Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Convicted ‘Serial’ killer says state failed to share exculpatory evidence

An attorney for convicted murderer and “Serial” podcast star Adnan Syed urged a Baltimore trial court Tuesday to examine whether prosecutors failed to disclose to defense counsel telephone records that could substantiate his alibi for that fateful day.

"She is saying ‘I am ready to testify; I was essentially dissuaded from doing so in the past.’ We’re saying, ‘Why not? Let’s put her on the witness stand and see how credible she is.’" -- C. Justin Brown,attorney for Adnan Syed  (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

C. Justin Brown, lawyer for Adnan Syed, is asking a trial court to examine whether prosecutors failed to turn over telephone records that could have provided an alibi for his client. ‘Is it in the interest of justice that we sweep this issue under the rug or is it in the interest of justice that this issue be considered by the court?’ Brown asked. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The lawyer, C. Justin Brown, also pressed the circuit court to determine if prosecutors improperly introduced at trial incriminating cell-tower-location evidence that they knew was unreliable and misleading.

“The prejudice resulting from this conduct by the state merits a new trial, and it is in the interest of justice that the court consider this issue now,” Brown stated in his written court filing in advance of an as-yet unscheduled hearing.

The filing contends the evidence would show the information, which the state contends put Syed at the murder scene, was unreliable because it was based on incoming calls to Syed. Cell phone tower location information is accurate only for outgoing calls, Brown stated, adding that prosecutors knew but did not share this information with the defense.

Brown, in an interview Tuesday, said the telephone issues fully came to light by their reference in the Maryland attorney general’s filing in the case last month.

“Is it in the interest of justice that we sweep this issue under the rug or is it in the interest of justice that this issue be considered by the court?” Brown said.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has countered that Brown’s wide-ranging request exceeds the scope of the Maryland appeals court order in the case and should not be considered.

As for Brown’s latest submission, Frosh’s office stated Tuesday that “we are reviewing the filing and, if warranted, will submit a response.”

Interpreting order’s meaning

In its May order, the intermediate Court of Special Appeals called on the circuit court to review a recently filed affidavit from an uncalled alibi witness who says a prosecutor dissuaded her from coming forward during Syed’s post-conviction proceedings.

Frosh, in his circuit-court filing last month, said the order limits the trial court’s review to witness Asia McClain’s affidavit and potential testimony regarding what then-Assistant Baltimore City State’s Attorney Kevin Urick allegedly told her.

But Brown, in his recent filing, said the Court of Special Appeals’ order is not so limited and necessarily calls on the trial court to review both McClain’s affidavit and the evidentiary basis for Syed’s alibi: that he was in a library when his ex-girlfriend was killed.

“The remand order means what it says,” wrote Brown, a Baltimore solo practitioner. “If the Court of Special Appeals did not think there existed a need for further evidentiary proceedings, it would not have taken the extraordinary measure of remanding to the circuit court in the first place.”

McClain, as she did during the popular “Serial” podcast, stated in the affidavit that she was with Syed in the Woodlawn Public Library when Hae Min Lee was strangled Jan. 13, 1999, and that Syed’s then-attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, never contacted her before or during the 2000 trial, which resulted in a life sentence.

But McClain added in the affidavit, submitted this past January, that she would have testified at Syed’s post-conviction proceedings in 2010 and 2012 but for a telephone conversation she says she had with Urick in 2010.

“He told me there was no merit to any claims that Syed did not get a fair trial,” McClain stated in the affidavit.

“Urick discussed the evidence of the case in a manner that seemed designed to get me to think Syed was guilty and that I should not bother participating in the case, by telling what I know about Jan. 13, 1999,” McClain added. “Urick convinced me into believing that I should not participate in any ongoing proceeding. Based on my conversation with Kevin Urick, the comments made by him and what he conveyed to me during that conversation, I determined that I wished to have no further involvement with the defense team at that time.”

‘Baseless attack’

Urick disputed McClain’s account in a Feb. 10 email.

“Fourteen years ago we obtained a constitutionally valid conviction by jury of Adnan Syed,” said Urick, now an assistant Cecil County state’s attorney. “What is transpiring now is an example of defense tactics at their worst. The law allows a convicted felon a nearly never ending ability to continually attack the results we obtain.”

“And the immunity provided to filings during litigation allows one to file accusations with impunity thus obtaining wide publicity for the accusations while knowing you cannot be held accountable for them and that the subject of the accusations basically has no way to respond,” he added. “And to my fellow prosecutors, I would say, we need to recognize that when court pleadings are used to publicly disseminate baseless attacks against one of us, should that smear campaign succeed, we all will be subject to like attack tomorrow.”

At the 2000 Baltimore City Circuit Court trial, prosecutors argued that Syed became inconsolably jealous after Lee began dating someone else. There were no eyewitnesses to her slaying, but a former classmate testified he helped Syed dispose of Lee’s body, which was found in a shallow grave in Leakin Park in Baltimore a month after she was killed.

Gutierrez, Syed’s trial counsel, consented to disbarment in May 2001 after nearly 20 years in practice and based on cases unrelated to Syed’s.

Gutierrez died in 2004.