HomeCrimeMaryland Court Denies New Trial in Serial Podcast Case

Maryland Court Denies New Trial in Serial Podcast Case

Case Against Adnan Sayed
HBO photo from The Case Against Adnan Sayed

Views from the Edge

Convicted murderer Adnan Syed will not get a retrial. Friday the Maryland Court of Appeals denied a retrial after a popular NPR podcast, Serial, cast doubt on his guilt and raised the question if he was adequately defended.

In a 4-3 split decision by the Maryland’s highest court. the justices agreed that  Syed’s defense was deficient but it “did not prejudice” the case.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh released a statement, saying: “We are pleased with the court’s decision. Justice was done for Hae Min Lee and her family.”

Syed’s attorney, Justin Brown released a statement, saying, “We are devastated by the Court of Appeals’ decision but we will not give up on Adnan Syed.

“There was a credible alibi witness who was with Adnan at the precise time of the murder and now the Court of Appeals has said that witness would not have affected the outcome of the proceeding. We think just the opposite is true. From the perspective of the defendant, there is no stronger evidence than an alibi witness.”

It’s been 20 years since the slaying of 18-year old high school student Lee. Her ex-boyfriend Syed was convicted and has been in prison ever since. Still, the question remains in the eyes of the public: Who killed Hae Min Lee?

That is the question explored by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Amy Berg in a new four-part series for HBO, The Case Against Syed It’s the question that made the Serial podcast the most listened to podcast in NPR history and the question asked by millions of listeners, in college dorm rooms and office meetings during lunch hour.

Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed in high school.
Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed in high school.

The Case Against Syed will explore the 1999 death, and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Syed, a case brought to global attention by the hugely popular Serial podcast.

In production since 2015, The Case Against Adnan Syed closely re-examines the events leading up to Hae Min Lee’s disappearance, from high school romance, forbidden love and cultural conflict, to the aftermath of her disappearance, the original police investigation and the present day, when Syed awaits a new trial.

Presenting new discoveries as well as groundbreaking revelations that challenge the state’s case, and featuring exclusive access to Syed, the defense team, the Syed family, friends and teachers of both students, and members of City of Baltimore law enforcement. The series traces how the rush to justice and Syed’s conviction in 2000 raised more questions than answers about what happened to Hae Min Lee, underscoring the instability of memory and conflicting eyewitnesses.

In an interview with Vulture, Berg said one thing that her series explores that was not adequately covered in the podcast was the teenage murder victim. Berg was allowed access to Lee’s diary.

“There were things in there that are very personal. She was struggling like most teenage girls are in high school, and she just seemed like this beautiful, passionate woman who lived life to the fullest. She experienced extreme emotions,” said Berg. “She fell in love and fell out of love. She was going through a lot at that time. Junior and senior years of high school is a very important time for a young woman. I feel like I learned a lot about her.”

Some of problems that came up in their relationship was cultural. Their hidden relationship speaks to cultural strictures — she was Korean American, he the son of Pakistani immigrants — that created impediments to their relationship, issues that Lee addresses at some length in the diary entries.

In June 2016, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Martin P. Welch vacated Syed’s conviction and granted him a new trial after new evidence challenged the reliability of cell phone data linking Syed to the crime scene, and a long-awaited alibi witness finally had her day in court. The State of Maryland appealed the lower court judge’s ruling, but on March 29, 2018, the Court of Special Appeals also ruled to vacate Syed’s conviction and granted him the retrial he has been waiting for.

HBO’s series was produced before  the Maryland court rendered its decision Friday. Does the ruling end the questions surrounding this case, or does it only expose the inadequacies of our judicial system?

* * * “The Case Against Adnan Syed” premieres March 10 at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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