Adnan Syed, whose case captivated millions of viewers on Sarah Koenig’s hit podcast “Serial,” has been granted a post-conviction hearing that will allow lawyers to introduce new evidence in his case.
As “Serial” listeners know, Adnan Syed was given a life sentence for allegedly murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, when the two were both students at Baltimore County’s Woodlawn high school. However, “Serial” exposed a number of disturbing weaknesses in the state’s case.
Lacking DNA evidence or any clear motive, the majority of the prosecution's case relied on the inconsistent, often shifting testimony of Jay Wilds, an acquaintance who said that he helped Syed bury Lee in Baltimore’s Leakin Park after Syed showed him Lee's dead body. The prosecution also used cell tower records to corroborate Wilds' versions of events.
Syed has consistently maintained his innocence.
On Friday, Baltimore City Circuit court judge Martin Welch ordered a new post-conviction hearing based on a number of pieces of new evidence that have come to light since “Serial’s” conclusion.
"After reviewing [Syed's] filings and the respondent's consolidated response, this court concludes that, in its own discretion, reopening the post-conviction proceedings would be in the interests of justice for all parties," Welch writes.
Much of the state’s initial case rested on cell tower records; in particular, two incoming calls to Syed’s phone that placed him at Lee’s burial site. Yet Abraham Waranowitz, a former AT&T employee who served as the prosecution's witness in the original case, filed an affidavit in October saying he had not been shown an AT&T document stating that incoming calls were unreliable in determining a phone’s location. Waranowitz said he would have testified differently had the prosecution made him aware of this, and Syed's lawyers plan to bring up issues of possible prosecutorial misconduct.
Second, the new hearing will consider testimony from potential alibi witness Asia McClain, a former classmate of Syed’s who filed an affidavit in January saying that she was in the high school library with Syed during the time period the state alleges Lee was killed. The affidavit also notes that Syed’s original trial lawyer Cristina Gutierrez never contacted her to hear her testimony.
The hearing will also deal with allegations that Gutierrez provided Syed insufficient council during his initial trial. Gutierrez passed away in 2004. She was disbarred in 2001 after allegations of financial misconduct and a period of declining physical and mental health.
“We think this is a very big step in the direction of getting Adnan a new trial,” said Syed’s new lawyer, C. Justin Brown. “We were happy that the judge is going to hear more evidence. It’s exciting news for us, but there’s still a long way for us.”
Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer and family friend of Syed’s who first brought the case to Koenig’s attention, shared a tweet describing her excitement over the news: