A Maryland court on Friday granted the “Serial” podcast’s main character, Adnan Syed, the ability to appeal his murder conviction from 2000, which was the focal point of last year’s popular audio series.
Syed, 34, is serving a life sentence for a first-degree murder conviction for strangling his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, when both were Baltimore high school students in 1999. His story received renewed interest when he became the subject of “Serial,” the wildly popular nonfiction podcast produced by “This American Life.” Throughout the 12 episodes, executive producer and host Sarah Koenig unofficially reopened the murder case, explored it in detail, and raised questions about Syed’s guilt and if he committed the murder.
Syed has argued his innocence for years, saying his trial attorney, Christina Gutierrez, mishandled his defense multiple times. He noted, for example, that she didn’t investigate a letter from a potential alibi witness, Asia McClain, who claimed to have seen him in a library at the time of the murder. Gutierrez also failed to seek a plea deal for her client.
Last January, Syed petitioned the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland to overturn the Baltimore City Circuit Court’s denial of “post-conviction relief.” On Friday, a judge granted Syed’s request to appeal. A panel of judges will hear oral arguments from both Syed and the state during its June session, according to a post on the “Serial” website. Neither side can introduce new evidence nor witnesses. The court then will either deny or grant Syed further relief, which would be a new trial or the ability for him to present new evidence.
Koenig continued: “In Episode 10 of the podcast, I reported that this appeal was alive by a thread. Now, I’d say it’s more of a … well-made string, maybe. Like the nylon kind. Because it means that the Court of Special Appeals judges think the issues Adnan raised in his brief are worth considering. That’s a pretty big hurdle for any appellant to clear.”
Koenig and her team attempted to figure out exactly what happened in the 21 unaccounted for minutes when Lee, then 18, was killed between 2:15 and 2:36 p.m. on Jan. 13, 1999 in Baltimore County, Maryland. Syed was arrested six weeks after Lee’s murder. Prosecutors argued that he killed her out of jealousy after the couple broke up and the girl began to date another boy. Syed was also convicted of robbery and false imprisonment, and is serving his life sentence in a western Maryland state prison.
One of the key suspects in the case was Syed’s “friend” Jay. But he later paved the way to Syed’s conviction, testifying that he helped to bury Lee after Syed killed her. As heard in the podcast, Jay’s story changed throughout the investigation.
Koenig is a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun. For the series, she conducted several phone interviews with Syed, who remains in prison.
Anna Brand contributed to this report.