Two former classmates reached out to the Attorney General's Office and claimed Asia McClain told them two decades ago that she would "make up a lie" to prove Adnan Syed's innocence. (Emma Patti Harris/Baltimore Sun video)
More than a decade after the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, whose guilt or innocence became the subject of the popular podcast "Serial," two former high school classmates have emerged, saying a key alibi witness would "make up a lie" to help his case.
The former Woodlawn High School students, who are sisters, gave sworn statements to the Maryland attorney general's office this summer, recalling a heated argument in 1999 with Asia McClain in class after she said she believed in Syed's innocence and wanted to help him, according to a new court filing.
Syed was convicted by a jury of murder in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison.
McClain testified at a postconviction hearing this year that she saw Syed in the Woodlawn library during the time that prosecutors believe his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, was killed. While a judge overturned Syed's sentence in June on different grounds, the alibi provided by McClain could be revived as the appeals process plays out.
The two classmates who cast doubt on McClain's account had reached out to her on Facebook and then came forward the week after Syed was granted a new trial.
"I think it's sad he may actually be set free because of you and this fabricated story," one of the former classmates wrote to McClain in a recent Facebook message cited in court documents.
The statements from the sisters are included in a supplemental filing by the attorney general's office as it appeals a judge's decision in June to overturn Syed's sentence. Their identities are not revealed in the filing.
McClain's attorney, Gary Proctor, said in a statement Monday: "Given that the case is now before an appellate court, we question the timing of these bizarre, and wholly factually untrue, allegations."
Syed had petitioned for a new trial on the strength of McClain's account and other issues, and his attorneys were successful in raising questions about the reliability of cellphone tower evidence used in the original trial.
Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch was not swayed by McClain's testimony. Instead, he cited questions over the cellphone evidence as grounds for a new trial.
The attorney general's office says it wants the classmates' claims to be part of the record as the state and defense pursue cross-appeals that could make McClain's testimony relevant.
"The State submits that supplementing the record with affidavits that directly undermine McClain's truthfulness would reinforce the grounds for denying Syed's petition and would provide the post-conviction court an opportunity, with a more complete record, to resolve the McClain-alibi contention as a matter of law," Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah wrote.
One week after Welch's ruling, the state says, it received an unsolicited email from one of the former classmates.
McClain's "story about seeing Adnan in the library the day Hae was killed is a lie," the letter said.
The classmate said she remembered that in a conversation in co-op class, McClain said "she believed so much in Adnan's innocence that she would make up a lie to prove he couldn't have done it."
"Both my sister and I (more so my sister) argued with Asia about how serious this situation was. She just said that it wouldn't hurt anything — that if he was truly guilty, then he would be convicted. I'm not sure what can come of this information but I felt I had to let someone know."
When attorneys for the state hinted at the classmates' claims earlier this month, McClain told The Baltimore Sun at that time: "I will say that these allegations are false, and that I can prove it."
McClain has maintained for years that she was stuck at the Woodlawn library on the day of Lee's death, waiting for her boyfriend, when she struck up a conversation with Syed. She testified at his February hearing that Syed was acting "completely normal" that day.
Syed had failed in previous attempts to gain a new trial, but the "Serial" podcast breathed new life into those efforts by raising questions about the case. Syed's supporters said McClain's account had been wrongly overlooked by his trial lawyers and merited a new trial.
McClain first raised the potential alibi immediately after Syed's arrest in 1999, writing a letter to him in jail and offering to help if he thought the information would be useful.
"If [you are] innocent I [will] do my best to help you," she wrote, urging him to acquire surveillance footage from the library. "But if you're not only God can help you."
She wrote a second letter a day later, she said, but never heard from Syed's attorneys. Later, she said a prosecutor told her that her account would not have changed anything about the case.
McClain said the podcast persuaded her to speak up.
"In order for justice to be served, all information has to be out on the table," McClain testified at February's hearing.
At that hearing, Vignarajah cited notes from the trial team's case file to argue that McClain's account did not mesh with Syed's account to police about his movements that day. He said the letter McClain wrote to Syed raised a number of "warning signs and red flags" and that Syed's attorney could have reasonably chosen to shy away from her as a witness.
"Asia McClain was not a weapon for the defense, but a potential weakness," Vignarajah said in February.
After the hearing, McClain published a book called "Confessions of a Serial Alibi."
On June 30, Welch reversed Syed's conviction and ordered a new trial. Syed remains jailed as the appeals are sorted out.
The sisters reached out to the state on July 7, and police obtained their Facebook messages with McClain as far back as 2014, when "Serial" was released.
"I had no idea you had been involved all those years ago," one of the sisters wrote to McClain.
On July 1, that sister wrote again to McClain, saying Syed "never told anyone, the police or his attorney to pursue you in the investigation because he knew you were full of it — he knew it never happened." She then blocked McClain on Facebook.
McClain then wrote to the other sister, saying she had received a "crazy message" and wondered if her account was hacked.
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The other sister responded, "I've sat back and let you have your 15 minutes of fame on behalf of that poor girl because I didn't think anyone would actually [entertain] you or your fabricated story about seeing him in the library. I remember that day in Ms. Graham's like it was yesterday. I remember getting into a heated argument with you about how serious the situation was and that a girl lost her life and [redacted] actually had to 'break up' our verbal altercation."
"Wow, this is crazy," McClain wrote back. "I'm not lying about any of this."
Syed's defense filed a cross-appeal this month, arguing that Welch was wrong to not grant Syed a new trial based on McClain's account. His trial attorney's "failure to present an alibi defense was all the more damaging because such an alibi would have rebutted the 'relatively weak' theory the state offered regarding the timing of the murder," Syed's attorneys wrote.
A timeline for Lee's death of 2:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. figured prominently in the state's case against Syed. McClain says she saw Syed in the library between 2:15 and 2:35.
"Had McClain been contacted and testified at trial, her testimony not only would have dismantled the State's timeline regarding the murder itself; it would have undermined the credibility of the State's star witness" — his alleged accomplice, Jay Wilds, Syed's attorneys said.