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Adnan Syed, One Year After ‘Serial’

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR


imagesJust over a year ago, millions of people became fascinated with Serial, a podcast dedicated to rehashing the events of a 1999 Maryland murder trial. In that trial, popular high school student Adnan Syed was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The podcast, aired more than fifteen years after Syed’s conviction, raised a number of questions—and doubts—for its mass of dedicated listeners.

It is exceedingly rare for a judge to grant a new trial after a conviction. But sometimes, all you need is 3.4 million amateur detectives.

Yesterday, a post-conviction hearing meant to determine if Syed is entitled to a new trial wrapped up, and the success of the podcast is now inextricably connected to the case itself:

According to legal observers, the five-day proceeding was highly unusual for what is known as a post-conviction hearing—which generally has a very limited scope—often feeling more like a trial than a limited hearing.

Syed’s defense attorney, C. Justin Brown, called it the ‘first ever open-source case,’ with the hearing, in many ways, a result of new evidence that came to light when the podcast Serial set hundreds of online sleuths on to the case of Hae Min Lee’s murder 17 years ago and, crucially, brought out the potential alibi witness Asia McClain. Syed’s lawyers argued that his initial defense team failed in their constitutional duty to investigate an alibi witness.

The judge has yet to rule on whether a new trial is warranted. If a new trial is in fact granted, it will be impossible to deny that Serial—a hybrid of investigative journalism and “true crime” entertainment—was largely responsible. Not only did the podcast raise the question of McClain as a potential alibi witness, but it also focused on some questionable expert testimony in the original trial that went largely unchallenged until now:

[Syed’s case was] one of the first times that cellphone data was used to determine the location of a defendant when it was first litigated in 1999. A cover letter to the original data sent by AT&T that indicated that incoming calls were not reliable in determining location status was the second issue to be dealt with by the hearing.

It is exceedingly rare for a judge to grant a new trial after a conviction. Often, the defense needs to show that there is new evidence—not presented at the original trial—that would likely change the verdict. Defense team investigators in criminal cases all across the country spend massive amounts of time and money seeking that kind of evidence. Sometimes, all you need is a media platform and 3.4 million amateur detectives on the case.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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1 Comment to “Adnan Syed, One Year After ‘Serial’”

  1. delete oovoo says:

    “Syed was charming, believable – indeed, more than believable, impossible to credit as a cold-blooded murderer.”

    EH? Charming people cannot be murderers?

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