'Serial' questions don't make Syed innocent: prosecutor

BALTIMORE -- An alibi witness who was never called, cellphone data that was misrepresented and other legal failures justify a new trial for Adnan Syed, his defence lawyer argued Tuesday, closing a hearing prompted by a podcast that turned millions of listeners into armchair detectives.

See Full Article

Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah countered that the evidence is "overwhelming" that Syed was properly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 strangling death of his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

"This is not a popular position, but the state's role is to do justice," the prosecutor said, acknowledging the interest generated by "Serial," a public radio podcast that extensively re-examined the long-closed case.

Syed, now 35, was convicted at 19 of killing Lee and burying her body in a wooded park on the northwestern edge of Baltimore. The show raised questions about the fairness of his trial, and gained a cult following as it brought to light evidence that helped prompt a Maryland appeals court to grant this hearing.

Defence attorney Justin Brown urged Judge Martin Welch to reverse Syed's conviction.

"We proved our case. We did exactly what we said we would. I believe we met our burden and that Mr. Syed deserves a new trial."

Brown said cell tower data linking Syed to Lee's burial site was misleading because prosecutors presented it without a cover sheet warning that the information about incoming calls was unreliable.

Moreover, Brown said Syed's trial lawyer was ineffective because she didn't contact Asia McClain, now Asia Chapman, who said Syed was with her at a public library during the time Lee was killed.

"A mistake was made not to talk to an alibi witness who could have turned this trial around," Brown said, calling Chapman "earnest," "compelling" and "extremely credible."

Brown said, "If Mr. Syed was with Ms. McClain at the library on Jan. 12, 1999, he didn't kill Hae Min Lee. He couldn't have."

She wasn't the only defence witness ignored at trial, Syed's attorneys said. Investigator Sean Gordon testified that he managed to locate 41 of 83 potential alibi witnesses, and only four said they had been contacted by the original defence team for the 2000 trial. Of those, none were asked to testify.

Brown blamed personal problems plaguing Syed's trial attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who was later disbarred in connection with other cases.

"At the time of the Syed case (Gutierrez) was unable to handle her cases," he said. "Her health was failing, her family was in turmoil ... her business, it was becoming unwound. As a result of the wheels coming off the bus, the single most important piece of evidence, an alibi witness, slipped through the cracks."

The case had been closed for years when producer Sarah Koenig, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, began examining it in 2014, drawing millions of listeners to her weekly podcast.

Despite this renewed attention, the prosecutor said, Syed wasn't convicted because of ineffective counsel or faulty evidence, but because "he did it."

Vignarajah said Gutierrez put on a "passionate, vigorous defence," and "poured every ounce of her great talents into Mr. Syed." Syed himself wrote to the trial judge during his original proceedings saying that Gutierrez's "hard work, determination and belief in my innocence assures me I'm in the best hands," he noted.

The victim's relatives insist he's guilty.

"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," their statement read. The defence's key alibi witness, they said, "did not know Hae, and because of Adnan she never will."


Latest Entertainment News

  • SNL pokes fun at Canada with harassment sketch where everyone says 'sorry'

    Entertainment CTV News
    Saturday Night Live poked fun at Canadians this week with a sketch about a harassment scandal where everyone, including Montreal band Arcade Fire, says they're sorry. In addition to the musical guest, the sketch featured former SNL cast member Bill Hader, who played a fictional movie producer accused of being the "Canadian Harvey Weinstein. Source
  • 'Black Panther' tops box office for 5th straight weekend

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Not since "Avatar" has a box-office hit had the kind of staying power of "Black Panther." Ryan Coogler's comic-book sensation on Sunday became the first film since James Cameron's 2009 smash to top the weekend box office five straight weekends. Source
  • Canadian standup comedian Mike MacDonald dies from heart complications

    Entertainment CTV News
    Mike MacDonald, a pioneer of the Canadian standup comedy scene, has died. The longtime comedian died on Saturday afternoon from heart complications at the Ottawa Heart Institute, his brother J.P. MacDonald said on Sunday. Source
  • Four shows to fill this year's 'Game of Thrones' void

    Entertainment CTV News
    While HBO executives teased the demise of multiple main characters in the final season of "Game of Thrones," and reports emerged of cast members tearing up while reading the scripts, the eighth season won't actually be hitting the small screen until April 2019. Source
  • 'Canadian Harvey Weinstein,' Arcade Fire, all 'sorry' in SNL sketch

    Entertainment CBC News
    Members of Montreal rock group Arcade Fire appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch — all squeezing out a Canadian "sorry" as a nod to the #MeToo movement. They took turns apologizing for briefly working for a fictional movie producer dubbed the "Canadian Harvey Weinstein," in the skit that poked gentle fun at the Canadian talent for apologizing. Source
  • 'I'll always stand behind Hedley': Fan makes 1,500 paper hearts to show support

    Entertainment CTV News
    As Toronto police investigate Hedley frontman Jacob Hoggard amid sexual misconduct allegations, a long-time fan helped make 1,500 paper hearts to hand out at a Winnipeg concert in support of the band. “A lot of people can’t live without their music,” Jen Laszchuk told CTV Winnipeg ahead of the Saturday show. Source
  • Barbra Streisand says she's 'never' had #MeToo moment

    Entertainment CBC News
    Barbra Streisand said she's never suffered sexual harassment but has felt abused by the media. During a tribute to Streisand's decades of TV music specials and other programs, producer and long-time admirer Ryan Murphy queried her about her career, the #MeToo movement and her aversion to interviews. Source
  • Barbra Streisand says no #MeToo moment marred her life

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Barbra Streisand says she's never suffered sexual harassment in her long career. Streisand made the comment when she was asked about the #MeToo movement during a tribute to her Saturday in Los Angeles. Source
  • Demi Lovato celebrates 6 years sober at show with DJ Khaled

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Demi Lovato celebrated six years of sobriety at a concert in New York with tour mate DJ Khaled, whose powerful words brought the pop star to tears. Lovato performed Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, telling the audience that March 15 was a proud day for her. Source
  • Demi Lovato celebrates 6 years of sobriety at concert

    Entertainment CBC News
    Demi Lovato celebrated six years of sobriety at a concert in New York with tour mate DJ Khaled, whose words brought the pop star to tears. Lovato performed Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, telling the audience that March 15 was a proud day for her. Source