It was good news for Adnan Syed today when he was granted a new trial on charges he killed his former girlfriend, high school senior Hae Min Lee in 1999.
You may recognize the case: It’s the one that made the This American Life spin-off Serial, a hit.
And that’s the disconcerting news: If someone didn’t do a podcast, someone would still be shrugging their shoulders at the suggestion that maybe an innocent person was wrongly imprisoned.
His lawyer tweeted that Syed has been granted a new trial, months after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals sent the issue back to a lower court for a hearing on the question.
WE WON A NEW TRIAL FOR ADNAN SYED!!! #FreeAdnan
— Justin Brown (@CJBrownLaw) June 30, 2016
The announcement was greeted with delight by Rabia Chaudry, who singlehandedly tried to get someone interested in Syed’s case before “Serial” too it on.
WE WON. WE WON. WE WON. WE WON.
alhamdulillah WE WON!!!!!!!!! https://t.co/uo01OMbtxU
— rabia chaudry (@rabiasquared) June 30, 2016
Prosecutors convicted Syed based on the testimony of Jay Wilds, a drug dealer who told Koenig (and investigators) conflicting stories.
Cellphone tower location evidence that was used to corroborate Wilds’ story that placed Syed where Lee’s body was eventually found, however, was considered questionable. AT&T, the company that owned the cellular network, had told the State of Maryland that the information it provided was not reliable.
Prosecutors used it anyway.
In today’s decision (available here), the court refused to grant a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct for using the information, while granting it because Syed’s attorney, who has since died, provided ineffective counsel for not properly cross-examining the cellular expert who presented the information.
Today’s decision is by no means a guarantee that Syed will be free. With the court’s decision not to cite prosecutorial misconduct, the cellular network information may be admissible in a new trial and have some impact on a jury even with the caveat about its accuracy. Many witnesses will likely struggle with memories from 17 years ago. And Adnan’s defense team may still feel some pressure to try to answer a question that Serial host Sarah Koenig couldn’t answer: If Syed didn’t kill Hae Min Lee, who did?
Related: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Cell Tower Technology (Serial)
The Backlash Against Serial—and Why It’s Wrong (The Atlantic)