Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the 1999 murder of his high school sweetheart Hae Min Lee and gained national interest for being the subject of the podcast “Serial,” was granted a new trial.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state’s second highest court, upheld a judge’s ruling on Thursday with a vote of two to one that Syed’s attorney in the murder trial failed to provide evidence that could have “directly contradicted the State’s theory of when Syed had the opportunity and did murder Hae.” This sends his case back to the lower Circuit Court, granting him a new trial on all charges.
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The Special Appeals Court’s ruling says that Syed’s Sixth Amendment right to “effective assistance of counsel” was violated by his original lawyer’s failure to investigate a potential alibi witness. According to court documents, Syed’s original attorney was “ineffective” because she didn’t investigate a potential alibi witness. “Serial” was able to track down that witness.
“[T]here is a reasonable probability that McClain’s alibi testimony would have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror about Syed’s involvement Hae’s murder,” the opinion reads, “and thus ‘the result of the proceedings would have been different.'”
But a new trial isn’t guaranteed for Syed — the ruling can still be shot down by an appeal from the state and the Maryland Supreme Court overturning today’s decision. But even if the state doesn’t appeal, Syed will have to undergo a whole new trial. So, it’ll be awhile until he finds out whether or not his conviction stands.
“We’ve been fighting for so long,” his attorney, Justin Brown said during a press conference after the ruling.
During the press conference, Brown credited “Serial” for tracking down the key witness Asia McClain, who sent Syed two letters claiming that she saw him at a public library when Hae was killed. His original lawyer never contacted McClain to testify during the trial in 2000, despite Syed’s requests. McClain later signed an affidavit confirming she had seen him at the library after a friend of Syed’s reached out.
A court granted Syed a post-conviction hearing in 2016, where Brown and Syed’s new team of attorneys brought up his original lawyer’s failure to contact McClain. Later that year Judge Martin Welch — who had previously denied Syed’s requests for another trial — ordered a new trial.
Brown also attributed “Serial” with building national support for Syed and bringing his case back to light. He said that he would try to get Syed out on bail, but “the ball’s in the state’s court.”