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Serial retrial update: two classmates come forward to challenge key alibi witness

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Just a few weeks ago, it was announced that Adnan Syed, the subject of the first season of Serial, had been granted a new trial.

Now, in a new twist, two of his former high school classmates have formally reached out to the attorney general’s office and raised concerns about key alibi witness Asia McClain Chapman.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the former Woodlawn High School students (whose identities have not been revealed) have claimed she told them that she would “make up a lie” in order to prove that Syed was innocent.

The two gave sworn statements, in which they recalled a heated exchange with McClain in 1999 during class.

During the argument, they allege, she told them that she believed Syed was innocent of the killing of his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, and wanted to help him.

She believed so much in Adnan's innocence that she would make up a lie to prove he couldn't have done it.

“She believed so much in Adnan's innocence that she would make up a lie to prove he couldn't have done it,” they wrote in a letter.

“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.”

It was also revealed in court documents that one of the sisters had penned a Facebook message to Chapman after Syed was granted a retrial, which read: "I think it's sad he may actually be set free because of you and this fabricated story."

Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee

Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee, pictured in 1999

In a post-conviction hearing earlier this year, McClain testified that she had spent 15 minutes with Syed at the library during the period of time in which prosecutors believe Lee was killed.

Despite trying to get in touch with Syed's defence team on multiple occasions, she was never called as a witness in the original murder trial.

The deputy attorney general, Thiru Vignarajah, released the following statement to the newspaper in response to the development:

“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.”

Syed was granted a retrial in June because his original barrister, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to question a mobile phone tower expert about the reliability of data that had originally placed Syed near the burial site of the victim’s body.

Following the ruling, Syed’s barrister, Justin Brown, said: “The conviction is erased, it’s gone. As of this day, he’s not convicted anymore.”

Brown called the ruling an “incredible victory,” and said: “I’m feeling pretty confident right now. This was the biggest hurdle. It’s really hard to get a new trial.”

Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed, pictured in 2016

As fans of Serial will already know, Syed was convicted of the murder of Lee in Baltimore in 2000.

He was 17 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2014, the case was re-examined in Sarah Koenig’s 12-episode podcast, revisiting evidence and questioning the legitimacy of the case against Syed.

The podcast quickly went viral, being streamed or downloaded over 68 million times, and received the prestigious Peabody Award for  its “innovations of form and its compelling, drilling account of how guilt, truth and reality are decided”

As a result, it has sparked many heated arguments about what actually happened on 13 January 1999 – and inspired many to campaign for Syed’s freedom.

However, while many celebrated the news of his retrial, the earliest one could feasibly take place would be in 2017 or 2018.

Rabia Chaudry, the lawyer at the centre of the case, recently told us that while she believes Syed is innocent, she doesn’t believe a retrial will be granted at all.

“I cannot imagine the state trying to retry this case,” she said. “I think they’ll be cornered at some point and have to order some kind of deal.”

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