Adnan Syed

Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS/Sipa USA

Appeals Court Grants New Trial For Adnan Syed, Murder Convict At Center Of 'Serial' Podcast

March 29, 2018 - 6:42 pm
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BALTIMORE (WCBS 880) -- Convicted murdered Adnan Syed, the subject of the popular podcast “Serial,” chalked up another legal victory Thursday as an appeals court granted him a new trial.

The Maryland Special Court of Appeals ruled that Syed had ineffective assistance at his original trial, and ordered the convictions vacated in the murder of his onetime girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

Syed, now 38, was convicted in 2000 of killing Lee and burying her body in a shallow grave in a park in northwest Baltimore, CBS News Correspondent Steve Dorsey told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace. Syed has been behind bars since he was first arrested in February 1999.

More than a decade later, journalist Sarah Koenig began chronicling and investigating the case. Her own discoveries led to the widely popular “Serial” podcast, which was developed by the famed public radio program “This American Life” and launched in October 2014.

A lower court judge vacated Syed’s conviction and ruled that he should get a new trial in 2016. Prosecutors appealed the decision to the Maryland Special Court of Appeals, the intermediate court for the state, CBS News reported.

The three-judge appeals panel ruled 2-1 for a new trial for Syed.

“They raised concerns about the evidence that was originally presented in his trial, especially cellphone tower location records that the state prosecutors used,” Dorsey said. “This is something that his defense attorney says was just part of many shortcomings that his own legal team made during his original trial.”

Investigators in the case used a call log from Syed’s cellphone to corroborate a story by Jay Wilds, who accused Syed of Lee’s murder, CBS News reported. Prosecutors at trial matched Wilds’ version of events to incoming and outgoing calls on Syed’s cellphone and claimed that cell tower pings showed Syed was at Leakin Park, where Lee’s body was found, CBS News reported.

But Syed’s attorney, C. Justin Brown, said in post-conviction hearings that new evidence calls the cellphone data into question, and the lower court agreed, CBS News reported.

The panel also said Syed’s attorney in his original trial failed to investigate a potential alibi witness, who said she saw Syed at a public library at the time prosecutors said he killed Lee.

The panel wrote that if the witness, Asia McClain, had been presented to the jury, it would have “directly contradicted the State's theory of when Syed had the opportunity and did murder Hae” and could have created reasonable doubt for at least one juror and changed the outcome, CBS News reported.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff said Syed failed to overcome the presumption that his trial attorney’s failure to contact McClain was based on a reasonable trial strategy. Graeff said she would have reversed the lower court’s ruling for a new trial for Syde, CBS News reported.

As to where the case goes next, prosecutors could appeal the ruling again to the highest court. If they did, it would be months to come before Syed would find out whether he would get a new trial or his convictions stands, CBS News reported.

“We’re still waiting to see whether the State of Maryland will appeal this ruling. So far, the attorney general has not made a decision on that, saying they’re only reviewing the cases. As for Syed’s attorney, he says it’s an incredible opinion and he’s thrilled with it. He firmly believes that Syed is innocent, and their ultimate goal is to get him out of prison,” Dorsey said.