Thursday, June 30, 2016

Adnan Syed, subject of popular podcast 'Serial,' granted new trial

Adnan Syed in high school, left, and as he appears today, 16 years into his life sentence.
THE MAN convicted of killing his Asian/American girlfriend 17 years ago, will be getting a new trial after an NPR podcast of his case drew attention to alleged irregularities in his trial.

The 35-year old Adnan Syed's conviction was the subject of Serial, the highest rated podcast in NPR history. He was convicted of killing his girlfriend and high school classmate Hae Min Lee. The 2014 podcast produced by reporter Sarah Koenig won a Peabody Award and was downloaded millions of times.

In his order issued today (June 30), Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin Welch said that Syed’s attorney at the time rendered “ineffective assistance” by failing to cross-examine the state’s cell tower expert about the reliability of cell tower location evidence.

Welch wrote that Syed's attorney in the 2000 trial "rendered ineffective assistance when she failed to cross-examine the state's expert regarding the reliability of cell tower location evidence."

"The court finds that trial counsel's performance fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment when she failed to cross-examine the state's cell tower expert regarding a disclaimer obtained as part of pre-trial discovery," Welch wrote.

Hae Min Lee
Syed's original lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, died in 2004.

During a news conference, Syed's lawyer was asked if a new trial would have been granted without Serial. “I don’t think so,” said attorney C. Justin Brown.

Brown said the state has 30 days to file an appeal. In the meantime, Brown said, he would work to get Syed freed on bail.

RELATED: NPR'S 'Serial' raises questions of Adnan Syed's defense
"It is the continued desire of the Attorney General to seek justice in the murder of Hae Min Lee," the Maryland Attorney General's office said in a statement. "The state's responsibility remains to pursue justice, and to defend what it believes is a valid conviction."

During a hearing in March, Deputy Maryland Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah said Syed was convicted based on "overwhelming evidence."

"He did it, and the state proved it," Vignarajah said.

Lee's family did not participate in "Serial" and did not speak out in any of the articles, spinoff podcasts and websites that followed but did issue a statement during the March hearing.
 Lee's family broke a long silence to say that "those who learn about the case on the internet" and were pushing for Syed's release were "misinformed," and that it was "more clear than ever" that justice was served the first time.

"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 statement released by the attorney general's office.