Appeals Court Orders New Trial For Serial’s Adnan Syed

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Adnan Syed of “Serial” fame will stand for a new trial on charges he kidnapped and murdered Hae Min Lee in 1999, after a Maryland appeals court ruled Thursday that his original trial attorney was ineffective.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals found his trial counsel was deficient because she failed to call a witness who claims she was with Syed when Lee was murdered.

An alibi witness named Asia McClain Chapman wrote twice to Syed before his original trial, claiming she saw him at the Woodlawn Public Library between 2:15 pm and 2:35 pm on the day of the murder, the precise period during which he allegedly murdered Lee. Chapman was never called to testify at trial.

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“Trial counsel’s deficient performance prejudiced Syed’s defense, because, but for trial counsel’s failure to investigate, there
is a reasonable probability that McClain’s alibi testimony would have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror about Syed’s involvement Hae’s murder,” the decision reads.

A lower court originally vacated Syed’s convictions in 2016, but prosecutors appealed the decision.

Syed was convicted of first degree murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and robbery in February 2000. Prosecutors claimed he murdered Lee on Jan. 13, 1999 after she ended their romantic relationship. Her body was recovered in the notorious Leakin Park, a sprawling wilderness lousy with the corpses of west Baltimore’s dead.

Syed’s trial counsel, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, was considered one of Baltimore’s best defense lawyers until her disbarment in 2001 for unscrupulous financial practices. She died in 2004.

The case captured the public’s imagination in 2014 when NPR personality Sarah Koenig chronicled the saga over a 12 episode podcast series called “Serial.” The program won a Peabody Award in April 2015, and has since been downloaded almost 200 million times.

Prosecutors may appeal Thursday’s decision to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest judicial tribunal.

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