BALTIMORE (AP) — A Maryland prosecutor on Thursday sought to poke holes in the testimony of an alibi witness who says she chatted with a convicted killer at a library about the time prosecutors say his high school girlfriend was killed in a case that was profiled on the “Serial” podcast.
Asia McClain, now known as Asia Chapman, wrapped up her testimony Thursday during a hearing for Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering Hae Min Lee and is serving a life sentence. He is seeking a new trial on the grounds that his first attorney was ineffective for failing to contact Chapman and calling her as a witness.
During cross-examination, Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah peppered Chapman with questions about the details of her account, including the weather that day in 1999. Although McClain had told Sarah Koenig, host of “Serial,” that the season’s first snow fell on Jan. 13, the day Lee went missing, Vignarajah asked if it would surprise her “if it didn’t snow at all that day,” adding that the first snow was the week before. “Is it possible you’re misremembering?” Vignarajah asked.
Chapman’s testimony, however, was consistent with her previous accounts, and she maintained throughout her two days on the stand that her initial account is true.
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Chapman sent a pair of letters to Syed in jail shortly after his arrest telling him she’d be willing to account for his whereabouts during the time they were together at the library.
But Vignarajah asked repeatedly whether she’d written the second letter weeks after she says she did, and how she came to know the details about the case she mentions in the correspondence. Vignarajah also questioned her about a claim by a friend of Syed who told police Syed had sent Chapman a letter from jail and told her to type it.
Chapman said she knew nothing of that claim, and that she wrote the letter based solely on information and rumors swirling around the high school.
Vignararajah also suggested that Chapman lifted the details in her letter from a search warrant issued weeks after the letter was dated.
“Are you sure nobody gave you information and you wrote this letter weeks later?” Vignarajah asked. “You never read any search warrants?”
Chapman said she did not.
Defense attorney Justin Brown also called an expert to discuss cellphone tower data prosecutors used to link Syed to the location Lee’s body was found on the day they say she was killed.
Syed’s attorneys argued that the data is misleading because it was presented to jurors at Syed’s first trial without a cover sheet advising that incoming calls are not reliable to prove location information.
The witness, Gerald Grant, told the court that the warning is crucial in order to accurately read the data.
Brown also entered into evidence an affidavit from Abraham Waranowitz, who worked at AT&T as a radio frequency engineer and testified for the state at Syed’s original trial. At the time, Waranowitz testified that the cell data placed Syed at the burial scene. But in the affidavit he wrote that he was unaware of the warning about reliability.
“If I had been made aware of this disclaimer, it would have affected my testimony,” he wrote, adding that he wouldn’t have affirmed a phone’s possible location without better understanding the disclaimer.
More witness testimony is expected Friday.