BALTIMORE (AP) — The convicted killer at the center of the popular podcast "Serial" is making his case that an appeals court should toss his conviction because his lawyer failed to interview an alibi witness and never inquired about the possibility of a plea deal.
An attorney for Adnan Syed, now 34, filed a brief Monday with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which has agreed to take up Syed's case.
Syed was at the center of the wildly popular podcast that raised questions about the integrity of the case, the fairness of the trial and his guilt.
Prosecutors maintain that Syed strangled his former high school sweetheart Hae Min Lee in 1999 after the two broke up and she began dating someone else. Syed, who was 17 at the time of Lee's death, has been in prison since 2000, serving a life sentence.
The Court of Special Appeals agreed to hear Syed's appeal in February after two unsuccessful attempts.
The basis of Syed's appeal is that his former lawyer, Christina Gutierrez, failed to interview Asia McClain, a student at Syed's school who said she was with him in the library at the approximate time of Lee's death. McClain had written to Syed after his arrest offering to speak with investigators and his attorney. In her letters, McClain also mentioned two other witnesses who said they saw Syed at the library. But Gutierrez, who was later disbarred by consent after questions arose about her handling of client funds, never interviewed McClain nor called her as a witness.
"It is hard to imagine that Gutierrez could have done anything worse than failing to pick up the phone and call Syed's witness," Syed's appeals attorney, Justin Brown, wrote in the filing.
Additionally, Brown argues that Gutierrez told Syed that prosecutors would not offer him a plea deal when in fact she never inquired as to whether one was on the table.
Brown characterized Syed's former lawyer's failure to inquire about a possible plea deal and interview a potentially crucial alibi witness as running "deeper than the typical error or omission that is considered under the umbrella of 'effective assistance of counsel.'"
"It not only violates something fundamental to the trial process," Brown wrote, "but it violates the duty of loyalty that is at the heart of attorney-client relationship ... his lawyer effectively stopped representing him."
The attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment Monday.
Oral arguments are expected to be scheduled for June.