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‘Serial’ Prosecutor Stands By Conviction of Adnan Syed

Kevin Urick defends the prosecution’s use of cell phone records, said the state doesn’t have to prove motive

Adnan Syed

Prison artwork created by 'Serial' subject Adnan Syed, a Baltimore man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, sits near family photos in the home of his mother. The prosecutor who convicted him is standing by his case.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Kevin Urick — the prosecutor in the 2000 trial that sent a man named Adnan Syed to prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, the story of which was recently chronicled on the hit podcast Serial — defended the state’s case in a new interview with The Intercept and refuted statements in the podcast claiming that Syed was unfairly convicted.

Like Jay Wilds — the state’s key witness against Syed — Urick never spoke to Serial host Sarah Koenig on the record. (Wilds recently opened up about his side of the story in a three part interview, also with The Intercept.) Although Koenig and producer Julie Snyder said they made many attempts to get in touch with Urick, the lawyer claimed they did not reach out to him until mid-December, as the podcast was coming to a close. Urick said he wouldn’t have spoken with Koenig anyway, out of respect for Lee’s parents, and because he didn’t trust her to report the story fairly.

Urick questioned Koenig’s methods throughout the interview. Specifically, he focused on how she presented and undermined evidence from cell phone records, which corroborated Wilds’ account of the day Lee disappeared, including placing Syed at Baltimore’s Leakin Park, where her body was later found. Urick said Koenig first tried to raise doubts about the accuracy of the technology, before later acknowledging the science was correct; and then, he added, Koenig tried to discredit the records by focusing on parts of the day that prosecution did not find relevant.

“Most of Koenig’s line of attack is to concentrate on areas we did not consider relevant and never really developed,” Urick said, later adding: “For the relevant time period and the relevant events Koenig is unable to discredit us.”

Urick also addressed the discrepancies in Wilds’ testimony, saying it was to be expected, considering Wilds was not just caught up in a murder, but also selling weed at the time. (Wilds, in his interview with The Intercept, essentially said he lied to protect himself, his friends and family.) “People who are engaged in criminal activity, it’s like peeling an onion,” Urick said, adding that most of the discrepancies in Wilds’ stories were “collateral facts,” which weren’t “material to the question of guilt or innocence.”

“We take our witnesses as we find them,” Urick said. “We did not pick Jay to be Adnan’s accomplice. Adnan picked Jay. Remember, Jay committed a crime here. He was an accomplice after the fact in a murder…. People can very seldom tell the same story the same way twice. If they did, I’d be very suspicious of it because that would look like it was rehearsed.”

Lastly, Urick discussed the big question of Syed’s motive for killing Lee. As Koenig often pointed out, Syed had no prior record of violence and countless people claimed he was not the kind of person who could pull off a crime like this, even in a fit of passion. But for Urick that’s hardly enough to reverse what he called “pretty much a run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder.”

“Motive is not an element of the crime and the state does not have to prove motive,” Urick said. “We can put it out there as an explanation but it’s not essential to prove guilt. It may be supporting evidence that makes the jury understand it. But motive does not need to be proved. That is a standard instruction to the jury.”

The forthcoming second part of Urick’s interview with The Intercept will reportedly touch on the case’s DNA evidence (or lack thereof), jury polling, Wilds’ attorney, and Urick’s reaction to Serial’s runaway success.

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