BALTIMORE — Maryland’s highest court has agreed to review a decision to reopen a high-profile case for a man whose murder conviction was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” according to an order issued Thursday.
Earlier this year, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ordered a new trial for Adnan Syed, upholding a 2016 lower court ruling. But the state’s top court has now agreed to consider whether Syed’s murder conviction should actually be reinstated.
Arguments in the case are scheduled to be heard in the court’s December session, according to court documents. It’s far from clear when a decision might come.
Syed was convicted in 2000 of strangling 17-year-old Hae Min Lee and burying her body in a Baltimore park. He was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying.
But more than a decade later, he became a sort of cause celebre due to the hugely popular “Serial” podcast, which debuted in 2014 with the entirety of its first season dedicated to the long-running case. The show attracted millions of listeners and shattered podcast-streaming and downloading records.
“Serial” revealed little-known evidence and a loyal army of listeners often acted as armchair detectives, raising new questions about the case and whether Syed was indeed guilty.
Roughly two years later, a lower-court judge vacated Syed’s conviction. Prosecutors appealed to Maryland’s intermediate appeals court, which granted a new trial.
Syed’s brother, Yusef, said the family hadn’t yet heard about the latest court order. But he said the family remained hopeful when a reporter informed him about it.
“We believe that Adnan will come out and the truth will come,” Yusef Syed said in a brief phone interview.
Rabia Chaudry, a family friend and staunch supporter of Syed’s who brought his case to the attention of the host of “Serial” and also wrote the 2016 book “Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice after Serial,” said she was “deeply disappointed” by the Thursday court order.
“We’ve been fighting to get him a new trial for nearly 20 years now. We’ve won the last two appeals; the courts have overturned his conviction twice. And yet the state keeps throwing tax dollars and wasting its time, his life, his parents’ lives,” Chaudry said. “And so now we’re looking at like another year of appeals.”
In its March ruling ordering a new trial for Syed, the appeals court found that his trial lawyer was ineffective for failing to investigate and contact Asia McClain, a potential alibi witness who said she saw Syed at a public library in Woodlawn, Maryland, around the time the state claimed Syed killed Hae.
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, said the court on Thursday granted the state the opportunity to make its case that Syed’s trial lawyer, the late Cristina Gutierrez, was not ineffective. She said it also granted Syed’s legal team the chance to make its arguments regarding key cellphone evidence.
Story: David McFadden