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Crime

'Serial' case: Adnan Syed hearing expected to wrap up Tuesday

A hearing for Adnan Syed, focus of 'Serial' podcast, continues Monday.

Defense attorneys for Adnan Syed, the convicted murderer whose case was re-examined in the popular "Serial" podcast, and the Maryland attorney general's office rested their cases Monday in a hearing to determine whether he will get a new trial.

The two sides were expected to make final arguments Tuesday. It is not clear whether retired Judge Martin P. Welch will make a ruling from the bench or take time to issue a written opinion.

Syed is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2000 of killing Hae Min Lee, his ex-girlfriend and a Woodlawn High School classmate, in 1999. Though he was denied a request for a new trial in 2012, "Serial" raised fresh questions about his case and led to disclosures that prompted another hearing.

Those disclosures included the account of former classmate Asia McClain, who says she saw Syed in a library during the time when prosecutors say Lee was being killed. McClain said Syed's defense team ignored her account at the time, and that her statements were misrepresented at his 2012 hearing, in which she did not take part.

McClain, who now lives in Washington state, testified last week that she is confident she saw Syed. A legal expert who testified for the defense said her testimony would have "changed the ballgame's result" and said Syed's lawyers at the time had failed in their duty to represent him.

Syed's new defense team also says that they discovered a fax cover sheet that accompanied cellphone records that were used to tie Syed to the area where Lee's body was found. The sheet includes a warning about the reliability of incoming calls for determining location.

Overall, the defense says, both issues show Syed had ineffective legal counsel during his trial.

The state attorney general's office is opposing Syed's request, saying he is guilty and received a fair trial. They said his former attorney, who died in 2004, made strategic decisions, and they worked to raise questions about McClain's account.

An FBI cellphone expert also testified Monday that he backed the cell tower analysis linking Syed's phone to the area where Lee's body was found.

Special Agent Chad Fitzgerald said the analysis was "very good, and thorough" after reviewing the cell records and the testimony of the original cellphone expert who testified at Syed's 2000 trial.

That analyst, Abraham Waranowitz, has signed an affidavit saying that he had concerns about his own work after seeing a fax cover sheet sent from AT&T that warned of the reliability of incoming calls for determining location.

C. Justin Brown, one of Syed's current attorneys, asked Fitzgerald how he could stand behind an analysis that Waranowitz himself was backing away from.

"I think the judge would like to hear it from him, not from me," Fitzgerald said.

Despite his affidavit from last fall, Waranowitz was not called to testify during the hearing. Waranowitz declined to comment when reached by The Baltimore Sun.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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