Prosecutors and defense attorneys rest in Adnan Syed hearing

AP News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2016 6:52 PM

BALTIMORE (AP) — Both the prosecution and defense rested after four days of testimony in a hearing to determine whether a man convicted of a killing at the center of popular podcast "Serial" deserves a new trial.

Adnan Syed, now 35, is asking a Baltimore judge for a new trial on the grounds that his lawyer made a critical mistake by not contacting an alibi witness who said she saw him in the public library at the same time prosecutors say his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, was killed. Syed was convicted of murder in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison.

Syed's attorneys have also argued that cell tower data presented to jurors was misleading because it was missing a cover sheet warning that information about incoming calls was unreliable.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors will present their closing arguments Tuesday morning.

The alibi witness, Asia McClain, now Chapman, wrote two letters to Syed shortly after he was arrested, offering to testify that the two were together the day Lee was killed. Chapman took the stand for two days last week.

Prosecutors throughout the hearing characterized Chapman as an advocate for Syed rather than a willing participant in the investigation. Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah asked Chapman during cross-examination if she knew that a friend of hers told investigators that Syed had written her a letter and asked her to retype it and send it back to the jail. Chapman said she was never asked to write to Syed, and sent the letters of her own volition.

Before adjourning Monday, defense attorney Justin Brown entered into evidence a sworn statement from that friend, Ja'uan Gordon, signed Sunday, saying he didn't know if Syed had ever written to Chapman, but said Syed had asked friends for letters attesting to his character.

"I have no knowledge of Adnan asking Asia to write anything fraudulent, or with intentions of misrepresenting anything to the court. I was not in any way suggesting that in my interview with police," he wrote.

Also Monday, a security officer called by prosecutors testified that there were no cameras in the library where Chapman said she saw Syed on Jan. 13, 1999, and that he did not recall seeing Syed that day.

But during cross-examination, the officer, who was referred to only by his initials because of what prosecutors described as the risk of "cyber-bullying," admitted that he didn't clearly remember who he saw since it was so long ago, and that there could have been a security system he wasn't aware of.

FBI agent Chad Fitzgerald also took the stand to finish testimony he began last week about the cell tower data.

Defense attorney Justin Brown presented an affidavit signed by an AT&T technician, Abraham Waranowitz, who said his testimony in Syed's trial placing him near Lee's burial site would have been different had he seen the cover sheet, which warned that information about incoming calls was unreliable.

But Fitzgerald said that despite the affidavit, Waranowitz's testimony was accurate, with the exception of one phone call he misidentified.

"I believe his analysis was very thorough," he said.

Fitzgerald also accused Syed's defense attorney of trying to sway his testimony by manipulating a cell tower data document.

Fitzgerald said one document he was presented during the hearing did not include dates or times certain calls originated, omissions he said are crucial to understanding its meaning.

Brown said that document was not doctored. He said it was found in Syed's original defense file. Brown said that document was all Syed's attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, had to build her case with, proof that Syed's original defense team relied on bad records and bad information.

Lee's family have been largely silent since Syed's sentencing, but they released a statement Sunday questioning McClain's motives.

"Unlike those who learn about this case on the Internet, we sat and watched every day of both trials — so many witnesses, so much evidence," the statement read. "We wish Ms. Asia McClain had watched too, because then she would not do what she is doing. Whatever her personal motives, we forgive her, but we hope she will not use Hae's name in public, which hurts us when we hear it from her. She did not know Hae, and because of Adnan she never will."