Serial fans, Adnan Syed has been given a second chance in court

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Kayleigh Dray
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Adnan Syed has spent 18 years behind bars and, during that time, he has consistently claimed that he is innocent of murdering his high school girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee.

Now, Syed’s lawyers have made it to court in a bid to secure his freedom.

Syed was convicted for the murder of his high school girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, whose strangled body was found in Baltimore in 1999.

His hearing – which occurred in 2000 – received little notice beyond the local area at the time, and Syed was sentenced to life in prison.

But, 13 years later, producer and presenter Sarah Koenig told the story in all its minutiae via her 2014 12-episode podcast, Serial, which revisited the evidence of the trial and questioned the legitimacy of the case against Syed (as well as his legal representation).

The podcast went viral not long after its release and theories cropped up all over social media, with people intent on getting to the bottom of the story.

By the end of the 12-episode series, listeners were on tenterhooks, unsure as to Syed’s guilt and desperate for him to have a retrial.

Now, it seems as if their wish may be granted: Syed’s lawyers appeared at the Maryland Court of Appeals earlier this month, after the state opposed a judge’s order to get a new trial.

“We’ve got someone who was unconstitutionally convicted, who I personally believe is innocent, who is sitting in jail right now,” Syed’s lawyer Justin Brown told The Tribune.

Those believing in Syed's innocence were given hope when he was granted a new trial last year. However, when two women came forward to challenged McClain's testimony as a witness, the case seemingly crumbled.

The two gave sworn statements, in which they recalled a heated exchange with McClain in 1999 during class.

During the argument, they allege, she told them that she believed Syed was innocent of the killing of his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, and wanted to help him.

She believed so much in Adnan's innocence that she would make up a lie to prove he couldn't have done it.

“She believed so much in Adnan's innocence that she would make up a lie to prove he couldn't have done it,” they wrote in a letter.

“Both my sister and I (more so my sister) argued with Asia about how serious this situation was. She just said that it wouldn't hurt anything — that if he was truly guilty, then he would be convicted. I'm not sure what can come of this information but I felt I had to let someone know.”

However Brown has appealed this ruling - and he hopes that a retrial will finally be approved, after focusing on holes in the state’s case against Syed. In particular, he highlighted a disclaimer included with mobile phone tower records presented during the trial, which specified that “[a]ny incoming calls will NOT be considered reliable for location.”

Despite this, the state used the fact that Syed received two incoming calls the day Lee was murdered to put Syed in the area of where her body was discovered. These calls also supported the state’s witness, Jay Wilds, who said he was with Syed at that time helping to dispose of Lee’s body in Leakin Park.

“This is a piece of paper that says incoming phone calls are not reliable,” said Brown, in an interview with ABC News. “It says you can’t use this kind of information, this kind of proof in court. That’s how I interpret that document, so when someone fails to utilise that, that’s a defense attorney’s dream.”

Brown also asked the state to consider the issue of Syed’s missing alibi, Asia McClain Chapman.

Another student of Woodlawn High School, McClain claimed to have seen Syed at Woodlawn Library at the same time prosecutors believe that Lee was killed. However Syed’s late lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, never called McLain to testify at Syed’s trial – a fact which many people find strange.

“[There’s] nothing more powerful for a defence than an alibi,” argued Brown. “She just needed to pick up a telephone [and call McClain].

However Thiru Vignarajah, a special assistant attorney general, argued against Brown, insisting that Gutierrez worked hard to present an alibi for Syed’s defence and spoke to multiple witnesses who gave conflicting information (none of whom supported McClain’s claims that he had been in the library).

The judges will consider both Vignarajah and Brown’s statements before determining whether a retrial will be granted. It is unclear when the court will rule on the case.

Speaking outside the court, Brown said: “Some things are bigger and more important than technicalities. We’ve got someone who was unconstitutionally convicted, who I personally believe was innocent, who’s sitting in jail right now.

“We want the courts to look at the big picture and look and see whether this conviction was constitutional. Were all the rules followed in obtaining this conviction? We say there’s severe problems with it and we’re asking for a new trial.”

Rabia Chaudry, the author of Adnan’s Story: The Search for Justice for Adnan Syed, added that Syed (who is currently fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan) “is in good spirits”.

She also thanked Serial producers for helping bring her friend’s story to life, saying: “We got fundraising done, we got new investigators, we found new evidence, it couldn’t have happened without Serial.

“Now we just want him to get a new trial.” 

It is unlikely that Lee’s family will be pleased about the news, however.

They released a statement in February maintaining their belief in Syed’s guilt, saying that the retrial has “reopened wounds few can imagine.”

Images: Serial


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.