FBI agent says evidence manipulated in Baltimore 'Serial' hearing

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.

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FBI agent says evidence manipulated in Baltimore 'Serial' hearing
Officials escort 'Serial' podcast subject Adnan Syed from the courthouse following the completion of the first day of hearings for a retrial in Baltimore on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
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BOSTON - MARCH 29: Sarah Koenig, producer and host of the podcast Serial speaks at Boston University's 'Power of Narrative' conference in Boston Massachusetts March 29, 2015. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Convicted murderer Adnan Syed leaves the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
Convicted murderer Adnan Syed leaves the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland February 5, 2016. The Maryland man whose 2000 murder conviction was thrown into question by the popular "Serial" podcast was in court today to argue he deserved a new trial because his lawyers had done a poor job with his case. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Convicted murderer Adnan Syed arrives at the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland February 5, 2016. Syed, 35, was convicted in 2000 of kidnapping and strangling his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, 18, and is serving a life sentence. He is seeking a retrial based on new evidence about his case amid questions about the fairness of his conviction raised by the popular "Serial" podcast. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Convicted murderer Adnan Syed (C) arrives at the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland February 5, 2016. Syed, 35, was convicted in 2000 of kidnapping and strangling his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, 18, and is serving a life sentence. He is seeking a retrial based on new evidence about his case amid questions about the fairness of his conviction raised by the popular "Serial" podcast. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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"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)

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