Undisclosed Podcasters Uncover Massive Brady Violation That Should All But Guarantee Adnan Syed A New Trial

On last night’s Undisclosed podcast – the unofficial followup to the first season of Serial, which was about  the conviction of Adnan Syed in the 1999 death of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee – the biggest bombshell yet, in a case that has been full of them, was dropped. It involves a Brady violation so blatant that it, at the very least, could very well lead to a new trial for Syed. But the implications are bigger than that, and as it involves a lot of legal mumbo jumbo (seriously, I listened three times and have pages of notes), I’m breaking this bitch down into two posts, not one.  First, let’s talk about the alleged Brady violation itself and what it means for Syed’s current quest for a new trial..

So, if you listened to Serial and have paid attention to the case since, you know that getting a new trial for a convicted murderer is no easy feat and there is a complicated system of legal hoops that must be jump through, and very specific information that must be presented, in order to have even a hope and a prayer of being granted a new trial. Syed’s legal team, including representatives from the Innocence Project, have been pursuing a couple of different avenues, some of which I have written about on The Frisky. For example:

  • There’s the argument for defective assistance of counsel, based on the argument that Syed’s defense attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, had knowledge of a potential alibi witness named Asia McClain, but did not ever contact her. McClain has since signed an affadavit claiming she did see Syed on the day of Lee’s disappearance, during the time when the prosecution argued Syed killed Lee. She also says that prosecutor Kevin Urick suppressed her testimony at Syed’s 2010 appeal and discouraged her from participating in the trial. A new evidentiary hearing was granted in May, paving the way for McClain’s alibi testimony to finally be heard.
  • Then yesterday, Syed’s attorney filed a motion citing a new piece of evidence that undermines the validity of the prosecution’s use of Syed’s cellphone records as evidence that supported their timeline for the day of Lee’s disappearance/murder — specifically a fax cover sheet from AT&T that was included along with Syed’s cellphone records, which explicitly states in underlined text that “Outgoing calls only are reliable for location status. Any incoming calls will NOT be considered reliable information.” Cell tower data was used to corroborate the testimony of Jay Wilds, the prosecution’s star witness  – including and especially the incoming calls which prosecutors claimed placed Syed in Leakin Park that evening, when Jay says that the two of them disposed of Lee’s body. Per this fax cover sheet provided by AT&T, those incoming calls, and the others used as evidence by the prosecution, are not reliable information for determining location.

However, while these two huge revelations are definitely evidence that Guttierez failed to provide effective counsel for Syed, what was revealed on Undisclosed’s 10th episode, “Crime Stoppers,” points to something much bigger: a massive Brady violation on the part of the Baltimore District Attorney’s office, which not only violates Syed’s right to due process, but also clearly indicates how, why and when Baltimore police settled on Syed as their only suspect, leading them to quite literally craft a case against him that explicitly ignored any evidence to the contrary, and calls into question the testimony of the police officers involved and the integrity of their investigation as a whole. Allow me to do my very best to explain…

As you might remember from Serial, prosecutors claimed that on February 12, 1999 — three days after Lee’s body was found in Leakin Park — an anonymous tip was placed, telling the police to look into Syed. By their account, this is what led the police — specifically Baltimore City Detectives Ritz and McGillivary — to start looking into Syed as a possible suspect in Lee’s murder. For the sake of brevity, as this post is already long and I’m only getting started, I won’t get into the many holes that have been poked into what the detectives say was the chain of events in their investigation from that day forward, versus what their notes (many of which were written up well after the fact, or have since gone missing, or never existed in the first place), files, and witness statements actually indicate. The main thing to remember is that according to the documented police investigation, Adnan Syed did not become a potential suspect in Hae Min Lee’s disappearance and murder until almost exactly a month after she disappeared (January 13), and three days after her body was discovered (February 9), when this anonymous tip pointed the cops in Syed’s direction on February 12.

Well, it turns out that anonymous tip on February 12 was definitely not the first — and might not have ever really occurred. The first anonymous tip regarding the case, and pointing the police in Syed’s direction, was actually called in on February 1.

As revealed on Undisclosed, Reddit user @whentheworldscollide contacted Crime Stoppers and inquired about a Crime Stoppers reward that was offered for information about the then-disappearance of Lee, and learned the following information: the first anonymous tip was actually made on February 1, 1999, pointing police in the direction of Syed, and that in November 1999, that anonymous tipster was paid a reward of $3075. Crime Stoppers tipsters are only paid the reward for the information they have provided if that information leads to an arrest and indictment in that case, and the approval for and exact amount of that reward is determined by the detective. The February 1 tip, which kickstarted the police’s investigation into Syed (12 full days before they claimed to have added him to their list of suspects), and the subsequent reward payout in November, absolutely had to have been known by Prosecutor Urick, but it was never disclosed to the defense and was never referenced at either the first (which ended in a mistrial) or second trial – though the February 12 tip (which did not not result in a reward payout for the anonymous tipster) was repeatedly.

Not disclosing to the defense the existence of this initial tip and thus the context it provides for the subsequent 11-12 days of police investigation before Syed was named as an official suspect, not to mention the reward payout, which is only approved if the tip leads to an arrest and indictment, is a MASSIVE Brady violation. By hiding this information from the defense, and its obvious influence on the investigation leading to Syed’s arrest and eventual conviction, makes it impossible for the defense to do their job and completely violates Syed’s right to a fair trial. Evidence of this violation, once submitted to the court, should at the very least guarantee Adnan Syed a new trial.

Still with me? You’ll notice I said “at the very least.” That’s because, depending on the content and source of that February 1 tip, it could lead to Syed’s prior conviction being thrown out AND the prosecution choosing NOT to pursue a new trial against him. Why? Because, according to the Undisclosed team, there is very good reason to suspect that the February 1 tipster (and $3075 reward recipient) was none other than the prosecution’s star witness, Jay Wilds.

More on THAT in a separate post…

PART 2: Was Jay Wilds The Anonymous Tipster Who Pointed The Police At Adnan Syed?