Asia McClain, Alleged Alibi Witness in Adnan Syed Serial Case, Is 'Stunned' by Order for a New Trial
It was Thursday afternoon, as she lay in a Washington state hospital bed recuperating from a cesarean section, when Asia Chapman’s phone started lighting up with Twitter and text notifications:
“I didn’t think it was real,” Chapman tells PEOPLE. “I was stunned. I thought, ‘Really?’ ”
(She had just given birth to a son on Wednesday, her third child, and tweeted her surprise at the overlap.)
Chapman is familiar to fans of the popular podcast under her maiden name, McClain, as an alleged alibi witness for Syed, who was convicted of murder in the 1999 death of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
A former classmate of Syed’s and Lee’s, Chapman has long claimed she was in the library next to their high school with Syed during the time prosecutors say he murdered Lee.
But Syed’s original defense attorney never contacted Chapman about her claims, which Chapman reiterated in two letters she sent Syed days after his arrest. Chapman only discovered her relevance to his case after Serial creator Sarah Koenig contacted her in 2014.
In his order to grant Syed a new trial, Maryland Judge Martin P. Welch did not agree with Syed’s claim that his original attorney’s failure to investigate Chapman as a potential alibi witness constituted ineffective assistance of counsel – a reason to grant him a new trial.
Welch did, however, agree with Syed’s claim that his original defense attorney’s failure to contact Chapman “fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment.”
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The crux of Welch’s ruling were the cell phone records used to help convict Syed, and his original defense attorney’s failure to cross-examine the state’s cell tower expert. But Welch ordered Chapman’s testimony, during Syed’s February post-conviction hearing and in her 2015 sworn affidavit, be entered into the official court records.
“I’m grateful that my testimony is going to be part of the official record. It is of relevance, whereas all these years I didn’t think it had any relevance,” she tells PEOPLE. “That is very fulfilling.”
The chance that Syed, who was serving a life sentence for Lee’s death, may go free on bail, is “unbelievable,” Chapman says.
“That is crazy,” she says. “I can’t imagine what that would feel like for him or his family.”
(Syed’s brother Yusef told PEOPLE soon after the judge’s order, “We are happy and in shock still, We have waited 20 years for justice.”)
Syed’s attorney, C. Justin Brown, said Thursday he “doesn’t know” when Syed will get his new trial, where Chapman is expected to finally have her chance to testify. (She recently wrote a memoir about her experiences with the case.)
“As far as the retrial is concerned, I wouldn’t say ‘happy’ is the appropriate word,” Chapman says. “But I am pleased that all the information would be put out on the table.”