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Credit: Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP

Nearly 17 years after Adnan Syed was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, the subject of the wildly popular true crime podcast Serial finds himself back in court with a new hearing — and a potential alibi.

Syed appeared in a Baltimore courtroom Wednesday for post-conviction proceedings. Family members of Syed and Lee were in attendance.

“Our family has lived without a heart for over 17 years. And we continue to grieve every day in private,” Lee’s family said in a statement, read by Maryland assistant attorney general Thiru Vignarajah. “The immediate family members have decided not to attend this hearing. But we are grateful to all the people who are there and will be there to support and to give Hae a voice. She is the true victim.

“Although this has made us relive a nightmare we thought was behind us, we thank the State for standing up for us and continuing to seek justice,” the statement continued. “We believe justice was done when Adnan was convicted in 2000, and we look forward to bringing this chapter to an end so we can celebrate the memory of Hae instead of celebrating the man who killed her.”

Syed’s attorney C. Justin Brown pushed for a new trial based on two premises. Brown argued that in Syed’s trial, jurors were not informed that cell phone evidence linking Syed to the area of Lee’s burial was inaccurate. Brown also argued that Syed’s first trial attorney, the late Cristina Gutierrez, was deemed “constitutionally ineffective” by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and never properly explored a potential alibi from Syed’s classmate Asia Chapman, née McClain.

“I didn’t think I was very important at all. I didn’t think the time period I spoke to him was of importance because his previous lawyer never reached out,” Chapman said in court. “It placed a greater weight on my heart to make sure justice could be fairly evaluated.”

During her testimony, Chapman explained that she spoke with Syed in the Woodlawn Public Library around 2:15 p.m. for 15-20 minutes on Jan. 13, 1999, the day of Lee’s murder. “We were in the middle of a conversation, and my boyfriend and his friend walked in, and everyone said, ‘Hi,'” Chapman told the court.

The day after Syed’s Feb. 28, 1999 arrest, Chapman said she told a trusted friend she had seen Syed, and later wrote to Syed and his family, offering to help and suggesting they get surveillance video from the library. But his attorney never contacted her, she said.

After Syed’s conviction in 2000, Chapman was approached by Rabia Chaudry — co-host of the Undisclosed podcast and author of an upcoming book about the case — to learn whether she spoke with Adnan on the day of Lee’s murder. The two produced an affidavit and had it notarized. “Did you feel pressured?” Brown asked Chapman. “No, she was very nice about it,” she replied.

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Chapman said Brown reached out to her in April 2010 concerning Syed’s case; however, she instead sought out and spoke with the prosecutor of Syed’s initial trial, Kevin Urick. “I assumed he would be less biased,” she said in court. “I thought the prosecutor would be the good guy who could give me unbiased information about the case.” Urick told her that Syed was guilty and that Brown was incompetent, saying “there’s a snowball’s chance in hell” Brown would win the case for Syed.

It wasn’t until after Serial‘s release that Chapman learned Urick misrepresented their conversation in court, she said. In Syed’s first retrial, Urick asserted his conversation with Chapman lasted 5 minutes, whereas phone records indicate it was 34 minutes, Chapman claimed. Urick also testified that Chapman’s affidavit was produced under pressure, not willingly, as Chapman described.

In December 2014, Chapman reached out to Brown’s team and acquired her own attorney. “I wanted to tell the truth without you [Brown] and you [attorney general] trying to pull me in any directions,” she said.

Vignarajah will continue his cross-examination of Chapman on Thursday.

Reporting by Diane Herbst.

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