By Donna Owens
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A Maryland man whose 2000 murder conviction was thrown back into the spotlight by the popular "Serial" podcast, was back in court on Wednesday to argue he deserved a new trial because his lawyers had done a poor job with his case.
Adnan Syed, 35, who is serving a life term after being convicted of murdering his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore in 1999, appeared in a prison jumpsuit in a courtroom packed with family members, supporters and the producer of the podcast.
The killing was the subject of "Serial" in October 2014. The podcast, released by public radio station WBEZ in Chicago, has been downloaded more than 68 million times, CBS reported last year. The podcast raised questions about Syed's conviction.
On the first day of a hearing expected to run through Friday, defense attorney C. Justin Brown asked Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch for a "new and fair" trial for Syed, who he said had "ineffective assistance by trial counsel" before his conviction.
State prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah rejected the defense's claims.
"He strangled with his own hands an 18-year-old girl," he said, adding the evidence was overwhelming and Syed was "convicted because he did it and the state proved it."
Asia McClain Chapman, a high school classmate of Syed, testified that Syed's former lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, never contacted her about a potential alibi.
Chapman said she had told prosecutors she had seen Syed at the library the day of the murder. She shared the information with the "Serial" producers, she said.
A prosecutor told her at the time of the trial: "He killed that girl," said Chapman, who now lives in Washington state.
A ruling in May from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals opened the door for Syed to call Chapman as a witness. The court returned the case to Baltimore City Circuit Court to reopen post-conviction proceedings.
Welch in November ordered a hearing to look into questions raised by Brown over cellphone tower records that prosecutors used to show that Syed was at the site in a park where Lee was buried.
Syed's lawyers have said in court papers that phone company AT&T indicated when it provided the data that incoming calls could not be used to determine location, but prosecutors used records on incoming calls to convict him.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone, Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney)