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Adnan Syed leaves the courtroom on March 29
Reuters/Carlos Barria/File Photo
Leaving the court behind
MURDER SHE CASTED

Adnan Syed, made famous in the podcast “Serial,” is getting a new trial

By Elijah Wolfson & Susan Howson

Adnan Syed, whose conviction for a 1999 murder was the focus of the first season of the podcast Serial, will get a new trial after a Maryland appeals court ruled in his favor.

When it aired in 2014, Serial became one of the most popular and influential podcasts in the relatively brief history of the medium. Though ultimately the podcast could not determine whether Adnan was responsible for the death of his high-school classmate Hae Min Lee, it did reveal previously unheard testimony from a new key witness, Asia McClain. Serial host Sarah Koenig and her team reported that McLain had sent letters to Syed suggesting she could be an alibi witness for him; she’d seen him in a library at the time of Lee’s death.

According to Serial, Syed asked his lawyer at the time, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, to talk to McLain. Though Gutierrez said she did and nothing came of the meeting, it was later discovered that she had not in fact ever gotten in touch with McClain. Syed was found guilty in 2000, and has been serving a life sentence since.

Serial brought huge public attention to Syed’s case, and fans began to campaign for his freedom. In 2016, the Baltimore City Circuit Court granted Syed a retrial, on the basis that Gutierrez had provided deficient and ineffective counsel in his original murder trial.

Today (March 29), the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland upheld that ruling (pdf), overturning Syed’s murder conviction, and setting the stage for a retrial. It is possible that prosecutors will appeal this decision to Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which could mean a wait of several more months.

Gutierrez’s failure to call an apparent alibi witness, along with new revelations about the certainty of cell phone-tower data used in the original trial—also brought to light by Serial—both factored into the court’s decision. “There is a reasonable probability that McClain’s alibi testimony would have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror,” chief judge Patrick L. Woodward wrote in his ruling.

After the ruling, Syed’s current lawyer, Justin Brown, announced the decison on Twitter: