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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Alibi for Adnan Syed Takes the Stand in Md.

BALTIMORE (CN) - With Adnan Syed's murder conviction under review thanks to the podcast "Serial," a woman who could have alibied him told the court Wednesday that no one called her to testify.

Asia Chapman, whose last name used to be McClain, testified at a postconviction hearing that she saw Syed in a library within the time when prosecutors contend he was strangling his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999.

Syed was 19 at the time and now serving life in a Maryland state prison.

Chapman said Wednesday that neither Syed's defense attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, nor the prosecutor, Kevin Urick, called her as an alibi witness.

Noting that she had a 34-minute with Urick, Chapman said the attorney misled her about the importance of her testimony and seemed convinced of Syed's guilt.

Urick meanwhile testified before Judge Martin Welch that their conversation lasted only five minutes, and that Chapman told him that she had been pressured to write a false affidavit.

Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah defended Gutierrez as "a dedicated and effective attorney."

Saying there were reasons to perceive Chapman as an unreliable witness, Vignarajah said Syed was convicted "because he did it."

"There were all sorts of reasons that this was not a reliable witness, and perhaps a risky witness," Vignarajah said.

Another of Syed's attorneys, Justin Brown, countered that Gutierrez had made a mistake in failing to call Chapman at the trial.

Brown told the court Gutierrez's life was in turmoil during Syed's trial. Personal problems plagued the attorney, who was later disbarred in connection with other cases, he added.

"At the time of the Syed case, [Gutierrez] was unable to handle her cases," the attorney said. "Her health was failing, her family was in turmoil. As a result "the single most important piece of evidence, an alibi witness, slipped through the cracks."

Syed was in court dressed in light blue prison garb and a knit cap. He also wore a long beard. His hands were shackled.

Sarah Koeing's podcast, which was first broadcast on "This American Life," raised questions about the fairness of Syed's trial and uncovered evidence that helped prompt a Maryland appeals court to grant a hearing on the possibility of a new trial.

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