It was the true-crime drama that gripped people worldwide: the case of Adnan Syed, convicted for the murder of his high school girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore in 2000.
Syed was sentenced to life in prison.
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 his guilt. The podcast went viral not long after its release and after it ended, theories cropped up all over social media, with listeners intent on getting to the bottom of the story.
The podcast questioned the legitimacy of the case against Syed and by the end of the series, listeners were on tenterhooks, unsure as to his guilt and desperate for him to have a retrial.
Today, millions of Serial listeners will be thrilled to hear that the Maryland prisoner has been granted a retrial.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin Welch ruled on Thursday that Syed should be granted another trial because his original barrister, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to question a mobile phone tower expert about the reliability of data that had originally placed Syed – now 35 – near the burial site of the victim’s body.
However, Welch disagreed that that Gutierrez's failure to contact witness Asia McClain Chapman would have made a difference to the trial, writing that the cell phone evidence effectively trumped McClain Chapman's alibi for Syed.
Chapman provided new evidence in a post-conviction hearing in February, saying that she and Syed spent 15 minutes together in the library on the day of the murder. Despite trying multiple times to get in touch with Syed’s defence team, she was never called as a witness in his original trial.
A follow-up podcast co-hosted by Syed’s family friend, Rabia Chaudry, reported further unresolved issues, and uncovered documents that raised questions about the original cellphone tower data. Lawyers argued that the data was misleading to jurors because it didn’t not come with the disclaimer that the data was not 100% reliable.
Following the ruling, Syed’s barrister, Justin Brown said: “The conviction is erased, it’s gone. As of this day, he’s not convicted any more.”
Brown called the ruling an “incredible victory,” and said: “I’m feeling pretty confident right now. This was the biggest hurdle. It’s really hard to get a new trial.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Brown wrote:
Chaudry also celebrated on social media:
But Lee’s family are unlikely to be pleased about the news. 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 Podcast