Blog: Third Time’s a Charm: Serial’s Adnan Syed is Granted an Appeal

By: Brooke Kargman, Associate Staff

Media has the transformative ability to turn anonymous pursuits into vastly supported missions.  For Adnan Syed, Serial podcast has played the part of a catalyst in bringing his questionable conviction to the attention of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.[1]

Debuting in October 2014, Serial began sharing the story of Adnan Syed, who was convicted for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, and is currently serving a life sentence plus thirty years.[2]  The twelve episodes pieced together the minutiae of the case exposing the unnerving partiality and inconsistencies within the investigation and the trial.  Each episode has been downloaded approximately 3.4 million times making Serial the most downloaded podcast in history.[3]

No eyewitnesses and not a single piece of physical evidence tied Syed to the murder.[4]  It was the prosecutor’s lead witness, Jay Wilds, who testified to helping him bury the body, that ultimately lead to Syed’s conviction.[5]  Wilds has changed his story numerous times and even conceded that he had lied on the stand.[6]  A former classmate who has provided an alibi for Syed, at the time prosecutors claim he was committing the murder, was never asked to testify during trial.[7]  Additionally, Syed’s counsel never sought a plea deal from the prosecutor.[8]

Over the span of twelve years, Syed has attempted to appeal his conviction three times claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and an unfair trial.[9]  Two months after the final episode aired, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has granted Syed an appeal.[10]  As evidence of the media’s vast captive audience, news of the appeal became a trending topic on Facebook.[11]

There are many incarcerated persons who maintain their innocence and whose cases remain unknown and unpublicized.  You could say Adnan Syed is lucky that a radio producer zealously investigated his case and that his case was chosen as the story for Serial’s first season.[12]  It is concerning to think, though, that had Serial not broadcasted his story, he may never have been given the chance to appeal his conviction.serial-social-logo

 

[1] Serial, http://serialpodcast.org (last visited Feb. 24, 2015).

[2] See id.; Abby Phillip, Md. Court Allows Adnan Syed to Proceed With Appeal in ‘Serial’ Case, The Washington Post (Feb. 7, 2015), http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/02/07/md-court-will-allow-adnan-syed-to-appeal-his-conviction-in-serial-case/.

[3] Justin George, State: ‘Serial’ Murder Case Should Not Be Reopened, The Baltimore Sun (Jan. 14, 2015), http://touch.baltimoresun.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-82536091/.

[4] Id.

[5] Phillip, supra note 2; George, supra note 3.

[6] Catie Talarski, Rabia Chaudry: “Serial” Had Impact On Adnan Syed’s Appeal, WNPR (Feb. 10, 2015), http://wnpr.org/post/rabia-chaudry-serial-had-impact-adnan-syeds-appeal.

[7] See Phillip, supra note 2 (“Asia McClain,… who attended Woodlawn High School… with Syed, claims in letters that she wrote him in 1999 while he was in jail, and in a new affidavit filed in January, that she remembered speaking to Syed at the public library next to their school at the time…”); Jessica Glenza, Serial: Maryland Special Appeals Court Grants Rare Hearing to Adnan Syed, The Guardian (Feb 7, 2015, 1:39 PM), http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/07/serial-podcast-court-grants-adnan-syed-rare-hearing.

[8] George, supra note 3 (“Syed said that he asked Gutierrez to see what prosecutors would offer as a plea deal, and that she told him there was none when she had never asked prosecutors about it. A prosecutor testified… that Gutierrez never approached him about a plea deal.”).

[9] See Talarski, supra note 6; George, supra note 3.

[10] See Talarski, supra note 6.

[11] George, supra note 3.

[12] Serial, http://serialpodcast.org (last visited Feb. 24, 2015) (“Sarah Koenig, who hosts Serial… she’s been sorting through box after box (after box) of legal documents and investigators’ notes, listening to trial testimony and police interrogations, and talking to everyone she can find who remembers what happened between Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee… In Season One of Serial, she looks for answers.”).

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