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‘Serial’ Creator on Adnan Syed’s New Trial: ‘It Was A Long Shot’

Judge granted post-conviction relief last week after two previously failed attempts

Sarah Koenig, Adnan Syed, New Trial, It Was Such A Longshot

'Serial' creator Sarah Koenig expressed her excitement over Adnan Syed's "longshot" post-conviction relief, which was granted last week.

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/Getty

Serial creator Sarah Koenig was relieved at the news that Adnan Syed, the subject of her wildly popular podcast, would be retried on charges that he murdered his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999.

In a post on the podcast’s website, Koenig wrote that she happened to be on Skype with Executive Producer Julie Snyder when Judge Martin P. Welch’s decision came down. “[B]oth of did exactly the same involuntary thing of sucking in our breath and then putting our hands over our mouths,” she wrote. “We weren’t so much shocked because of the legal arguments, but because it was such a longshot, this outcome.”

Syed, whose case was scrutinized by Koenig in Serial‘s first season, was convicted of first degree murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment and robbery in 2000. He was sentenced to life in prison. Welch had previously denied Syed two petitions for post-conviction relief, based on arguments that his original lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to contact potential alibi witnesses (specifically Asia McClain, a classmate of Syed’s who played a crucial role in Serial) and that state prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense.

In her post, Koenig recalled that her first taped conversation with Syed took place after Welch issued his first decision in 2013. “At the time, it seemed to me Adnan was spinning optimistic,” Koenig said. “Possibly falsely so. I mean, his legal options, by any clear-eyed assessment, were moribund. And yet Adnan struck this familiar jailhouse posture: ‘If only someone would take another look…'”

Interestingly, the new look that convinced Welch to grant Syed a retrial still centered around Gutierrez’s incompetence, only instead of her failure to track down McClain, it was her faulty cross-examination of the state of Maryland’s cell phone expert (Welch, however, in his new ruling did order that McClain’s testimony be re-transmitted to the Maryland Court of Appeal).

Koenig wrote, “To reduce his conclusion to one line: Welch found that Gutierrez’s cross-examination of the state’s cell phone expert at trial was so deeply deficient, and her deficiency so avoidable if only she’d employed the twin virtues of reading comprehension and attention to detail, that Adnan’s convictions should be vacated, and he should be granted a new trial.”

While Serial dug into the cell phone evidence used in Syed’s initial trial, Koenig noted that the information that informed Welch’s new decision was uncovered by Susan Simpson and Rabia Chaudry of the Undisclosed podcast, which has been tracking Syed’s case since the end of Serial Season One. Simpson had been able to track down the cell phone expert who testified in Syed’s trial and found that he could no longer stand by his original testimony from 2000.

Despite the excited tone of her post, Koenig closed on a somber note, acknowledging the statement issued by the Maryland attorney general’s office on behalf of the family of Hae Min Lee, who were “very disappointed” by Judge Welch’s decision. “The statement says: ‘We continue to grieve.’ I can only imagine that’s an understatement,” Koenig wrote.

“The state is likely to appeal this order for a new trial. It has 30 days to respond. In the meantime, Adnan’s attorney, Justin Brown, says he’ll seek bail for Adnan. Presumably Adnan would like to await the next round — and there will be many next rounds — outside of prison.”

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