The man at the center of the wildly popular podcast has been granted a second trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. His attorneys had argued that his former lawyer had not executed her job properly.
Adnan Syed, who became famous as the subject of the most popular podcast of all time, "Serial," was granted a retrial on Thursday by a court in the US state of Maryland. His lawyers won him the right to a new trial after successfully arguing that his original lawyer had completely failed to execute her duties competently.
In 1999, Syed was arrested several weeks after the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old fellow high school student who was discovered buried in a shallow grave in a Baltimore park. After his first trial was declared a mistrial, Syed, now 35, was convicted of her murder in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison.
The state's case relied heavily on evidence given by a cell phone tower expert who testified that call records could pinpoint the phone's location, and a friend of Syed's who said he had helped bury Lee's body.
Over the past few months, however, Syed's new legal team had raised questions about the effectiveness of counsel provided by his former defense attorney, Christina Guitierrez. They argued that Gutierrez failed to cross examine the state's cell tower expert, who has since expressed doubts about the validity of his testimony, and failed to follow up on a classmate who claimed to have seen Syed at the time the state argues Lee was murdered.
Gutierrez was disbarred in 2001 following a series of health problems, and died in 2004.
The 'Serial' Effect
Syed's case came to worldwide attention after former "This American Life" producer Sarah Koenig and her team launched "Serial," the initial season of which comprised a 12-episode deep dive into every aspect of the case, including holes in the stories presented both by the state and the defense.
President Judge Martin Welch rejected claims by Syed's attorneys that Gutierrez failed to call the possible alibi witness, Asia McClain Chapman, but did allow that her dereliction of duty should afford Syed a retrial.
"Petitioner's request for a new trial is hereby granted," wrote Welch in his order for a new trial, saying that Gutierrez "fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment" by not questioning the state's presentation of cell phone evidence.
Syed's lead attorney C. Justin Brown was asked at a press conference on Thursday if he thought the new trial would have become a reality with the attention brought to the case by "Serial."
"I don't think so," he replied.