Subject Of The First Season Of ‘Serial’, Adnan Syed, Gets Retrial In Murder Case
Adnan Syed has been granted a new trial by Judge Martin P. Welch of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, setting aside his conviction for the murder of his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1991. Syed and his trial for murder were the subject of the first season of the hit podcast Serial, with many crediting the show for helping Syed secure the retrial .
Posting the news to Twitter on Thursday, Mr. Syed’s lawyer C. Justin Brown confirmed that the motion for a new trial had been granted. A major victory for Syed who has maintained all along he was innocent, the decision comes after he had exhausted all other avenues of appeal. Convicted for the murder in 2000, Syed has served 16 years of a life sentence so far.
However in 2014 Serial arrived on the scene, shining a light on flaws in the criminal justice system and in particular promoting a lot of speculation as to whether Syed received a fair trial. Downloaded more than a 100 million times, it went on to win a Peabody Award.
The decision came following post-conviction hearings held in February where Mr. Syed and his legal team had presented new evidence. As well as presenting the testimony of a new alibi witness, the core of his argument is that his original defense counsel – Maria Cristina Gutierrez – had been grossly negligent.
Arguing that the decision by Gutierrez not to cross-examine state expert Abraham Waranowitz about the reliability of evidence relating to cellphone towers constituted ineffective assistance, Syed and his team convinced Judge Welch that Ms. Gutierrez’s failure to question Mr. Waranowitz “created a substantial possibility that the result of the trial was fundamentally unreliable.”
Despite granting Syed a retrial Judge Welch also wanted to make clear that the significant public interest in the case did not affect his decision.
“Regardless of the public interest surrounding this case, the court used its best efforts to address the merits of petitioner’s petition for post-conviction relief like it would in any other case that comes before the court; unfettered by sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion,” he wrote.
Speaking of the news at a press conference however, Mr Brown was clear that he believes Serial‘s coverage went a long way to help Syed. Responding to a question about whether he thought there would be retrial without Serial by answering simply “I don’t think so.”
As for his hopes for freeing Syed, Brown was also optimistic. “I’m feeling pretty confident right now. This was the biggest hurdle. It’s really hard to get a new trial.”
His client, however, is unlikely to be celebrating just yet as Mr. Brown said that he had not been able to reach Mr. Syed to tell him the news.
The family of Ms. Lee on the other hand are less than thrilled with the prospect of seeing their daughter’s alleged killer go free, and have previously expressed their hurt and anger at the public support surrounding Mr. Syed and his appeal for a new trial.
“It remains hard to see so many run to defend someone who committed a horrible crime, who destroyed our family, who refuses to accept responsibility, when so few are willing to speak up for Hae,” the family said in a February statement made to press.
As for Syed’s own family, his brother Yusuf told reporters on Thursday that considering the outpouring of support and the strength of the arguments the defense will be making, the family are very hopeful Syed will be released.
“We really felt 100 percent that the judge would rule in our favor,” he said. “We’ve been waiting 20 years for this.”
Hundreds of fans of the podcast took to social media on Thursday after the news, some to celebrate and others to re-emphasize that they still believe Mr. Syed is guilty.
Recently ended its second season – which told the story of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier in Afghanistan who was captured by the Taliban in 2009 and released as part of a prisoner swap in 2014 – there is no news yet as to whether we will see a third season of the podcast, or what subject it will focus on.