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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Alibi for Adnan Syed Denies Pressure to Talk

BALTIMORE (CN) - The woman who says she can alibi the subject of the podcast "Serial" insisted Thursday that Adnan Syed did not influence her account.

Asia Chapman's second day on the stand proved an emotional one, testifying in support of Syed's bid for a new trial.

The hearing comes nearly 17 years to the day that the body of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee was found strangled in Leakin Park, about a month after she had gone missing.

Lee's ex-boyfriend, Syed, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder in 2000, but "Serial" raised questions about the teen's conviction in a 2014 series that became the most downloaded podcast of all time.

When her last name was McClain in 1999, Chapman attended Woodlawn High School with Syed and Lee. She testified Wednesday that attorneys never called on her to testify at Syed's trial, though she saw Syed at a library on the day Lee went missing, Jan. 13, 1999.

Appeals attorney C. Justin Brown says the failure by Syed's trial counsel, Cristina Gutierrez, to have McClain testify amounted to inadequate representation and warrants a new trial.

When Gutierrez was 52, she died of a heart attack in 2004. Maryland courts had disbarred her three years earlier for misconduct in unrelated cases.

Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah questioned McClain about whether she may have confused the date on which she saw Syed.

McClain wrote a letter about wanting to help Syed with his defense two days after the 17-year-old's arrest, saying she had seen him at the library.

"I'll help you account for unaccounted time," McClain wrote.

Vignarajah questioned McClain as to whether the letter could be seen as indicating a willingness take part in a cover-up.

"I'm not responsible for what other people might interpret," McClain said.

Vignarajah also cross-examined McClain about a statement one of her friends gave police about Syed having sent McClain a letter and asking her to type it up and send it back.

Prosecutors say Gutierrez defended Syed adequately and that her decision not to contact McClain was a strategic choice.

Syed's defense has to prove that Gutierrez's conduct was "constitutionally deficient," not just questionable, the deputy attorney general emphasized.

Gerald Grant, an expert on cellphone technology, also took the stand in Syed's defense Thursday, claiming that cellphone-tower evidence used to place Syed near Leakin Park was unreliable.

Indeed the cellphone-tower evidence in the case was accompanied by a fax cover sheet from AT&T that said incoming calls were not a reliable way to determine a user's location, Grant said, adding that the expert who originally testified in Syed's case should have been taken into consideration.

Vignarajah asked Grant to provide an example of when incoming calls had been shown to be unreliable, but Grant could not come up with one.

The hearing is expected to conclude Friday. It is not known whether retired Judge Martin Welch will issue his ruling at the conclusion of the hearing or at a later date.

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