Maryland’s highest court, in a split 4-3 decision, ruled that there will be no new trial for convicted killer Adnan Syed, the man who gained national attention as the subject of the popular Serial podcast.
The ruling reverses a lower appellate court decision and reinstates Syed’s 2000 conviction for strangling his former girlfriend, 17-year-old Han Min Lee, a year earlier. Her body was found buried in a Baltimore park.
The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with Syed’s current attorneys who had argued that his original defense counsel provided him with “deficient” representation by failing to contact a potential alibi witness identified as Asia McClain.
Even considering the “deficient performance” by Syed’s defense attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who is now deceased, the court said, it could not have prejudiced Sayed because other evidence pointed to Syed’s guilt.
Judge Clayton Greene Jr. wrote the majority decision:
“Given the totality of the evidence the jury heard, we conclude that there is not a significant or substantial possibility that the verdict would have been different had trial counsel presented Ms. McClain as an alibi witness,” the majority wrote.
“Ms. McClain would have been an alibi witness who contradicted the defendant’s own statements, which were themselves already internally inconsistent; thus Ms. McClain’s proffered testimony could have further undermined Mr. Syed’s credibility.”
Syed’s legal defense team is exploring “at least three other avenues of relief,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
Lead defense attorney Justin Brown, in a statement, said Syed’s team is “devastated” by the Court of Appeals ruling.
“Our criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. The obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great.
“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.”
In 2016, a lower court vacated Syed’s conviction, ordering a new trial. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the lower court, setting the stage for Friday’s ruling.
Syed’s case attracted a national following when it was featured in the 12-part podcast Serial in 2014. He is serving a life sentence.