A Big Break In the ‘Serial’ Case: Subject Adnan Syed Wins Motion to Appeal Murder Case
The most (in)famous inmate in Maryland received some good news on Friday—but he is not a free man yet. Adnan Syed, the convicted murderer who became a national name thanks to Sarah Koenig’s wildly successful Serial podcast, won his motion to appeal and present new evidence to fight the state’s case that he killed Hae Min Lee back in 1998.
“The Application for Leave to Appeal be and hereby is granted,” wrote Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser in his Friday ruling, which states a brief on Syed’s behalf must be filed by March 16. The state’s brief is due April 16, and a new court session will begin in June.
“My heart is full. My heart is full. Adnan gets a new appeal. God is good. Alhamdulillah #FreeAdnan,” tweeted Rabia Chaudry, a family friend who has championed his case since Syed was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend.
Let’s be clear: this court decision is huge for Syed and all those who believe he was wrongly convicted (which is many people across the country—even the world—because of Serial). He was able to overturn the Baltimore City Circuit Court’s denial of “post conviction relief,” which basically means he has one last chance for Team Adnan, and while it’s a shot, it’s far from certain that he’ll reach the desired outcome.
Now, Syed's current attorney, C. Justin Brown, will be allowed to present new evidence, both related to the claim that his original lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, provided inadequate legal defense and the state’s murder charge.
“It’s the first step in a pretty long process, but we’re happy,” Brown told a reporter from the Baltimore Sun.
While the ruling happened to fall within a few months after Serial ended, the wildly popular podcast doesn’t deserve full credit for this new break. The petition to appeal the court’s denial of post conviction relief was filed in January 2014, well before Serial even premiered. Brown’s been working on Syed’s case for over five years. “I joke that when I was hired to do Adnan's appeal I was a free-wheeling single man and now I'm married with two kids. It's been a lengthy process,” he told the Associated Press last year.
However, Serial host Sarah Koenig’s deep-dive into a long-forgotten murder may have bought Syed more than fame and sympathy.
One of—if not the most—significant piece of new evidence is Asia McClain’s new affidavit. Filed last month, McClain stated she was with Syed during the time that the state claims he murdered Lee, which she had already stated in letters she wrote to him in prison in March 1999. She also says that when Syed’s defense team reached out to her in 2000, she contacted state prosecutor Kevin Urick, who discussed Syed’s attempt at an appeal “in a manner that seemed designed to get me to think Syed was guilty and that I should not bother participating in the case, by telling what I knew about January 13, 1999.” She also states in her affidavit that she never recanted her original account of events, despite Urick’s claim to the contrary.
Perhaps most important to Serial fans, McClain addresses why she broke her silence after 15 years:
“After I learned about the podcast, I learned more about Koenig’s reporting, and more about the Syed case. I was shocked by the testimony of Kevin Urick and the podcast itself; however I came to understand my importance to the case. I realized I needed to step forward and make my story known to the court system.”
It has taken years of litigation for Syed to have won this last opportunity to live a life outside a Maryland correctional facility. Serial cannot claim all the credit for that, but if Syed ends up earning his freedom, he may owe Koenig a thank you note.