Culture

In 2000, Adnan Syed was sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Fourteen years later, he famously became the subject of the hit podcast Serial, which garnered international attention for revealing the many inconsistencies in his prosecution.

The complicated case gets a fresh look in HBO’s forthcoming docuseries The Case Against Adnan Syed, directed by Deliver Us from Evil producer Amy Berg. The four-part series, set to premiere March 10, focuses on the ongoing efforts to free Syed and introduces new information that questions key players.

“The goal of this series was to get closer to the truth, and I think you’ll get there by the end,” Berg said in a panel to discuss the project. “I wasn’t satisfied with the case that was presented in 1999 or the outcome. I still feel very frustrated that police detectives didn’t do their job in a thorough way. Things have changed since 1999. They didn’t even take color photos of the autopsy. There are so many cases that need to be reexamined because of these injustices.”

It’s been nearly two decades since Syed was convicted, and he’s still in the throes of a twisted legal battle. His conviction was overturned three years ago, but on Friday the Maryland Court of Appeals reinstated his conviction. Syed will not get a new trial. Here’s why.

In 2016, Syed’s conviction was overturned. He was granted a new trial, but always believed he would “leave prison in a coffin.”

Syed, who maintains his innocence, was granted a new trial in 2016, two years after Serial re-examined his case. The murder conviction was overturned by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch, and there’s been a lot of legal back and forth ever since.

The State of Maryland appealed the granting of a new trial, but in March 2018, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision. The state of Maryland appealed again, and in July the Court of Appeals agreed to hear both sides.

Syed did not attend the court proceedings that occurred in November and was not allowed to watch them, Rabia Chaudry, Syed’s friend and author of Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial, told CBS Baltimore. She was recently quoted saying Syed believes he will “leave prison in a coffin.”

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Hae Min Lee (right) with friends

HBO

Even though his conviction was overturned, Syed remained incarcerated.

His lawyer Justin Brown states on his website that this is because “Maryland law is not clear on the question of what standard applies to someone in Adnan’s specific situation. However, the Circuit Court ruled for the State and refused to let Adnan come to court for a bail hearing. We then appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to the Court of Special Appeals, but the appellate court did not grant us ‘leave to appeal.’ With this denial there was nothing else we could do. Thus, Adnan remains in prison.”

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Adnan Syed

HBO

As of Friday, Syed will no longer get a new trial.

On Friday, 8 March, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Syed will not get a new trial. Four judges on the court wrote: “We agree with the conclusion of the Court of Special Appeals that Mr. Syed’s trial counsel’s performance was deficient under the Strickland v. Washington standard in failing to investigate the alibi witness. We disagree, however, with that court’s conclusion that Mr. Syed was prejudiced by his trial counsel’s deficiency.”

In the dissenting opinion, three of the judges said they believed the deficiency was, in fact, prejudicial against Syed and his defense.

His lawyer isn’t ready to give up.

After Friday’s ruling, Brown tweeted: “We will not give up. #FreeAdnan.”

He released a statement that read: “We are devastated by the Court of Appeals’ decision but we will not give up on Adnan Syed. Unfortunately we live in a binary criminal justice system in which you either win or you lose. Today we lost by a 4-3 vote. Our criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. The obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great. There was a credible alibi witness who was with Adnan at the precise time of the murder and now the Court of Appeals has said that witness would not have affected the outcome of the proceeding. We think just the opposite is true. From the perspective of the defendant, there is no stronger evidence than an alibi witness.”

Updates on Syed’s case can be found here.

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