The subject of the hugely popular first season of the Serial podcast, Adnan Syed, had his conviction for the murder of his ex-girlfriend overturned today by the Baltimore City Circuit Court.
In 1999, Syed was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, and received a life sentence plus 30 years. The story didn’t receive much attention until the fall of 2014 when the NPR sponsored Serial podcast came out investigating the story. The podcast renewed interest in the case and more and more people began clamoring for Syed to be released from prison.
While Syed’s conviction will be vacated, that doesn’t mean he’s in the clear yet. The Circut Court called for a new trial in the case, so prosecutors may still try to keep him in jail. However, it’s also possible that given the increased media attention and scrutiny the case received since the original trial, prosecutors will try to work out a plea deal instead.
While the first season of Serial produced some evidence that suggested Syed’s innocence, including cellphone data that cast doubt on a key witness’ testimony and a person who could provide Syed with an alibi who was never called to the stand, ultimately the podcast left the matter of Syed’s actual guilt or innocence in Lee’s murder ambiguous.
In fact, it was actually a different podcast that helped uncover evidence of Syed’s possible innocence. The lawyers helping overturn Syed’s conviction launched their own podcast called Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed in the spring of 2015. They produced more evidence possibly proving his innocence, including medical evidence that contradicted the prosecution’s belief that Syed murdered Lee and then put her in a trunk for five hours and the possibility that Jay Wilds, the State’s key witness, may actually have been a paid informant. The latter is particularly important, because failure to disclose that information during the trial is unconstitutional.
The vacation of Syed’s conviction doesn’t prove his innocence, and just that he didn’t receive a fair trial in 1999. But considering the amount of evidence uncovered by the two podcasts since 2014, it’s not unrealistic that Adnan Syed’s time in prison may come to an end in the near future.
Joseph Misulonas is an assistant editor for Playboy.com. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.