Baltimore State’s Attorney Calls Petition To Reopen Adnan Syed Case “Meritless”

Yesterday, Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiruvendran Vignarajah responded to Adnan Syed’s petition to have his murder case reopened with a 34-page motion calling the request “meritless” and that hearing from alleged alibi witness Asia McClain would be “inconsequential theater and not in the interest of justice.” LOL OKAY DUDE.

Just a quick refresher if you’ve been living under a rock for the last year: Adnan Syed was convicted in the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, based on testimony from one witness and cell phone records that the state claimed corroborated his story. Syed has long maintained his innocence and the first season of Serial delved into the facts and holes in the case, prompting many to agree that Syed may have been wrongfully convicted. Undisclosed, a followup podcast from a lawyer friend of Syed’s and two other lawyers who became invested in the case via Serial, has since pulled back the curtain on the actual police investigation into Lee’s disappearance and then murder, as well as the prosecution’s unusual dealings with the case’s star witness, Jay Wilds, further bolstering the theory that Syed was pursued as the only suspect almost right away and that evidence and witness testimony was manipulated to fit that theory.

I’ve personally spent a lot of time immersed in the facts of this case — much of which was never presented at trial or discussed on Serial – and am convinced with 100 percent certainty that Adnan Syed is innocent and was wrongfully convicted thanks to corrupt and lazy police work and a prosecutor looking for an easy conviction. But even if I wasn’t convinced of Syed’s total innocence in Lee’s disappearance and death, I would still feel that the case should be reopened based on the mounting evidence that the case was horribly handled by everyone involved, from the police, to the prosecutor’s office, to Syed’s own attorney not doing her job.

Syed’s attorneys have asked the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to grant Syed a new trial based on the claim that his attorney Cristina Gutierrez (who has since passed away) had knowledge of a potential alibi witness named Asia McClain, but never contacted her. In an affidavit filed along with Syed’s petition, McClain also claimed that prosector Kevin Urick dissuaded her from testifying at a post-conviction hearing. Vignarajah called that claim “preposterous.”

Asia McClain’s testimony — which I believe will still be heard regardless of Vignarajah’s opinion on the matter (any lawyers reading this feel free to correct me!) — is not the only angle Syed’s attorneys are pursuing to prove poor representation by Gutierrez. They also have contended that Gutierrez failed to challenge the prosecution’s use of cell phone records to corroborate their timeline for Syed’s actions on the day of Lee’s murder, despite having a fax cover sheet from AT&T that makes it abundantly clear incoming calls cannot be used to accurately determine location.

Curiously, Vignarajah called that contention “misleading,” saying that the fax cover sheet actually referred to an entirely different set of documents. But as Rabia Chaudry, one of the hosts of Undisclosed (and a friend of Syed’s), noted on Twitter, the only AT&T documents that were submitted into evidence were Syed’s cell phone records. If another set of documents exists, they should be disclosed to Syed’s legal team.

However, a deeper look into the 34-page motion indicates that, uh, the state’s attorney has not done a very good job reviewing the case or the evidence. In regards to the cell phone records and that fax cover sheet, the motion states:

The State is compelled, however, to also point out that even a cursory review of the cell tower records and fax cover sheets makes it clear that what Syed characterizes as an “unambiguous warning” does not relate to the cell tower records relied upon at trial by the State’s expert and admitted into evidence, but rather applies to information listed on documents titled “Subscriber Activity” reports. These “Subscriber Activity” reports were neither identified as exhibits nor admitted into evidence.

This is patently FALSE. Susan Simpson, an attorney and host on Undisclosed, who actually spent the last year immersed in the case, contradicted the state’s contention by tweeting an actual screenshot of the “cell phone tower records relied upon at trial” and “admitted into evidence” which clearly shows “SUBSCRIBER ACTIVITY” typed at the top:

So, either there are more AT&T documents that the State withheld from the defense OR the State just doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Regardless, the only thing that’s “meritless” is the State’s latest floundering attempt at denying any wrongdoing in a case rife with improper and likely unlawful behavior.

[Baltimore Sun]

[CJ Brown (PDF)]