In October of last year, the murder mystery Serial gripped the minds and imaginations of millions. The podcast hinged on one question: Did Baltimore teenager Adnan Syed strangle to death his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee? After two jury trials, Syed was found guilty of homicide. Now this fascinating case has taken another turn.
On Monday, the State of Maryland determined that his murder conviction should be revisited because of questionable legal decisions made by Syed’s lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez. To clean up the mess of her sloppy defense of her client, the Maryland Special Appeals court will reconsider evidence from Syed’s trial. As well, the court may examine new evidence such as an affidavit from Asia McClain. Syed’s new legal team believes McClain could have provided him an alibi in his original case. But she was never called to the stand to the testify on his behalf.
The popularity of the Serial podcast was based on the show’s intrigue. It allowed the audience to try to make sense of a meticulously presented murder mystery. Among the podcast’s many listeners, there was no clear consensus of whether Adnan was guilty of murder or not.
But one thing many listeners felt was painfully obvious: Adnan Syed did not receive a fair trial. There were numerous criticisms aimed at Syed’s original lawyer, Gutierrez. For instance, she never entered a plea deal, despite Syed’s request she offer one to the prosecution. Meanwhile, despite the failings of his lawyer, Syed has always maintained his innocence.
Unlike the jurors who convicted him of murder and sentenced him to life , at ~29:00 minutes into the first episode of Serial, the podcast’s listeners heard the name Asia McClain. In order to set up the season’s narrative arc, she’s mentioned as Adnan’s best and only real alibi.
During the first episode, it’s revealed that McClain “specifically remembers” Adnan “being at the library - at the public library right after school.” In January of this year, she sat for an affidavit and said the same thing. Armed with the testimony of an eyewitness alibi, Syed’s new legal team submitted appellate paperwork and asked the court to revisit the case.
Based on the strength of an eyewitness who put him somewhere else entirely at the time the murder occurred, it’s likely the state of Maryland will decide McClain’s memory merits a new trial. Syed’s new lawyer, Justin Brown said, “This is another big step in the right direction, and it brings us closer to our ultimate goal of getting a new trial for Adnan Syed.”
Regardless of the outcome of the Special Appeals court, this is not the final act in the story. In June, judges will listen to oral arguments from both the prosecution and the defense.
The panel of judges will then grant Syed the chance to bring new evidence, and possibly they’ll award him a new trial, or the panel of judges might deny his appeal. If Syed does get a new trial, his case may eventually be argued before Maryland’s Court of Appeals. In other words, there’s plenty more to this story.