Maryland court to hear bid for new trial in 'Serial' murder case

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 08, 2017 6:14 AM

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - Defense lawyers for Adnan Syed, whose murder conviction was called into question by the 2014 podcast "Serial," will face off with Maryland prosecutors on Thursday to argue over whether he should get a new trial.

Syed, 37, is serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend and high school classmate, Hae Min Lee. A Baltimore judge ordered a new trial in June 2016 after the popular podcast cast doubt on evidence in the case.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh appealed the ruling. Oral arguments will be heard in Annapolis at the Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest tribunal.

No decision will be issued on Thursday. Syed, who remains in prison, will not attend.

The prosecutors' appeal argues that the Baltimore judge, Martin Welch, wrongly allowed new arguments over the reliability of cellphone location evidence that linked Syed to Lee's death.

Prosecutors also contest Welch's decision to vacate Syed's conviction because of poor legal representation. Prosecutors say Syed's lawyer, the late Cristina Gutierrez, had thoroughly challenged the cellphone evidence and that Syed had already waived his claim that she was ineffective.

"With or without corroborative cellphone data, the overwhelming evidence shows the jury's verdict was fair, reliable and correct," prosecutors said in their appeal.

Syed's lawyers say Gutierrez had declining skills when she defended him, in what was her last trial, and did not investigate a potential alibi witness. She agreed to be disbarred by the Court of Appeals in 2001 because of failing health, and died in 2004.

"The proper remedy is a new trial," the inmate's legal team said in a court filing.

The "Serial" podcast on Syed's case was released by public radio station WBEZ in Chicago and has been downloaded millions of times. The podcast raised questions about testimony from an acquaintance of Syed, who claimed Syed told him he planned to kill Lee and needed his help after the murder, and about phone calls that linked Syed to the crime.

The appeals court will issue a written opinion at a later date, the court said in a statement. The ruling could then be appealed to the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)