Brow Beat

A Serial Witness Reverses Her Story in the Latest Bizarre Twist

The Serial intrigue continues: A witness denies that she recanted her testimony back in 2010.

Larry W. Smith

Weeks after the podcast Serial sounded its final, inconclusive note, new developments continue to bubble up. Via The Blaze, the most recent twist to complicate the case of Adnan Syed—convicted in 2000 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee—is an affidavit from a classmate, Asia McClain.

As the podcast revealed, McClain wrote two letters back in 1999 swearing that she had been in the library with Syed at the exact time the state claimed that Syed was strangling Lee. Syed turned McClain’s letters over to his lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, who apparently never followed up on the thread. Gutierrez’s oversight was grounds for an appeal alleging incompetent defense; the appeal was defeated in 2010 when prosecutor Kevin Urick testified that he had spoken to McClain—and that she had admitted to fabricating the alibi under pressure from Syed’s family. McClain herself never appeared in court.

Now, the 33-year-old woman has written a new affidavit claiming that she did not recant her story to Urick as the appeals process ramped up, that she was with Syed in the library on the afternoon of the crime, and that Syed’s loved ones did not influence her original decision to come forward. Perhaps most damning, McClain suggests that Urick essentially talked her out of participating in the appeals process by implying that the state’s evidence against Syed was far more robust than it was.

From the affidavit:

I never told Urick that I recanted my story or affidavit about January 13, 1999. In addition, I did not write the March 1999 letters or the affidavit because of pressure from Syed’s family. I did not write them to please Syed’s family or to get them off my back. What actually happened is that I wrote the affidavit because I wanted to provide the truth about what I remembered. My only goal has always been to provide the truth about what I remembered.

McClain informed The Blaze that when Syed’s defense team reached out to her in 2010, she assumed that the case against him was strong, and that she was being contacted “as a Hail Mary.” Confused, she called up Urick to ask what was going on. According to McClain, Urick discouraged her from testifying and powerfully implied that Syed was guilty. At no point, she says, did she tell the prosecutor that she wanted to withdraw her earlier accounts of what happened on Jan. 13, or assert that Syed’s family had leaned on her to dream up an alibi.

“I came to understand my importance to the case,” reads McClain’s new affidavit, and “I decided that I needed to step forward and make my story known to the court system.”

Urick, for his part, called the fresh allegation “completely false” and insisted that “she [McClain] definitely told me that she wrote what she wrote … to appease the family.”

Last year, Serial drew criticism for painting what some felt was an inappropriately glowing portrait of Adnan Syed while undercutting his detractors. Key prosecutorial players—Urick, star witness Jay Wilds—never spoke directly on the podcast to producer Sarah Koenig, in whose telling the first comes off as overzealous, and the second as a liar.* While McClain’s revelation buttresses the Koenig Doctrine that Syed was wrongfully convicted, Urick’s rebuttal supports a competing doctrine: that we’re all a bunch of dupes with bleeding hearts.

McClain told The Blaze that she is willing to speak in court about what happened in the library 16 years ago, a decision that could weaken the bars around Syed, especially as the prisoner’s current attorney plans to use McClain’s affidavit in the latest appeal.

*Correction, Jan. 21, 2014: This post originally misstated that Koenig never spoke directly to Jay Wilds. Koenig did speak to Wilds, but did not obtain his permission to air the interview on Serial.