EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Serial Podcast, Transcripts: The 2:36 Best Buy Call Was in the Opening Statement at the 1st Trial!

I've posted 24 entries Sarah Koenig's Serial Podcast, which deals with the 1999 prosecution of 17 year-old Adnan Syed for murdering his ex-girlfriend, 18 year-old Hae Min Lee, on January 13, 1999. These posts are collected in my Legal Companion to the Serial Podcast. Today brings a new component to the podcast as Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and the sister of Adnan's best friend, has started releasing the full trial transcripts from Adnan's trials. Today, she posted a document containing jury selection and opening statements from Adnan's first trial (which ended in a mistrial). With this release, we have our first bombshell. This is from prosecutor Kevin Urick's opening statement:


Why is this such a big deal? One of Adnan's claims in his current post-conviction review petition is that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) because his trial counsel failed to contact Asia McClain, a potential alibi witness. McClain wrote Adnan two letters after he was arrested for Hae's murder, with the first letter stating in relevant part:

Dear Adnan-- I hope I spelled it right. I'm not sure if you remember talking to me in the library on January 13, but I remember chatting with you." She says, quote, "we aren't really close friends, but I want you to look into my eyes and tell me of your innocence. If I ever find otherwise, I will hunt you down and whip your ass. OK, friend?" At the bottom she added a little note. "My boyfriend and his best friend remember seeing you there, too."

Was Adnan's trial counsel aware of McClain? Yes. As I noted in a prior post:

Did defense counsel know about Asia McClain? Yes. In the podcast, Sarah Koenig notes that she sifted through defense counsel's notes on the case and found one stating, "Asia plus boyfriend saw him in library 2:15 to 3:15." Koenig also states that another note written by one of defense counsel's law clerks states, "Asia McClain saw him in the library at 3:00. Asia boyfriend saw him too. Library may have cameras." 

After listening to the ninth episode of Serial, however, I saw a potential problem with Adnan's IAC claim. Asia McClain is important as an alibi witness primarily because the prosecution claimed that Adnan called his friend Jay at 2:36 P.M. and told him he had killed Hae at Best Buy. The ninth episode made it seem as if the prosecutor didn't make this claim until his closing argument at Adnan's second trial. 

If this happened, it would have complicated Adnan's IAC claim because Jay actually testified that the Best Buy call was between 3:40 and 3:50ish. Therefore, an argument could have been made that defense counsel didn't have reason to contact McClain before the prosecutor's closing argument at the second trial.

The cited portion of the prosecutor's opening statement at Adnan's first trial now lays that argument to rest. Rabia's document indicates that the prosecutor said on December 10, 1999 that the Best Buy call was made at "about 2:30, 2:40." Consider my timeline of Adnan's case: Adnan's defense counsel then had 5 days to contact McClain before the first trial ended in a mistral on December 15, 1999. She then had over a month to contact McClain before Adnan's second trial started on January 21, 2000. And she then had another month or so to contact McClain before the defense rested (a verdict was reached on February 25, 2000). This greatly strengthens Adnan's claim that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel.



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