Adnan Syed‘s chance at a retrial was upheld on Thursday, and while his attorney acknowledged this is just another phase in a years-long fight, he also credited the podcast Serial for helping to bring forward their new key witness.
Defense lawyer Justin Brown said the ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals was rare. Judges don’t often like to second-guess other rulings, even when convictions were flawed.
The courts “don’t want to go back in and do the hard work of looking at it,” he said in an interview with the Law&Crime Network.
Assuming prosecutors don’t successfully appeal to the Court of Appeals (Maryland’s highest court), Syed will get another trial in the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, whose body was found in a park.
Then in high school, they had been dating.
Since then, Syed’s defense said his trial attorney Cristina Gutierrez provided ineffective assistance, and argued that she failed to vet an alibi witness, Asia McClain. McClain, who went to high school with the victim and convicted perpetrator, said she saw Syed at their high school’s library at the time prosecutors claimed the murder occurred.
Brown told the Law&Crime Network that Gutierrez failed to do basic investigative work to call up McClain and vet her story, even though she had this witness’ phone number. (Gutierrez passed away in 2004 at the age of 52.)
Syed’s story caught national attention after he was featured in the first season of the podcast Serial, and Brown acknowledged that it played a role in Thursday’s hearing.
“It has definitely helped,” he said, explaining that McClain, now an adult, didn’t understand her importance to the case until catching wind of the podcast, and made it a point to step forward.
Law&Crime Network host Aaron Keller pointed out that the dissenting opinion in Thursday’s ruling laid out concerns about McClain’s trustworthiness. Brown answered that when it came to the ruling, this issue was secondary to Gutierrez failing to vet the alibi. He also attacked the credibility of key state witness Jay Wilds, Syed’s former friend who claimed to have helped Syed bury Lee’s body. Wilds changed his story multiple times, Brown said, not to mention in an interview with an online outlet. (The Intercept spoke with Wilds in 2014.) Brown said that even the state the acknowledged Wilds’ problems as a witness. He said that if prosecutors does appeal Thursday’s ruling, he hoped that the higher court would agree with the defense, and give jurors the chance to decide which testimony to be more reliable.
This would be Syed’s third trial. The first ended in a mistrial and the second in his conviction.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]