Maryland’s second-highest court has ruled that Adnan Syed, whose murder conviction served as subject of the hit podcast Serial, deserves a new trial. The decision issued Thursday by the Court of Special Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling that Syed’s counsel in his original murder trial was deficient and ineffective.
In its opinion Thursday, the three-judge panel affirmed that the defense team’s “deficient performance prejudiced Syed’s defense,” explaining that his counsel failed to contact a potential witness whose alibi could “have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror.”
The ruling upholds a previous decision to vacate Syed’s 2000 conviction for the murder of his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee and remands the case back to Maryland’s circuit court, where he would be retried. But it remains a possibility that prosecutors will appeal Thursday’s decision to Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
For readers unfamiliar with Serial, here is a summary we offered in 2016:
“Each season of Serial follows a single true story, told episode by episode.
“The first season investigated the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend more than 15 years ago. Host Sarah Koenig and her team uncovered inconsistencies in his case — including the fact that Asia McLean was an alibi witness. She said she’d seen Syed at the time Hae Min Lee’s murder occurred, but that testimony was never brought forth in court.
Syed’s new legal team pointed to that failure to contact McLean — as well as a failure to question the reliability of cellphone tower evidence used to place Syed at the scene of the crime — as proof Syed’s original attorney failed him.
Judge Martin Welch, who overturned the conviction in 2016 in Baltimore City Court, agreed with that assessment, saying that Syed’s first attorney “fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment.”
Prosecutors appealed that decision, only to lose that appeal Thursday in a 2-1 ruling.
Prosecutors did not immediately announce whether they would appeal Thursday’s ruling. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office said it is “currently reviewing today’s decision to determine next steps,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
In the meantime, Syed’s current attorney, Justin Brown, has celebrated the decision, tweeting in all-caps: “WE WON THE APPEAL.”