After listeners finished the first season of the Serial podcast in 2014, they were left without concrete answers. Their imaginations ran wild, questioning if Adnan Syed really did murder his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee on January 13, 1999. The podcast fuelled an obsession which led to Reddit threads and theories that dissected the newly discovered evidence Serial presented. The Marland Court of Special Appeals even reexamined the case, hearing arguments on both sides before voting 4-3 on March 8 to not give Syed another trial. But, the key piece of evidence that continues to feeds the speculation was a letter written by Syed’s friend Asia McClain. Now, HBO is revisiting the case again in a four-part documentary series called The Case Against Adnan Syed. So, 20 years later, let’s inspect this all-important evidence to see why it almost poked holes in the state’s case against Syed.
On June 6, 2000 Syed was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for the murder of Lee. He and his supporters still maintain his innocence, including his new lawyer Justin Brown who tweeted on March 8, “We will not give up.” Syed’s supporters point to two letters addressed to him while he was in jail by McClain that seemingly provide him an alibi. In the first letter, dated March 1, 1999, McClain claimed that she and her boyfriend saw Syed at the library on January 13, 1999 which would have disputed the timeline that placed Syed with Lee at the same time. McClain urged Syed to call her in the letter, saying that she believed he could be innocent and that the Woodlawn Public Library’s surveillance system could prove their conversation happened.
She wrote, “If you were in the library for awhile tell the police and I’ll continue to tell what I know even louder than I am. My boyfriend and his best friend remember seeing you there too.” Interestingly, McClain also informs Syed that, “The police have not been notified yet to my knowledge maybe it will give your side of the story a particle head start.”
In a second letter written the following day, McClain told him about how the students and teachers of Woodlawn High School responded to his arrest. The a notable part of the letter McClain questioned why Syed had not told the police about their conversation.
“1. Why haven’t you told anyone about talking to me in the library? Did you think it was unimportant, you didn’t think I would remember? Or did you just totally forget yourself? 2. How long did you stay in the library that day? Your family will probably try to obtain the library’s surveillance tape. 3. Where exactly did you do and go that day? What is the so-called evidence that my statement is up against? And who are these WITNESSES?”
Despite McClain, her boyfriend, and another friend possibly being able to provide an alibi, Syed’s defence attorney at the time, Cristina Gutierrez, never followed up on the letter. Syed’s friend Rabia Chaudry, who is featured in the HBO documentary, was the one who discovered Gutierrez didn’t pursue McClain’s letter. McClain was never called to testify in 1999.
Chaudry asked McClain to write an affidavit, which she did, after Syed was convicted. McClain wrote her first affidavit on March 25, 2000 and her second on January 13, 2015 where she again confirmed that she was with Syed in the library the day Lee disappeared.
McClain’s claim was part of the new evidence that caused the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to hear more arguments about the case. But, it is still unclear why McClain’s letter and possible alibi for Syed was not given more weight. In her 2015 affidavit, McClain said,
“[Urick] told me there was no merit to any claims that Syed did not get a fair trial. Urick discussed the evidence of the case in a manner that seemed designed to ge me to think Syed was guilty and that I should not bother participating in the case, by telling what I knew about January 13, 1999. Urick convinced me into believing that I should not participate in any ongoing proceedings.”
So, if McClain’s story is true, why did the police, Gutierrez, and Urick all disregard her? We still don’t know the answer to that question, but hopefully The Case Against Adnan Syed addresses this missing piece. Considering Syed’s request for a new trial was denied, it’s possible McClain will never have the opportunity to take the stand and recall what happened the day Lee disappeared.