FBI agent says evidence manipulated in Baltimore 'Serial' hearing

Adnan Syed Hearing Extended
Adnan Syed Hearing Extended

BALTIMORE, Feb 8 (Reuters) - An FBI agent on Monday accused lawyers for a convicted murderer of manipulating cell phone records in their bid to get a retrial for the Maryland slaying made famous by the podcast "Serial."

Adnan Syed, 35, is serving a life sentence for the 1999 strangulation of his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Syed's lawyers are seeking a new trial based on new evidence amid questions about the fairness of the case that were raised by the podcast in late 2014.

During the fourth day of a hearing in Baltimore City Circuit Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Chad Fitzgerald said defense lawyers had shown him "manipulated evidence" of cell phone records when he was on the stand last week.

See images of the "Serial" case here:

"I figured out what you were doing. I think you got caught in your game," Fitzgerald said under questioning by defense lawyer Justin Brown.

He also praised the analysis of the records made by AT&T engineer Abe Waranowitz for the original trial.

Fitzgerald testified for the prosecution on Friday that Waranowitz' analysis was accurate in placing Syed at Baltimore's Leakin Park. Lee's body was found there in February 2000.

Syed's defense team has argued that the cell phone evidence was undependable. Waranowitz has filed an affidavit saying he was unaware at the time that outgoing calls were reliable but incoming calls were not.

Lawyers for Syed have contended before Judge Martin Welch that his conviction verdict was unfair, based on inadequate legal counsel, cell phone records and other issues.

One witness testified last week that she had spoken with Syed the day that Lee disappeared but was never contacted by his lawyers about a possible alibi.

In a statement released through the Maryland Attorney General's Office on Sunday, Lee's family said that the original trial had shown that Syed was guilty.

"The events of this past week have reopened wounds few can imagine," the family said.

Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, who is overseeing the prosecution in the hearing, said in a statement that Syed had received a dogged defense from some of Maryland's best lawyers.

Cristina Gutierrez, who led Syed's defense team at his trial, was in private practice and died in 2004.

The "Serial" podcast produced by Chicago public radio station WBEZ has been downloaded tens of millions of times. (Editing by Ian Simpson and W Simon)