidence.

TS: And so let's circle back then to Mujey’s case, because there's so many similarities. So where we left off, Mujey had finally felt brave enough to report that she was being raped by this man. So then what happened?

JT: So that was in November and immediately afterward Quinn James was arrested. And he was put on leave from the school and then he was eventually fired. But he's arrested and he is arraigned, which means he's charged with four counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. And at that arraignment the judge set his bond at $100,000. And so James is sort of, you know, wondering how does he have to pay that full amount to get out of jail. He doesn't... He's asking the judge to explain to him. And the judge explained ‘No. If you pay 10% to a surety bond company, they'll put up the rest and you can go free.’ So sure enough that's what James does. He puts up bail.

TS: And we still don't have any idea where he actually got that $10,000.

JT: No. His lawyer doesn't even know.

TS: Did the judge explain to anybody why he would have let this person with...Who'd already served 20 years in prison and who obviously, you know, had a lot of run-ins with the police. Why was this person even able to get out on bond? I mean $100,000 sounds like a lot but in the grand scheme of things, it's not really that much when you look at the other bonds that have been set by this particular judge and other judges.

JT: Right. This judge has set million dollar bonds before. The judge wouldn't talk to us for the story. But he did say to another reporter, you know, that he thought $100,000 wasn't an insignificant amount. At least that's what the prosecutor leader said. But moreover he didn't know about all these other crimes that James had allegedly committed. He only knew about the armed robbery that put James in prison for 20 years and he knew about this incident that happened while James was in prison, where he was convicted of attempting to possess weapons in prison. So he only knew about those two things and he said to a local reporter, down in Kalamazoo, you know, ‘If I had known what I know now, like, of course, you know, maybe things would have been different.’

TS: Yeah, and some people would say, well, even if you didn't know what you know now... The things you did know would have seemed pretty serious enough to warrant at least a higher bond if not no bond. So what happened next?

JT: What happened next is that a trial date was set for April. And keep in mind James's out free during this time. He... The only restriction is that he can have no contact with Mujey, but he's kind of a free man. He doesn't have a job anymore, but he's a free man. So the trial is set for April and in January Mukey goes missing. The last person who saw her was her mother. At 6 a.m. on January 24th. And her mother recalls that Mujey asked her for money for coffee and said ‘Bye Mommy’ and walked out the door to catch a bus to go to school.

And that was the last time anyone saw her. Four days later, it was a Sunday, there was a couple out for a walk in Kalamazoo, in kind of like a wooded area. And they see in the distance this sort of shapeless form they can't really make out but as they get closer and closer to it, they realized that it's a girl. They can see her braids. They can see one of her legs bent. And they call the cops.

TS: Yeah, and that the recording of that 991 call is really chilling. It's really chilling.

JT: People later described her as as partially clothed, but she... All of her clothes were there and they were sort of dotted with white bleach stains. So and someone who was later at the scene said that the the body smelled like bleach. The odor was so strong.

TS: It didn't take long for for police to go right back to the man at the center of this, Quinn James. How did they decide that he was the person they wanted to look at?

JT: Well, I think once they connected the dots that this was someone who Mujey was set to testify against in a pretty serious crime, and someone who had a prior record, it seemed like he had a motive at least. So they go, police go and question him not long after the body is found. And you know, he won't answer questions. He's kind of like, you know, I need my lawyer present, that kind of thing. But later that day he's arrested but not for allegedly killing Mujey. He's arrested for that case I was talking about earlier in 2014, where he was accused by another young girl of rape.

TS: And this was the girl that called the police from the Applebee's.

JT: Exactly.

TS: I think one of the things that struck me in the story is... I believe it's a prosecutor, who's quoted as saying that this was just such an unusual case. Nothing like this ever happens, and I found that annoying because...Because to me we've done so many other stories that look at such terrible systemic failures. And in this case, it seems that there was... The school didn't act on somebody who a lot of people now would say ‘Oh my gosh, how could you have somebody like that working at your school around kids?’. Whoever was supposed to tell the judge about this person's background apparently did not give the full background, therefore he was released on bond. Prosecutors, police, for whatever reason didn't charge him in so many different cases and I don't know... Do you think it's that unusual of a case? I mean certainly what happened to this poor girl is thankfully pretty unusual. But in terms of the things that allowed it to happen... I guess I don't see that sadly as all that unusual and it just seems like we hear about this stuff too often.

JT: Yeah, I think this story reveals a lot of systemic issues. One of them being, you know, our police really taking the reports of women seriously, who say that they've been abused or sexually assaulted.

TS: Especially young women.

JT: Especially young women. Another issue is that when Mujey went missing, she was initially reported as a runaway by the police, even though her parents, you know, her family was like

‘No, she's missing, you don't understand. She's missing.’

TS: A big difference.

JT: Yeah, I talked to the police about this and and they sort of said, you know, ‘That's how we classify people who are under 17, and there's no indication of Foul Play.’ So she was listed as a runaway. There's been a lot of research and stories written about how missing black girls are often immediately identified as runaways, which sort of deprioritized as their cases.

TS: Right. This case….It did make, you know, it did make national news finally, but only because it was just such an egregious example of what can go wrong when the wrong person is let out on bond. And it makes you wonder how many other how many other cases have been like this that we just never heard about. So, where's Quinn...Where's Quinn James now, what's the situation?

JT: So he's being held in jail without bond while he…

TS: Well, okay, that's a change.

JT: While he awaits trial. So he's facing three different trials though. He has the alleged rape of Mujey. The alleged murder of Mujey. And then also this alleged 2014 rape the...For lack of a better word, Applebee’s girl.

TS: The Applebee’s case, yeah. Has the Applebee's girl, who's now a woman, 22 years old, I guess... Has she come out and said anything? Was she one of the people you were able to talk to?

JT: Unfortunately not. We were able to put her voice in the story though because she did testify in court and tell her story of what happened to her. But you know, if I could talk to her the first question out of my mouth would be ‘How do you feel that prosecutors didn't take up your case in 2014, but now in 2018, when this guy's being looked at as a murder suspect, now he's arrested, now they decide to believe you?’

TS: Have the police, or the school, or the court...Has anybody apologized or taking responsibility or said ‘Yeah, we should have done things differently.This was this was a mistake.’

JT: They have not. There hasn't really been any responsibilities taken. I think it's easy for them to say ‘We weren't the ones who killed her.’ You know ‘This guy Quinn Anthony James, he's a monster. He allegedly did it.’ But I think that all of those parties bear some responsibility that they haven't yet taken, you know, a lot of them have just expressed ‘This is such a tragedy, you know, we're so devastated for this family. We're here to support them.’ That kind of thing, but I would like to hear one of them say ‘I wish we would have done this. I wish we would have done that.’

TS: Yeah, I bet the family would like to hear that too. So what's the family doing now?

I mean are they suing or they were just waiting for this trial? Are they gonna stay? Are they gonna stay in Michigan? Are they thinking ‘Wow, you know, maybe we should have stayed in Sierra Leone,’ or ‘Maybe this isn't the safe haven we thought it was.’

JT: They have put down roots in Michigan. So I don't see them moving but they are reflecting a lot on the fact that they fled a war zone. They fled violence only to be met with incredible violence. Violence that felt so personal and so vicious in the way that Mujey, the 16-year-old girl, was ripped from them. They are considering, they're exploring the option of suing the school. And that will be really interesting. They're going to wait until the criminal cases conclude. And I think more than anything, they're just... They want to be part of this case. They want to go to every single hearing. They want to sit in the courtroom with Quinn Anthony James as much as possible and they are also, you know, deeply in mourning.

KN: That was Tina Susman and Jessica Testa.

If you want to read more about the case, text JoJo the word “Michigan.” Their number is 929.236.9577.

Best Case Scenario - 18:37

KN: And now, Deputy World Editor Hayes Brown plays out the best possible timeline for Trump’s more questionable decisions in Best Case Scenario.

Hayes Brown: Hey guys, this week we're talkin about former CIA director John O. Brennan. Since leaving office Brennan has been extremely outspoken against Trump. Now Trump has revoked his security clearance, which he had held since leaving. Eight other people have their clearances up for review. So what's the best case scenario here?

Best case scenario? This could all lead to reform. Security. Clearance. Reform. Which I know sounds boring, but it's actually really important guys. 4.3 million people, as of 2015, held security clearances, range from confidential, to secret, to top-secret, to top-secret SCI. High ranking former officials keep their clearance when they leave so they can keep advising the government on sensitive matters.

But the classification process is often used to hide things that don't need to be hidden. That can be ripe for abuse and used as shutdown arguments over National Security. ‘We know something that you don't, you don't know what you're talking about, so let's just leave things as they are.’ That's no real way to set policy for a country.

As of right now, the president has complete authority over the process, deciding what gets to be classified and what doesn't, and delegating that power down throughout the government. Best case scenario? This could hold only to reform. Congress could see ‘This is a mess. We need to fix it.’ But right now that seems pretty unlikely. Instead it looks like we're going to be fighting over the first amendment. Was Trump revoking Brennan security clearance an attempt to stifle his freedom of speech? Also, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump linked Brennan security clearance to the Russian investigation, which is probably going to be an issue for him moving forward.

That's interesting, this whole Russia probe thing, which will likely lead us to not pay attention to the uninteresting thing: This much-needed reform.

KN: That was Hayes Brown.

Subject Line - 20:27

KN: And finally, we’ve got Subject Line, where curation editor Elamin Abdulmahmoud does the herculean feat of making sense of this week’s news.

Now it's time for subject line with the king of newsletters himself, Elamin Abdelmahmoud. Hi Elamin. So…

Elamin Abdelmahmoud: Hello, it is I, your royalty.

KN: All hail the king. So I'm gonna give you a new story from this week and you are going to come up with a snappy little subject line, like the kind of subject line that you would put out in the BuzzFeed News newsletter. And tell us why we should care. All right. Are you ready?

EA: My body is ready. My mind is somewhat ready. And my soul is super ready. I'm as ready as I can possibly be.

KN: The first one is just one word. Omarosa.

EA: Omarosa! For that I give you ‘One More Dawn, One More Day, One Day More’? That is from Les Mis, for all you people who don't know musicals.

KN: Wow, that includes me. I was like, I'm not really getting this.

EA: That's fine. I'll forgive you this one.

KS: Well, thank you.

EA: And the reason I go with that subject line is because this is really all about attention. Right? Like this is all about maintaining presence and dominance over the newscycle for just one more day, right? That's a reason you don't leak at all your tapes in one go and that's what Omarosa has been doing. So she's been sort of staggering these tapes. And she claims to have more and so we're all... It's kind of like, what is she gonna do next? And then that keeps the story alive for just one more day. And then after that one more day… And then you hope that during that one day she sells more books. And that seems to be what's going on right now.

KS: It seems to be the case. All right, here's your next one. The EU ghosts Canada. Give me a snappy one. Snappy snappy.

EA: The snappy one is ‘I dreamed a dream of a time gone by’ that is also from Les Mis. So you're just gonna not do well in this segment. If you haven't seen or heard Les Mis.

KS: They are all Les Mis themed.

EA: They mostly are to be honest with you.

KS: I've seen the movie musical version with Hugh Jackman.

EA: Yeah, it doesn't matter.

KS: How can you ever erase the memory of Russell Crowe singing?

EA: Here's the thing. I will defend Russell Crowe singing. I will die on that hill. I'm happy to do it. But that's like a whole other conversation, possibly a whole other podcast. I would start a podcast dedicated to defending Russell Crowe.

KS: Wow. Wow.

EA: I feel very strongly about it.

KS: So tell me about the EU bailing on Canada.

EA: Sure. So the reason I would choose that subject line is because Saudi Arabia arrested a bunch of human rights advocates and Canada went to bat for the activists. Went to bat for them meaning advocating for them, advocating for the release. Now, typically in this kind of situation, the the way that world affairs has always worked, is that the United States would back up Canada, and then the UK would back up Canada, then France would backup Canada, and this would be a whole sort of cascading effect of pressure. But in this particular case, nothing. Absolute crickets on the world stage. So the EU had actually drafted a statement in support of Canada. And we had a story earlier this week from some exclusive sources that told us that the EU actually chose to drop that statement and not release it publicly, choosing instead to go to Saudi Arabia foreign minister and advocate to him directly. But make no sort of public show support for Canada. And so that subject is really just about an old gone time of liberalism where the sort of human-rights-concerned powers would actually back each other up.

KS: I've got a subject line for your after that one. In the words of another famous Canadian. ‘EU. Do EU love me?’ That's it.

EA: I’m suing. I'm done with you. I'm so done.

KS: All right. I got the next story for you. Paul Manafort.

EA: Paul manafort. The subject line I give you for this is ‘No one else was in the room where it happened.’

KS: Oh, if I knew Les Mis better I would definitely be like ‘Uuuh!’

EA: Yeah, it's not Les Mis though. It’s Hamilton. But, whatever! You’re doing great!

KS: You know, I'm not much of a musical fan.

EA: I would like to tell all listeners that is the most obvious blaming fact that has hit them, ever. Yeah, of course you're not a big musical fan. What are you doing with your life? It doesn't matter. This is not about you.

KS: I'm... You know, don't question my choices! I question them on my own time.

EA: I will also question them on my own time and not on the listeners time. And that's a reference to, well, one of the great american musicals, Hamilton. But also the fact that the trial is over and the jury is deliberating right now and we are not in the room where that happens, right? So everybody's sort of waiting for the ruling. And I just think it's a fair reflection of the situation we're waiting for. So this is a highly watched trial and in it, that the defense rested without calling any witnesses, I don't know what that says about the state of their defense, and how they feel about it. But here we are and we're waiting. And there is a room where this discussion happens. We're just not in it. So we wait.

KS: Great! Elamin, the king of newsletters, thank you so much your Royal Highness for gracing us with your presence here today.

EA: It is absolutely my pleasure. And in exchange for me having come on here, what I expect from you is to learn all of the words to every Les Mis’ song. I will quiz you on them next week.

KS: Okay, sounds fair. You know, I'm not sure I'll be totally off book. But I should be close to it.

EA: Good.

KS: Okay.

EA: Thank you.

KN: That was me, and curation editor Elamin Abdulmahmoud.

If you are listening to this episode and thinking, hell, these are some great journalists, I wonder what else they think about, text JoJo "WHOMST!" That’s W-H-O-M-S-T. And they’ll send you a list of everyone who appeared in this week’s show. Again, Jojo’s number is in the show notes for this episode!

This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That’s Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, Ahmed Ali Akbar, and Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch.

Skip to footer