Adnan Syed, the subject of the hit This American Life spin-off podcast Serial, will be retried on charges that he murdered his ex-girlfriend, Woodlawn High School student Hae Min Lee, in 1999.
Syed, whose case was scrutinized by Serial host/producer radio producer Sarah Koenig, was convicted of first degree murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment and robbery in 2000. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Syed’s lawyer, Justin Brown of the Baltimore law firm Brown & Nieto, sent a jubilant tweet announcing the news on Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, Judge Martin Welch ordered that the testimony of Asia McClain, a classmate of Syed’s who played a prominent role in the show, be re-transmitted to the Maryland Court of Appeal. McClain claims she spoke with Syed inside a school library at the time prosecutors’ claimed he committed the crime.
Welch denied two petitions for post-conviction relief based on arguments that Syed’s original lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to contact potential alibi witnesses (McClain, most notably) and that state prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense. He granted a petition, however, that argued Gutierrez “rendered ineffective assistance when she failed to cross-examine the state’s expert regarding the reliability of cell tower location evidence.” (Gutierrez was disbarred over an unrelated issue before her death in 2004.)
The state’s expert testified that it was possible to place Syed in Baltimore’s Leakin Park — where Lee’s body was later found — based on data that showed which towers his cell phone connected to when making or receiving calls on the day of the murder. The science behind the theory, however, is complicated and controversial.
On Thursday, Welch vacated Syed’s conviction and granted his petition for a new trial.