An alibi witness for a convicted murderer profiled in the public radio podcast "Serial" testified Wednesday that a former Baltimore prosecutor misled her about the importance of her testimony and that he later gave a deceptive account of their conversation when he testified about it during a hearing.
Asia McClain, now known as Asia Chapman, testified Wednesday during a hearing for Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murder and is seeking a new trial in a case that was spotlighted by the popular podcast.
Chapman has said she saw Syed in a library within the time when prosecutors contend he was killing his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. But McClain was never contacted by Syed's attorney to testify at his trial.
Chapman told the court that years after Syed was convicted, Syed's defense attorney, who was working on an appeal, visited her at her home and left a business card. She called then-prosecutor Kevin Urick because she figured he'd be less biased than the defense attorney.
During their 34-minute phone conversation, Chapman said she took detailed notes and Urick told her that Syed "killed that girl."
"I walked away feeling like (the defense) was trying to manipulate the court to get him in front of a judge," Chapman testified, adding that Urick convinced her that Syed "was 100 percent guilty, and it was a waste of my time to get involved."
But she says Urick later testified at Syed's first post-conviction hearing that his phone call with her lasted only five minutes, and said that she'd told him that her affidavit was false.
"He said I told him everything I said in the affidavit was not true, that I wrote the affidavit because I was pressured," Chapman said of Urick's testimony. "All of this was news to me. I was in shock. I was angry that I had allowed my thoughts and opinions to be represented by a third party."
After learning of Urick's testimony Chapman said she requested her phone records and verified that her conversation with Urick lasted 34 minutes.
Chapman also said she would have come to court to testify even if she hadn't been subpoenaed.
"I felt it was the right thing to do," she said. "For justice to be served all information has to be on the table."
A message left at Urick's office was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, Syed's attorney Justin Brown told Judge Martin Welch that previous defense attorney Cristina Gutierrez made a mistake in failing to call the alibi witness. But Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah said there were reasons to think the witness might be unreliable.
Vignarajah argued that Gutierrez was a dedicated and effective attorney, and that Syed was convicted not because his lawyer was incompetent, "but because he did it." Vignarajah added that Gutierrez made a decision not to pursue McClain as a witness.
"There were all sorts of reasons that this was not a reliable witness, and perhaps a risky witness," Vignarajah said.
But Brown linked the decision to personal problems that were plaguing 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. What was happening at 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."
Syed was present in court, dressed in light blue prison garb, wearing a long beard and a knit cap. His hands were shackled. Spectators filled a row reserved for the public, including friends, supporters and members of Syed's family.
The case had been closed for years when producer Sarah Koenig, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, began examining it in the podcast in 2014, drawing millions of listeners each week.
The podcast raised questions about the fairness of Syed's trial, gained a cult following and uncovered evidence that helped prompt a Maryland appeals court to grant a hearing on the possibility of a new trial.
Syed's motion for a new trial also involves cell tower data that defense attorneys argue is inaccurate.
The state, too, will have a chance to call witnesses.
A motion filed Tuesday shows that prosecutors intend to call Urick and other members of the prosecution team. An FBI agent who specializes in cell tower data is also on the state's potential witness list, as is an expert in criminal defense practices.
At a news conference Wednesday, Vignarajah read aloud a statement from Lee's family, which has shied away from commenting on the case.
"We believe justice was done when Adnan was convicted in 2000, and we look forward to bringing this chapter to an end so we can celebrate the memory of Hae instead of celebrating the man who killed her," it read.