I really wish that I could write something that would do justice to this book and encourage others to read it. Preferably they would read it after familiarising themselves with the background of the case in which Asia McClain (now Chapman) features as an alibi witness.
I came to his book after listening to the Serial and Undisclosed podcasts, and after reading Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry.
Clearly most people wouldn’t want to go to such preparatory lengths before reading a 240 page book, so here is the basic background.
On January 13 1999 Hae Min Lee, a student of Woodlawn High School in Maryland was reported as missing. On February 9th her partially buried body was discovered.
Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was charged with her murder and convicted on the evidence of a witness who claimed he’d helped Syed dispose of the body, backed by cell-phone records that placed him at the burial site a few hours after Hae’s disappearance.
But all was not as it seemed.
The witness’s story changed significantly every time he told it. His most recent version now claims the burial took place several hours after the phone records allegedly placed them at the burial site.
Additionally, the phone data placing Syed’s phone at the site at the previously claimed time of the burial relates to an incoming call, and the phone company’s cover sheet clearly stated that incoming calls could not be used to identify a phone’s location. By some “quirk of fate” the prosecuting attorneys failed to include the cover sheet when providing the defence attorney with the phone records, leaving them in the dark about that disqualifying statement.
There is far more to this story than can be told in detail in a few paragraphs in a blog post, a few more of the issues are mentioned on my other blog here
Asia McClain Chapman’s book looks at another significant problem with the case against Syed. He actually had an alibi for the time the prosecutors claimed he was killing Hae.
Asia McClain was that alibi witness. She saw him in the public library and spoke to him for about 20 minutes at the same time the prosecution claim he was committing the crime. However, for reasons unknown, her offer of that alibi was ignored by Syed’s defence team and she was never called upon to give her evidence at the trial.
McClain had no particular allegiance to Syed. Both he and Hae Min Lee were classmates she didn’t know well, at best they were friends of friends. Her interest was in allowing the truth to be found, and in telling what she knew to help that process. She didn’t get that opportunity at the original trial. When Adnan was found guilty, she assumed justice had been done and put the situation behind her.
Or so she thought…
Years later she was approached to give evidence at an appeal hearing. Due to concerns about the issue being raised again, and a suspicion that Syed’s defence team could exploit her to free a guilty man, she sought legal advice. Unfortunately she spoke to Kevin Urick, the prosecutor at the original trial and his advice led her to reject the defence team’s requests.
Because of Kevin Urick I saw Adnan as being 100 percent guilty and deserving of a lengthy prison stay I didn’t want to contribute to some sleazy underhanded attempt to get a convicted murderer out of prison.
Unfortunately for Urick, through the Serial podcast, McClain became aware that at the appeal hearing, he misrepresented her and their conversation, giving false information about her original offer to be an alibi witness and why she had declined to give that evidence at the appeal.
It’s a funny thing to find out through the grapevine that another person has misspoken about your words and intentions. It’s another thing to find out through a podcast simultaneously with millions of other people. From the moment I heard Urick’s post conviction testimony I felt I had been taken advantage of. In my entire life I can’t recall ever feeling so duped and foolish.
I know that when Kevin Urick gave that testimony he had no idea that it would be featured in an internationally-known podcast. However, in life such as in court, that’s like saying that a dirt bag who rapes a woman at a public concert has no idea that other people are videotaping it. That my friends is the power of God. Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truthful lips endue forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”
When I think about Urick I feel so violated and shameful in the sense that my only faults were being naïve and trusting him.
It made me sick to my stomach to know a conversation with me had been discussed without my knowledge or consent, that a falsehood had been seen as fact. Not to mention the idea of that falsehood being used as the basis for denying Adnan’s appeal. Hell, anyone’s appeal. We [Asia and her husband] agreed that we needed to make ourselves available to do whatever was needed to set the wrong right.
Above I’ve probably featured too many quotes from the book, but I think those quotes demonstrate a significant aspect of this case – the prosecution’s tactic of falsifying and misrepresenting evidence to obtain a desired result. Their desire to win at all costs – even the cost of the truth and justice. Getting A result (the only result they’d counted on) was more important to them than getting the RIGHT result.
The above experience with Urick wasn’t the last experience of this type for the author. When she eventually had her day in court to present her testimony to another appeal, she was again subjected to a similar disregard for the truth by the prosecutor at that court, Thiru Vignarajah (then Deputy Attorney General of Maryland); having her good character attacked and suffering all kinds of accusations about her motives for providing an alibi for Syed.
It might be said in the prosecutor’s defence that it was his job to challenge her and her testimony in court, however, according to McClain Chapman, his personal attacks continued in the media long after his job in court had been done.
…he continues to slander my character and lie about my motivations both in court and via any press conference awarded to him.
Up to the time of publishing the book, Asia McClain Chapman has maintained an uncertainty about the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed. All along she claims her only desire is to tell the truth and to allow the legal process to make that determination according to the evidence.
However, I’m not so sure that her experience has given her any confidence that the legal process is capable of doing that with justice, and that is perhaps the most important thing about this book. It’s not just about the story of Asia McClain and her part in the story of one particular criminal case, it’s an expose of serious problems in the US justice system.
In our country there is supposed to be equal justice for all under the Constitution. Unfortunately, the system is so broken that many prosecutors only care about winning and not whether a defendant is truly guilty or innocent.
The court case at which Asian McClain Chapman was finally able to present her testimony led to the overturning of the conviction against Adnan Syed and the granting of a retrial. However, until that takes place he remains incarcerated in the same way a suspect denied bail would remain behind bars.
Not unexpectedly there has been appeal against that decision, so the legal processes grind on as slowly as ever.
It’s been two years since Serial subject Adnan Syed was granted a new trial, but his case will remain in limbo – and he’ll remain in prison – for another year.
This week, Maryland’s highest court agreed to hear the State’s appeal, which seeks to reinstate Syed’s conviction in 2000 for the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.