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Of all the key players in the saga surrounding Adnan Syed’s trial for the murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999, Kevin Urick is perhaps the most enigmatic.
The smash hit 2014 podcast “Serial” introduced the confounding details of the Syed case for a wider audience, and now, the new HBO docu-series “The Case Against Adnan Syed” is bringing the issues with the case back into the spotlight. Over the years, legal experts and a legion of internet sleuths have raised serious questions about the case one-time state prosecutor Kevin Urick led: Did Urick mislead Asia McClain, a potential alibi witness, into undermining a statement that could have helped Syed’s defense? Were the cell phone logs reliable evidence? And was Syed’s friend Jay Wilds’ crucial testimony all it was cracked up to be?
Despite these concerns, Urick, has continuously stood by Syed’s conviction and the state’s case against him.
“[It was] pretty much a run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder,” Urick said in a 2015 interview with The Intercept.
But it’s a little more complicated than that — and Urick is a main reason why.
After Syed was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, it was revealed that his original lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, never contacted McClain despite her writing an affidavit on March 25, 2000 regarding Syed’s whereabouts on the day Lee was killed; her statement just so happened to place Syed in Woodlawn High School’s library four minutes after Lee was allegedly murdered.
“That is not a strategy,” “Serial” host Sarah Koenig said of Gutierrez’s lack of contact. “That is a screw-up.”
In 2012, Syed had a hearing for what is called “post-conviction relief.” His new attorney at the time had filed an appeal based on McClain’s affidavit, but Urick disclosed during the hearing that McClain had called him about her initial sworn statement.
“She was concerned, because she was being asked questions about an affidavit she’d written back at the time of the trial,” he said. “She told me that she’d only written it because she was getting pressure from the family, and she basically wrote it to please them and get them off her back.”
McClain, however, has denied Urick’s version of events for years, going so far as to sign a new affidavit after “Serial” aired.
“I never told Urick that I recanted my story or affidavit about January 13, 1999,” McClain said in her 2015 affidavit, published on The Blaze. “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."
McClain further explains her reasoning in the HBO docu-series.
“I wrote down something Urick said to me directly: 'If I had any doubt that Adnan didn't kill Hae, it would be my moral obligation to see that he didn’t serve any time,'" McClain said, reading her notes. “I thought the conviction was airtight and I didn’t see the need to get involved 10 years later."
Later, she added that she “never told Urick that I recanted my story — there were some things he discussed with me that were just flat out untrue.”
Urick, meanwhile, has denied McClain’s allegations. He told The Blaze that what she said was “absolutely false” and that he basically told her that the state had a strong case against Syed when she asked him.
However, the strength of that case depended almost entirely on cell phone logs and Wilds’ testimony, since it (eventually) matched up with them perfectly . But these, too, would prove problematic with a little prodding.
“Once you understood the cellphone records — that killed any alibi defense that Syed had,” Urick told The Intercept in his 2015 interview. “I think when you take that in conjunction with Jay’s testimony, it became a very strong case.”
But as the HBO docu-series points out, those cell phone records don’t seem to have been completely understood by the prosecution or the defense — or utilized correctly.
Legal expert Susan Simpson, someone who has spent years untangling the case in search of Syed's innocence, claims that Urick’s expert witness, AT&T engineer Abraham Waranowitz, testified under what was basically false pretenses, as he was unaware that “outgoing calls only are reliable for location status,” and alleged that Waranowitz was not aware that the prosecution provided him cellphone billing records as opposed to concrete location data.
“In any event, however, Urick is simply wrong. His claim about the cell phone records...is not based on any sort of established fact. It is simply conjecture — that could be what the cellphone data is showing, but there is no reason to believe that is more likely than alternative explanations,” Simpson wrote in a 2015 blog post tearing into Urick’s argument.
Earlier this month, Maryland’s highest court denied Syed a retrial, according to The Associated Press, despite a lower court’s 2016 decision to grant him a new trial due to uncertainty over the cell phone records.
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