After serving 16 years in a Maryland prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Adnan Syed will get a retrial of his case. His story and alleged crime garnered national attention after it was covered in depth by the popular podcast "Serial."
In 1999, Syed was accused of strangling former girlfriend and classmate Hae Min Lee and burying her body in Leakin Park, one of the largest parklands in Baltimore, according to The New York Times. Cellphone tower evidence placed Syed at the burial site and was the evidence prosecutors needed to find him guilty. Syed was sentenced to life in prison.
The podcast "Serial," which was downloaded more than 100 million times and won a Peabody award for its work in exposing the criminal justice system, explored Syed's case and maintained that the supposed cellphone tower evidence was faulty.
Syed's defense counsel was also reportedly grossly negligent of an alibi witness who remembered talking with Syed in a library at the time of the supposed murder, The Washington Post reports. Syed's lawyers never contacted her, even though she reached out to Syed offering her help in the case.
On June 30, Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin Welch agreed to a retrial as Syed's former attorney, who died in 2004, failed to cross-examine a state expert about the cellphone tower's reliability.
“We are thrilled that after 17 years Adnan is finally getting the justice he deserves,” Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Syed’s told The Washington Post in an email. “And I’m also thrilled that the world is witnessing the terrible systemic problems in the criminal justice system.”
According to Syed's new attorney C. Justin Brown, getting a retrial was "the biggest hurdle."
"It’s really hard to get a new trial, and the improbability of all of this -- there was a time when this was initially denied,” he said at a news conference. The New York Times reports that Brown thinks Syed would never had gotten a retrial without "Serial's" popularity.
But Welch, who made the decision to reopen the case, said the podcast was not a factor in his decision.
"Regardless of the public interest surrounding this case, the court used its best efforts to address the merits of petitioner's petition for postconviction relief like it would in any other case that comes before the court," the judge wrote.
Lee's family reports that new trials “reopened wounds few can imagine,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
“It remains hard to see so many run to defend someone who committed a horrible crime, who destroyed our family, who refuses to accept responsibility, when so few are willing to speak up for Hae,” the family said in a statement released in February.